Social Minecraft

Using Minecraft to develop social skills in autistic children

“Autism offers a chance for us to glimpse an awe-filled vision of the world that might otherwise pass us by…”
— Dr. Colin Zimbleman, Ph.D.

Social Minecraft is a 4-week program focused on building social skills in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It is meant to facilitate social connection by bringing small groups of participants together in an educational atmosphere to play Minecraft, a game already popular among autistic children. Lessons are specifically designed to encourage conversational and cooperative play, and progress is documented and presented weekly to parents.

Discovery

Children with autism have difficulty forming social bonds with others. The Social Minecraft project aims to nurture social interactions amongst such autistic children using Minecraft. The team works with the children in a 5-week course to enhance their social skills. The client aims to provide the parents with a page to monitor their child’s progress and get feedback on their interactions in the game.

Assessment of Needs


The primary users of the website were the parents of the autistic children who wish to monitor their child’s progress during the course of the workshop. They should be able to communicate with the mentors based on interactions in the game.

The Task


Design a portal for social Minecraft which will be used by the parents to monitor their child’s progress and communicate with the mentor. The children will also use the portal to showcase their achievements, make friends and see the leaderboards.

Comparative Analysis


This project is the first attempt at using Minecraft as a tool to teach autistic children. Hence, no direct competitors exist for Social Minecraft. But to get insights into interactions between players, Hypixel.com, an online Minecraft forum, was analyzed to get inputs on how Minecraft players interact with each other.

Client


The client wanted to keep the parents informed about the course and their child’s progress. The client expressed great interest in showcasing how this workshop is actually improving the child’s social abilities. Also, the client wanted to instill a sense of competition within the participants and hence asked for a design of leaderboards and achievements to be displayed for the children.

Parents & Children


The main goal of the parents was to see their child improve in social skills. They would like to know how does Minecraft help in initiating conversations and can these events be replicated in real life to improve the child’s soft skills. The main needs of the children was to make friends online, showcase their own rewards, view rewards earned by their friends, and compete with others on the leaderboards.

Interviews

The user interviews were conditioned in casual settings as the subject of Autism and children is sensitive and requires a more emotional approach. The goals of these interviews was to understand what the parents actually wanted to see, their mental model and expectations about the child’s growth and how would they like to communicate with the mentors. We were also able to determine what content a child might want to see and manage on a personal profile, and how this content could be appropriately presented.

Ideation

Information we gathered from the interviews was used during the ideation phase to determine the main features of each page and how they would be organized among those previously defined by the client. The main portal would lead to separate profile pages, one for parents and one for the child. Requiring two different log-ins would allow each party to maintain control over their own page.

Wireframing

Wireframes were then created for both pages. We went through several iterations of the designs, each time incorporating feedback from parents and from our client. Initially, the children’s page contained a large amount of content on one page. But after learning that it was best to minimize the amount of information displayed to these children at any one time, we decided to implement a tab system that could be easily navigated. A similar layout was used for the parent page but modified to meet their specific requirements. Here we could condense the pages and display a greater amount of information.

Hi-Fi Prototypes

Children’s Page

The children’s page provides each child with a personal space where they can keep track of their achievements, connect with friends, and share their favorite content. We made sure to tailor the design to enhance the experience of children with Autism. This included maintaining a low-contrast interface and providing both images and text for marking navigation elements. We also created a clear visual correlation to Minecraft through the color scheme, boxy elements, and pixelated content.

Parent’s Page

The main features of the parent’s page include a progress tracker of a child’s achievements and a timeline/event-based commenting system where parents can receive contextual responses from program facilitators. They can additionally view how many friends their child has connected with as well as the content the child shares on his/her personal page.