When Stuart Duncan started Autcraft, a private Minecraft server for people on the autism spectrum, he had no idea it would become the community it is today. With more than 8,200 members, Autcraft lets children and adults on the autism spectrum play Minecraft in a judgment- and troll-free space.
Autcraft started in 2013 after Duncan noticed parents of children on the spectrum were looking for safe spaces where their children could play the game. “It turned out that their children were being bullied on public servers because they behaved a little differently and were easily angered,” Duncan, who goes by the username AutismFather, told The Mighty. “So, having a background in web development and a love for Minecraft, not to mention the fact that I have Asperger’s myself and my oldest son has autism too, I decided to get my own server and give those people a safe place to play.”
The goal of Autcraft is to provide safety. Prospective users must submit an application to join the community. Adults and children on the autism spectrum, as well as their families, are welcome to join. All users are required to follow a set of community rules which prohibit bullying, killing, stealing, griefing, and swearing. Autcraft is free to join but accepts donations as a way of covering its overhead.
While Duncan does a good job ensuring Autcraft players are safe — two trolls who recently made it through the screening process were kicked off the platform within minutes of their harmful actions — he encourages parents to be active in their children’s online activities. “Be there. Be involved. I can’t express it strongly enough how much I push parents to join in with their kids and play,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you understand what is going on or not, you’ll learn. Just be a part of what they’re doing. Not only is it the most amazing bonding experience ever but you are able to monitor their online time as well.”
With members logging in from more than 140 countries, running Autcraft is a commitment Duncan takes seriously — so seriously, he quit his full-time job to run the server. “Honestly, I’m a guy who wanted to help,” Duncan said. “I have no Ph.D. or formal education in disabilities or therapies or anything like that. And yet, I feel very successful in what I’ve accomplished because I’ve seen children go from being shy and quiet to making friends, and then off to making friends in the real world and finally to getting their first job.”
This growth is a testament to the community Autcraft provides. “The players are the community,” he added. “It’s not just me or any other single person. It’s everyone, and we’ve all grown to support and encourage and even celebrate each other. We all know what it feels like to be alone or to be hurt and we all want to make sure that no one else feels that way.”
What Duncan has witnessed of the Autcraft community is more than just observations. A study conducted in 2016, which won the Special Interest Group on Accessible Computing’s award for “Best Paper,” found that Autcraft helps people on the autism spectrum internally self-regulate and externally manage their engagement with others.
As for the future of Autcraft, Duncan says he’d never leave the community behind and hopes to add more game types and servers. “What I’d hope is simply to inspire other people to do as much as I have or more,” he added. “Surely there are smarter, better educated and wealthier people out there that can replicate and even improve on everything I’ve done.”
Originally published on The Mighty