Minecraft and Autism: Self-Awareness and Mapping Your World

Minecraft’s open-ended gameplay makes it a great platform for learning. For children with autism spectrum disorders, the game can be particularly helpful in teaching key cognitive skills like Self-Awareness, Flexibility and Self-Control. By setting some simple gameplay goals and challenges, parents and educators can shift the parameters of play, turning the game into a powerful tool for developing thinking skills with which children with ASD commonly struggle.

To get things started, we’ll briefly introduce the Self-Awareness thinking skill, then cite specific examples of how it is used in the game. We’ll conclude with an in-game project that challenges kids to exercise and identify the use of Self-Awareness skills in-game. Players who have not completed the goals in the Play Together section of our Minecraft Playbook may wish to do so before continuing with this article.


Minecraft and Autism: How Self-Awareness Skills Are Used in the Game

Self-Awareness is the thinking skill that helps us to understand our own actions and needs, as well as relate those actions and needs to our environment and those around us. This skill is vital to survival in Minecraft. There are several ways in which Minecraft helps players exercise Self-Awareness, including analyzing their own strategies, understanding what tactics are working, and identifying and abandoning unhelpful actions. Most of all, the game’s multiplayer function makes it a great platform for social and emotional learning (SEL), offering excellent team-building and cooperative exercises. Minecraft and Autism is a great combo to practice Self-Awareness skills.

Minecraft and Autism: How Self-Awareness Skills Are Used in the GameAwareness of a player’s health and well-being is of critical importance for surviving in the game. Every player has a health bar comprised of ten hearts; when a player takes damage from enemies or the environment their hearts will deplete. To replenish their health, players must learn how to act in order to minimize damage. They also need to maintain their hunger levels. Whether collected by farming or hunting, there are a variety of edible materials in Minecraft, and it is up to players to learn how to prepare and keep stock of their food preserves. If the player’s hunger meter drops to zero, they will begin taking damage rapidly and starve to death. Part of the Self-Awareness thinking skill revolves around trial-and-error learning, so let your child make and learn from mistakes.

Minecraft and Autism: How Self-Awareness Skills Are Used in the Game

While Minecraft has single-player gameplay, many players will find it more rewarding to seek out and join online communities with other players or create their own online servers. A multiplayer setting adds a lot to the experience of Minecraft, but it also requires a higher level of awareness. In a multiplayer environment, many players will wish to carve out and claim their own sections of the world or collaborate with others. If another player is building in a particular area, players will need to understand that this gamer is likely trying to build and establish their own portion of the map. If one desires to build in this spot as well, it is best to ask their fellow player if it is alright to build near them first. It is possible that they are attempting to attract new players for collaboration, but they may be trying to work on a project by themselves. Either way, if a player builds a castle right next to another player’s house without asking first, they’ll probably find their new neighbor is less than friendly.

Minecraft and Autism Project: Mapping Your World

Minecraft Map

One of the rewarding features of Minecraft is that players find themselves in a world that is always expanding. If players walk to an area of the map they’ve never been before, the game will randomly and automatically generate new environments to expand the map. While this can be exciting, the constant expanse of the landscape can also become a danger. Survival in Minecraft relies upon an understanding of one’s surroundings and the ability to maintain a sense of direction. It is incredibly easy for players to go exploring and forget the way back home to their shelter. Wherever you and your child build your shelter, be sure to take note of the terrain that surrounds it so you can find your way back. Use the rising and setting sun and tools like the compass and map for additional guidance.

To help your child identify and exercise Self-Awareness skills in the game, we have outlined a simple Minecraft project that revolves around mapping the in-game world. Make sure to play together to help your child practice team-building skills and cooperation within the game. We recommend using either the PS3 or Xbox 360 versions of Minecraft, which allow for easy cooperative multiplayer. Setting up multiplayer games on PC or Mac is a bit more complicated, but you can learn how to do it here.

After you have established your first shelter, strike out and map the area surrounding it. Pay close attention to new landmarks and utilize helpful navigation tactics like orienting yourself in accordance with the rising or setting sun. Be sure to talk about what to pack before setting out, gathering all the supplies you will need before you start your trip, such as food, tools, and basic raw materials like dirt and wood.

Project Goals:

  • Prepare for exploration:
    • Craft a map at your shelter.
    • Pack tools, raw materials, and enough food for a 2-3 day-long adventure.
    • Make note of where the sun rises and sets in relation to your shelter.
  • Explore the area around your shelter:
    • Fill in the blank areas of your map by exploring the land away from your shelter.
    • Maintain health and hunger levels throughout the duration of your trip.
    • Survive at night by creating temporary shelters.

Remember that starting a new world is always an option for players if they are having trouble.

For more information on Self-Awareness or tips for improving thinking skills with Minecraft, check out the Self-Awareness thinking skills page and the Minecraft Playbook.

Be sure to check back for more Minecraft and Autism in-game activities for kids!

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