These kids are amazing – I truly feel I’ve become a better person through interactions with all these amazing players. I’ve watched non-verbal children begin to type and communicate and then start conversations themselves.” – Sarah Jane Smith, Autcraft admin.


In my first blog about Autcraft, I explained what Autcraft is, spoke to its creator Stuart Duncan and acquainted myself with Minecraft for the first time. After figuring out how to craft a metal bucket and cook a chicken, I decided I knew all there was to know about Minecraft and decided to take the plunge and be sociable.

I was apprehensive at first. Part of the reason I chose Autcraft as a blog subject was that it always seemed to me that the people writing about autism were always those directly connected to autism, by personal experience, by family or by profession. I figured there were two possibilities – either these people are the only ones qualified to write about autism, or everyone else is actively, or lazily, avoiding it for some reason.

In my case, as explained in part one, I have no connection to autism at all and very little knowledge about it. So I went in expecting either to a) meet some amazing people, learn about their lives and provide a unique ‘outsiders’ perspective on a remarkable community, or b) make a complete idiot of myself and discover very quickly that it was a terrible idea from the start.

As it turned out, it certainly wasn’t a terrible idea, but I did indeed make an idiot of myself.


As I logged onto Autcraft for the first time, I had planned to sneak in quietly, have a wander around the virtual countryside and perhaps say hello to any players I might bump into. Basically, I was completely unprepared for the complexity of multiplayer Minecraft and, more importantly, for the sheer enthusiasm and friendliness I was about to be subjected to.

I was not plonked into a verdant wilderness alone, as I had expected to be, like on single player. Instead I was propelled straight into a gigantic, shimmering citadel, of sorts, constructed from exotic materials that I didn’t even know existed in the game (this was the venue I now know simply as ‘spawn’).

Before I could even begin to compute what I was seeing, I had four or five players standing around me and a big box of text covering the entire bottom-left of my screen.

“Hi MPCarv, welcome to Autcraft.” – “Do you need directions?” – “Nice to meet you” – “Here, have a cookie” – “Would you like to see my house?” – “I can help you build a house if you like” – “Here, have some redstone”

My first three thoughts were as follows:

1. “Wow, everyone is friendly”

2. “What the hell is redstone?”

3. “How did that kid get cookies? I dug down, like, twenty blocks on single player and I never found no cookies!”

I had no idea how to use the chat box either, so I was completely mute for the first five minutes. It’s a very strange and frustrating feeling when you meet new people, who are being very nice to you, and you don’t know how to express interest or gratitude. I probably came across like Arnie walking into that bar in the first scene of Terminator 2 – straight faced, silent, cold and intimidating (but less naked).

Sunrise over the Autcraft server

Sunrise over the Autcraft server

Once I had figured out how to respond, two or three players took me around the ‘peaceful survival world’ on a spontaneous tour, during which I was probably like a time-travelling caveman seeing modern technology for the first time. I had no idea it was possible to breed animals, grow crops or even craft armour.

These kids were incredibly patient with me, even while explaining things that must’ve seemed terribly basic. When the sun started going down, I instantly drew my sword and tried to scurry up into a tree – they had to explain to me that ‘peaceful’ meant there were no zombies.

One moment summed up perfectly just how understanding and enthusiastic my welcome was. One player wanted to show me the iron golem in the basement of his (or her) house. I had never used anything so complex as a ladder before and I just couldn’t figure out how to use this particular one to descend into the basement. So this player brandished an axe and knocked a hole through his own living room floor so that I could fall though it.

On that first visit, no one ever called me ‘stupid’ or ‘idiot’ or ‘newbie’, despite the fact that I was very clearly an idiotic newbie who was stupid enough to think I could strut onto the server with barely five hours of Minecraft experience and know what the heck was going on.

One thing I failed to notice on my first visit was just how remarkable the different builds were. Obviously I noticed them, but I didn’t realise, having never been on a Minecraft server before, just how instrumental the admin setup was in allowing this place to grow.

There are various admins, who have complete authority and can even resurrect damaged property, as well as ‘senior helpers’, who are adults (mostly parents of players) who have good tech skills and are good communicators, so are able to assist any players who need help building.

Consequently, there is never any irreparable damage here – no aggression, no bullying and no territorial disputes.Β It’s basically pure creation, left to blossom unhindered.

There are also ‘junior helpers’ – kids who have shown themselves to be responsible and helpful, and are thus given some authority and admin duties. The junior helpers are often the ones who have the most remarkable stories of social progress achieved through being on Autcraft.

One of the parents I chatted to, Sarah Jane Smith, told me: “when my daughter and I started on Autcraft, she wouldn’t chat at all. When something happened, like dropping a tool or losing something, she would have a meltdown and run crying from the room.”

“Now she is a junior helper.”

Stories like this surprised me at first. After that first visit, I relied on junior helpers a lot as I went around exploring the server. Some things, like trying to find an unrestricted area in which to build a tree house, or sending and accepting teleportation requests, proved surprisingly difficult for me. I spent ages saying to myself “damn it, you are a 27 year old man with two degrees, you should be able to disembark from a minecart without asking for help”.

At the time, you see, I had assumed that all ‘helpers’ were parents and that ‘junior’ and ‘senior’ were just ranks. To discover that the junior helpers I had been relying on were kids was surprising. To discover that some of them had progressed from the kind of beginnings that Sarah was telling me about, was seriously impressive.

There wasn’t much anyone could have done to make me feel more welcome.

Here’s the thing though.

I had, through my own silly fault, a massive dearth of general Minecraft knowledge, compared to everyone else on the server. Being able to say ‘I’m new here’ was a good excuse at first, but after a while I realised I really wasn’t new anymore, I just didn’t have a clue what anyone was talking about.

An Autcraft firework display, overseen by creator Stuart Duncan

An Autcraft firework display, overseen by creator Stuart Duncan

I wanted, above anything else, to be helpful. But the conversations in the chat box were always things like “does anyone have any obsidian?” and “let’s build a mob grinder” – all things that were completely alien to me. I tried my best to catch up, but self-learning Minecraft terminology from scratch is a huge task.

On one occasion, a player was asking in the chat box for help because he (or she) had got stuck somewhere and was unable to teleport or dig his way out. I jumped at the chance to help, and at first he was grateful, but I just couldn’t understand where he was (didn’t know my way around) or what he needed me to do (too much Minecraft terminology).

I never managed to help that player, although I believe one of the junior helpers eventually did, and I felt pretty stupid.

In those first few visits to Autcraft, I never really learned much about autism, simply because I didn’t need to. I discovered that prior knowledge of autism wasn’t really a prerequisite for spending time with these kids, just being friendly was enough.

What I did learn though, is that it can be incredibly frustrating when you want to be sociable and you want to make friends, but you just can’t interact in the same way as those around you. I know it was my own silly fault for not getting more Minecraft practice before I logged on, and I know that the people around me were doing all they could to help, but still it left me feeling frustrated and a little bit lonely.

So although I know nothing about autism, I know this – if I had to feel like that every day, but through no fault of my own, while surrounded by people who really aren’t friendly or helpful, then my word, that would be incredibly tough.

On Autcraft though, no one ever made fun of me or lost patience with me, and my Minecraft knowledge began to expand. Once I had brushed up on my mining and crafting skills, and made some more friends, I started to get a really good look at what this community is all about.

In part three of this blog series, I’ll be looking at some of the very harsh realities that Autcraft provides a refuge from, but also some of the things that really amazed me and made me smile once I got settled in. mpc