Social Scripting in Minecraft

By Bec Oakley

NOTE: Social scripting is a way to help people develop social skills by practising real-life social situations. Both of my kids are autistic and need some support in this area, and we're having a lot of fun using Minecraft to role-play different scenarios. In this example, we practice some of the skills needed for shopping.

The kids and I have a lot of fun being small business owners in Minecraft.

My shop sells fishing supplies, along with both raw and cooked fish. My youngest son Attie sells seeds in his store, and his older brother Max sells mining equipment. Each of these is important to survival - you need to eat, find or grow food and mine for materials to make everything else - so we all equally need and provide for each other.

There's no currency in Minecraft so the kids created their own, assigning values to different materials that can be mined - a block of coal is worth a dollar, a block of gold is a hundred. They put a lot of thought into setting prices for the things in their store, taking into account how hard it would be to get those items yourself and whether there was a value added component (such as cooked fish being more expensive than raw).

When it’s time to go shopping, the owner of the shop stands behind the counter and welcomes the customers, using a script that the kids developed themselves. Back and forth they go until the transaction is complete, and then they run off to shop at the next store or use their new supplies.

In real life, I could take Max to a hundred shops and tell him what to say but the anxiety he feels at talking to strangers jams his circuits and makes it hard for him to remember even a simple script. If they ask him something else, even just an extra comment like “How are you doing today?” it completely throws him.

Likewise we've never had much success teaching shopping social scripts at home. He’s too old now for role playing with toys, and it never worked anyway because it had no connection to reality for him. There was no pressing need that he was trying to satisfy by me arbitrarily telling him that he ‘needed’ to buy something from my pretend store. So he would either sit there not saying anything or would go through the motions without learning anything useful that he could apply in a real world situation.

But in Minecraft it’s fun to play the role of shopkeeper. He has a real need to be a customer too, and gets to actually experience the whole act of shopping - having a need, figuring out how and where to satisfy it, and then having the fulfilment of his needs depend on how well he communicates with the shopkeeper. He experiences tangible rewards from both participating and getting it right.

And this is where playing Minecraft alongside them is really paying off for me. I can immerse myself into his world and shape his behaviour in a way that’s both fun and non-threatening for him. It’s active, sticky learning through experience rather than passive, rote script rehearsal.

Each time I go into his shop, I modify what I say slightly. I veer off-script, ask for things he doesn’t have, throw in a problem here and there. And when he comes into my shop, I do the same thing - tell him I don’t have the thing that he wants, ask him to pay me in a smaller denomination. He copes with these changes because in Minecraft he is confident and capable. He knows what he’s doing, and is much more keen to communicate with me there than in real life.

The next step will be to see if these skills transfer to real life. I’ve already started doing this by getting him to do the least confronting part of the transaction - handing over the money. I can already tell that he’s a lot less anxious about doing this than he was a few months ago. From there I’ll get him to collect the change and say thank you, then work backwards to asking for the thing that he wants, greeting the shopkeeper and finally the trickiest part for him - knowing when it’s his turn.

All of these are things that I can practice with him over and over in Minecraft, in a way that’s motivating and stress-free for him.

The sun sets on another successful Minecraft day

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