Interview with Stuart Duncan, the founder of ”Autcraft”
interviewer：Yutani (writer from TENTONTO)
Salutation for English readers
TENTONTO is a Japanese volunteer group for the people with Developmental Disorders. Mainly we have two activities: publishing paper ZINE, and managing daily web magazine, “TENTONTO web“. On TENTONTO web, we provide various kinds of information about people with Developmental Disorder, especially who try to describe feelings, thoughts and sences of having those disorders.
Its main purpose is the promotion of “sensory design”, a way of a product design devised in UK. It’s main concept is to achieve the products considering the differences of each person’s “difference of the sense”, like SPD(sensory processing disorder).
On our web-site, we also feature Minecraft game, which could be seen as a place of a challenge for aspies. Especially in youtube channel, and our latest zine, no.5. Our contents are almost written in Japanese, but we would like to try to provide English contents, especially interview articles, such as former and this time’s.
Please give me your self-introduction.
Hi. My name is Stuart Duncan but I’m better known online as AutismFather. I live in Canada where it’s almost always cold and covered in snow. I am a father of two boys. My oldest is Cameron who is 10 years old and has autism. His younger brother is Tyler who does not have autism. Myself, I have Aspergers. We are very close and love to read and play video games together.
How did you know Minecraft? What is the charm of the game?
I had heard people talk about Minecraft for quite some time before it was even officially released. I tried it a few times but didn’t understand why people liked it. Eventually it was completed and released as a real game and I got it for my children on the X-Box. I played it along with them and we loved it. We explored the world, built houses, created farms and just had so much fun learning and expanding all of the things we could do.
Even when we thought we had finished with a certain room, we’d find ourselves later going back to that room with new ideas on ways to make it even better. Plus the game continued to release updates with new blocks and things we could do. That made it easy for us to continue to make changes and add new things. It never got boring.
What is the specific point of Autcraft, compared with the other Minecraft servers, or activities for kids or adults with autism?
When Minecraft became very popular, a lot of autism parents began posting on social media about how their autistic children were obsessed with the game. Not just playing the game but also watching videos about the game, the music videos, the toys, the clothes and everything else about Minecraft.
In time, however, those same parents were posting to social media that their children were trying to play on servers with other children and being bullied everywhere they went. Every server they tried would make them cry. People would kill them over and over again, destroy their buildings and take their things. They would make the game unplayable.
I started Autcraft to give those parents a place where their children could play together without fear of being bullied. No one there swears, no one can break their bases and there is no PVP (player vs player) so they can’t be killed by anyone. They can play in safety without worrying about anyone bullying them, teasing them or laughing at them for their mistakes.
The whole point was just to give children a safe place to play Minecraft but since then, it’s become so much more than that. Children are making great progress, learning how to read and write, how to make friends and be a friend, how to share and even how to stand up for themselves against bullies. It all starts with no longer feeling afraid.
Talking about running server, what is the difficult point?
It’s important to remember that these are still children with autism. They’re very friendly, kind and supportive. But they struggle with social interactions, communication and they are prone to become very angry very easily and very often.
This can be hard for children, especially when they first join the server, as they may not be used to having friends, or even just trusting other people. They’re used to being bullied so they’re afraid of everyone. If someone upsets them, they lash out, angry at everyone and scared. It’s our job to help calm them and explain what is happening and work with them to find coping strategies. Sometimes it just takes time for them to see that they’re safe and they can be less afraid of everything.
When that happens, you can see a wonderful change in them. They start to help other new players to not be afraid too.
The problem isn’t always that they have autism but rather that they’ve always felt alone or afraid. They feel like no one understands them or like everyone hates them. When you feel that way your entire life, you approach new people assuming that they will treat you the same way that everyone else has.
If you can show them that there are people who understand them and that they don’t have to be afraid anymore, they will finally show you their true selves. They finally be true to themselves and that’s when they start to learn faster, make real friends and are truly happy.
What was the trigger or chance to start this activity? Is there any reason related to your children?
My children and I never played on servers or with anyone else besides just the three of us. So we had no idea what was happening for all these poor people until I started to see them all on social media looking for a safe place to play. I couldn’t believe how many people were all saying the same thing.
At the time, I was a web developer, writing code for the back ends of websites. So I already had a pretty strong understanding of servers and the technology. I also knew the game of Minecraft very well since I played it.
So when I saw parent after parent talking about their children being bullied everywhere they went, I knew that I had an opportunity to help. I just didn’t realize how many people were truly needing it. I couldn’t believe how many people responded.
Except Minecraft, do you like playing or watching video games? What is your all-time favorite title?
I’ve always been a gamer but mostly my attention is towards open world type games. Games where I can do the things I want to do and nothing is ever the same way twice.
One of my favourite games for a long time was Left for Dead 2. It’s a first person shooter game where you kill zombies. The levels are mostly the same but it has this program where the zombies, the special zombies and even the weapons would be completely different each time you play it. I really loved that. It meant that I could play the game 1000 times and never have the same experience twice.
I think that’s why I like Minecraft so much is that from the moment you load the game up, it’s different from the last time you played. The world is different.
