Minecraft Play and Autistic Kids


If you’re a gamer, you feel pretty horrible don’t you?

I mean, those poor old games á la video have had a lot of shade thrown their way over the years. The hate usually has something to do with gaming’s addictiveness, violence, or some other tendency toward foul content. And … OK, plenty of those sneers are well-earned. But as you savvy Plugged In game consumers know, you don’t need to throw the game controller out with the bath water. (Isn’t that how the saying goes?) There are a lot of titles that can be safe, fun and even instructional if you look for them.

One such notable example is the game Minecraft. Yes, there are a few Enderman and Zombie menaces to be found in the game, but they are low key threats. And it turns out that there are a number of plusses that the average player may not even recognize. For instance: Minecraft, it seems, is a particularly useful tool for kids with autism.

For those who aren’t familiar with the game, Minecraft is essentially a somewhat simple-looking button-cruncher built around mining resources, like ore and timber, and then using them to craft tools, machines and buildings. It’s sort of a gather-this-to-build-that kind of logical pursuit. And it’s that simple creative format, coherent structure and easy predictability that really appeals to kids with autism’s communication and interaction impairments.

Teachers and autism specialists have suggested that when played in a multiplayer setting , Minecraft really boosts some positive communication skills—helping the autistic players figure out how to talk to each other, share ideas through simple concepts, and get across instructions for what others on their project should do.

How does a video game do all that?

Well, they say it’s that basic building-block approach of the game. It’s easy to get into, there are few rules to follow. You can build whatever you want to and follow your own interests. The game is forgiving and people can’t come in and mess up your stuff. It’s portable, so kids of every stripe can carry it with them on a tablet or smartphone and connect more easily with peers who love the game, too. And, in a way, the game gives kids a simple lens to look through, along with a set of rules to help them organize things when the real world around them feels so crazy and cluttered.

I spotted a post online from a young man who explained how his sister—who has a mild case of autism—uses the game to cope when she’s overwhelmed. He then went about posting pictures of her online creations that featured three separate kingdoms comprised of massive castles, vast halls, dining rooms and theaters along with landscapes dotted with farms, stores, libraries and pools. It’s an impressive display.

In fact, Minecraft has been so useful as a connecting tool for teachers and counselors that entire websites and lesson plans have been created for instructive gaming pursuits—such as a site for families with autistic kids called Autcraft and the book “Minecraft in your Classroom,” that’s available as a free download in the Apple iBooks Store.

So, there you go, my gaming friend. There’s at least one title you can hold up when the video game haters look your way. Healthy gamers unite.

Who wrote this?

Bob Hoose is a senior associate editor for Plugged In, a producer/writer for Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey, a writer of plays and musicals and one-half of the former comedy/drama duo Custer & Hoose. He is a husband, father of three and a relatively new granddad.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Are there Any characters who appear to have the Joy of the Lord? My son likes the game but the Holy Spirit has been bringing to my attention that my kids suddenly are drawing pictures of just..unhappy characters..and we've had much warfare in our home for several months. I just wonder if the game characters are..depressed, sad, angry, bitter, violent spirits? Just trying to het to some spiritual roots here..same with our 8y old daughter and MLP..a lot of sexuality, anger, hatred, evil faces on her drawings lately..any help would be appreciated. I'm not doubting the game itself is not simple and somewhat harmless and helpful..im wondering more about the spiritual side..the intent behind the game..tgame..thanks
Jessica More than 1 year ago
Thanks for your comments. You raise an interesting question about the spiritual side of this game. Although we may not be able to answer specifically for this game, you may want to check out our Technology page for parents at focusonthefamily.com/parenting/kids-and-technology. There you will see articles and resources that may help you parent your child while considering what is best for your family. Feel free to check out the article series like “Combatting Cultural Influences” (https://bit.ly/2DvMQaq). Blessings to you and your family!
Natasha Cover More than 1 year ago

"If you're a gamer, you feel pretty horrible don't you?"

As a lifelong gamer of franchises such as World of Warcraft, Halo, Assassin's Creed, Perfect Dark, Kingdom Hearts, Devil May Cry, and many others...no.  I do not feel horrible in the slightest.  In fact, I quite enjoy my life.  I'm in my twenties, have a solid professional career, just finished my first degree, and have never done drugs, alcohol, or committed a crime.

I don't understand such judgmental statements, and I certainly don't agree with them.  Are there violent people out there who happen to play video games?  Certainly.  Are there a far, FAR greater number of people out there who play video games and never commit a crime?  Beyond a doubt.

Please stop judging gamers by what one or two of our numbers do.  It would be like saying all Christians are terrible, horrible excuses for human beings based on the actions of Westboro Baptist Church.

Andrew Gilbertson More than 1 year ago
You... saw from the rest of the article that this was an ironic statement, right? As in 'you feel pretty horrible because of all the terrible things people say about you, right? Only, here's why they're wrong...'
Natasha Cover More than 1 year ago

"The hate usually has something to do with gaming’s addictiveness, violence, or some other tendency toward foul content. And … OK, plenty of those sneers are well-earned. But...There are a lot of titles that can be safe, fun and even instructional if you look for them."

Implying that only some titles are "safe" and "fun".  And this is coming from the same reviewers who have frequently commented about the negative impact violent video games can have.

I recognize that they are not saying all video games are terrible things.  But no, I did not see that their statement was ironic - at least, not in regards to all video games.  Only to the ones that they deem appropriate.

Marissa More than 1 year ago
"If you’re a gamer, you feel pretty horrible don’t you?"

seraph_unsung More than 1 year ago
In fairness, the first paragraph is trying to throw the spotlight on how gaming gets a lot of (sometimes undue and undeserved) negative attention.  I don't think the post was trying to make anyone feel horrible for playing games, but rather to say that if you take seriously what a lot of people (negatively) say about video games, it would be easy to feel like a horrible person just for your choice of hobby.