Minecraft & Autism: Teaching Self-Control in Combat and Defeat

Minecraft’s open-ended gameplay makes it a great platform for learning. For children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), 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-Control 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-Control 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 & Autism: Why Self-Control Is Important in the Game

Self-Control is the thinking skill that helps children learn to control their feelings and behaviors in order to make good decisions, while aiding in reducing impulsive actions and effectively dealing with frustration. Minecraft will test the limits of these skills throughout the game by requiring players to deal with the stresses of combat and defeat.


Minecraft - Game Over

Battles in the game can be exciting, but rushing blindly into combat isn’t always a great idea. Resisting the urge to rush into battle allows players to identify the types of enemies in the area, and adjust their tactics accordingly. Furthermore, defeat in the game can be frustrating, and learning how to be conscious of and in control of one’s emotions helps ensure aggravation doesn’t lead to more careless mistakes. The project guide at the end of this post has been designed to reduce the stress involved in restarting and regathering a player’s lost inventory.

An important aspect of Self-Control is the ability to resist engaging in inappropriate actions by monitoring a situation before acting. Fighting enemies is a large part of the Minecraft experience and offers an excellent opportunity to improve these Self-Control skills.

Each type of enemy has different movement styles and attacks, so it can be extremely beneficial for players to identify their surroundings and use them to their advantage in combat. Skeletons, for example, can shoot arrows but will generally remain stationary. Fighting from cover in an open area with a bow is therefore a more effective strategy than running straight at them with a sword. Spiders, on the other hand, lunge straight toward the player when attacking so fighting from cover or in an open area is not a good idea. Perhaps the most dangerous and frustrating enemy in the game, the “creeper,” actually explodes when close to players, badly damaging them as well as the surrounding environment. Players who rush into combat without taking these facets into consideration are at a distinct disadvantage.

Minecraft ASD Project: Self-Control and Setting Up Your Defenses

Minecraft - Creeper

Defeat in Minecraft can be one of the most trying experiences a player will encounter. Because there are no save points, checkpoints, or ‘safe-zones,’ defeat forces players back to either the start of the game or the last bed they slept in. All of the benefits gained prior to defeat–such as items and armor–will be left where players were defeated, requiring them to trek all the way back to retrieve them. Failing to recover the items means a loss of inventory and wasted hours of gameplay.

As aggravating as this may seem, it is best that players keep calm when dealing with such situations. Rushing back to the point-of-death immediately is never a good idea. Instead, players should take their time and prepare for the trip. For example, if slain by a group of monsters, crafting a sword and gathering some food before leaving would be a good decision. Making decisions based on anger will only lead to more frustration. Use in-game considerations like this to discuss the benefits of Self-Control with your child and explain how impulsive behavior can lead to more aggravation, both in the game and the real world.

Help your child follow the project guide below to set up some useful defenses. Explain that this exercise is designed to make defeat in the game easier to deal with, and how a little preparation can make situations less stressful and frustrating.

Project Goals:

  • Minecraft - Project GoalsPlace torches around your settlement to prevent enemies from spawning in the dark
  • Build walls around your village/castle/home to obstruct enemies progress
  • Craft fences and doors for your home
    • Note: Spiders can climb walls. Adjust plans accordingly
  • Construct a simple ditch and bridge system to narrow enemies chances of getting in
  • Bonus: Fighting Back!
    • Construct a moat of lava to damage enemies who try to cross
    • Plant walls of cacti to ward off and harm enemies
    • Craft a bow so you can fight at a safe distance
    • Craft a dispenser and pressure plate combination for an automated turret

There is no time limit to this project, so let your child take her time and plan ahead to set up the ideal defenses for her in-game home. For more information on Self-Control–or tips for improving this skill while playing Minecraft–check out the Self-Control page or the Minecraft Playbook.

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