I really enjoy the Assassin Creed games for that and even way back, Final Fantasy had an element of that. The world and the story remained the same but you’d encounter monsters in different places and the battles would be different each time.
I think that even though autistics tend to do better with routines and structure, in video games, it’s often the ones without a linear story or strict guidelines that we enjoy best because we are then free to do what we want to do.
In my opinion as a member of TENTONTO, video games have a potential that make us possible to have some kinds of “experiences”. Some good games enable us to do some kinds of action. In Minecraft world, we can build various kinds of architectures and go dangerous and fascinating adventure of the world. It means we can do things both accurately and boldly in Minecraft. How do you think about that?
I’ve always believed that video games have given me great benefits in my life. For example, I stayed up late for weeks playing the very first Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo console. I would get so angry at some parts but I never gave up. Then when I finally beat it, I went back and found other ways to beat the levels and even all the secrets.
Video games in general stimulate your brain. You have to solve complex problems, you have to be creative, you have to improve your reflexes and dexterity and you have to learn to work in teams for multiplayer games.
Different games have different results but generally speaking, they all offer something. Used as a tool, they can have very powerful results.
One example is my son Cameron, when he was very young, he had trouble with his motor control (moving his hands and fingers) and the therapists worked with him but he just couldn’t get it. So I bought Mario Kart for the Wii along with a steering wheel that you could put the control into. All he had to do was press one button to go and then turn the steering wheel in the direction that he wanted the car to go.
It was hard for him at first but within a few days, he was finishing the races. A month or two later, he was winning races.
That’s all it took for him to learn how to manipulate the controls enough to make the car do what he wanted. From there we progressed to more and more complicated games and he mastered them all.
Games are great fun but also great tools if you think of them as tools. You focus on what your child needs to learn or develop and then get the games appropriate to those needs.
We TENTONTO works for the promotion of “sensory design”, a way of designing products which is devised in UK. It’s main concept is to achieve the products considering the differences of each person’s “difference of the sense”, like SPD(sensory processing disorder). As our own project, we made a tent titled “Indoor Sensory Tent for Tentonto“. Its pictures can be seen here. How do you think way of “sensory design”?
Everyone has sensory needs. Sometimes people need it more, like people with autism. But when you’re born, as a baby, you are given a “soother”, or a “pacifier”… it’s something the baby can suck on to feel calmer. It’s a sensory toy. Later they have a blanket. A night light. Kids in school bounce their knee up and down a lot, or tap their pen or twirl their hair. In bed we have heavy blankets that cover us like a hug.
There are different things for different people all over the world but the needs are the same. We are sensory people. We want to feel what makes us feel good. A hug, the warmth of the sun or the bubbles in a hot tub. The same thing goes with our other senses like sight, smell and taste.
It only makes sense to create all new products, like this tent, to help fullfil those needs even more. Sometimes we want a hug or a big blanket but we can’t handle the intensity. So we have to find another way. Weighted vests, tents, bean bags… we can find ways to satisfy those senses and feel much better. I think those tents are great.
In our next ZINE(no.5), its main theme will be “punk”(it includes the meaning as metaphor of cyberpunk). Do you have any thoughts about this keyword, “punk” or “cyberpunk”?
Well, I am not into it but I can certainly see the appeal. Aspies tend to crave social interactions but also avoid them at the same time. In a cyber world, much like Minecraft, you can have that social life without actually having to interact.
What I mean is, you don’t have to worry about your body language, your posture, facial expressions, what to do with your hands or any of that stuff. So we can focus more on our actual words rather than all that extra stuff.
In the Cyberpunk worlds, I can see the allure for a lot of Aspies as that world is kind of the perfect place to be. You can be a rockstar, a crime lord, a hacker or anything else you have always thought your life should be.
Please give a message to aspies in Japan!
I have two things that I want Aspies to remember.
1. Moments. Your life is made up of moments. And anxiety and fear can blow those moments up from a few minutes to entire days. You may say the wrong word or stumble or someone might be mean but that was just one moment in an entire day. 5 minutes in 24 hours. Don’t let those 5 minutes take over. Don’t make them bigger than they are. Your life is made up of mostly boring time, some great time and a few moments of bad stuff. But we, and I mean, almost all of us Aspies, we focus on the bad stuff.
When we focus on the bad moments, we miss the good moments and the boring stuff in between is consumed with anxiety, fear and regret. Don’t let that happen.
2. Fear. The reason that children on Autcraft are learning to read and write, to make friends, to stand up to bullies and so much more isn’t because I teach it to them, it’s because they aren’t afraid when they’re on Autcraft. The rest just comes naturally.
When they’re not afraid, they learn how to be themselves. Once they are themselves, they make real friends. People that are just like them. They learn from each other and grow. They share and open up to each other. They support and defend each other. Then they leave Autcraft and they take that with them. They’re a better person. And it all started by no longer being afraid.
Let go of your fears and you’re entire life will change. I know it’s not an easy thing to do but if you want it badly enough, you will find a way. And when you do, you’ll discover all that you’ve been missing out on only because you were too afraid to try.
I’m an Aspie too. I know how hard it is. And I know what fear stopped me from doing. Now that I’m not afraid, everything is so much better. You can do it too.