ExperienceCraft: Creating a Custom Minecraft Server for Grieving Youth
There are 5.6 million children who, by age 18, will grieve the death of a parent or sibling. This tragic statistic is a motivating factor behind ExperienceCraft, which leverages the widely popular video game Minecraft to provide a supportive setting for grieving youth to play and connect with each other. “You have to meet kids where they are,” says Courtney Dubin, chief program officer of Experience Camps, a nonprofit that supports grieving children through summer camp programs and other year-round initiatives.
Dubin is partnering with Katie Salen Tekinbaş, cofounder of Connected Camps — a nonprofit organization that “turns screen time into learning time.” Salen Tekinbaş, a professor of informatics in UC Irvine’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS), is spearheading the collaboration between researchers from UCI’s Connected Learning Lab and UC Berkeley’s Institute of Human Development, along with practitioners from both Experience Camps and Connected Camps.
ExperienceCraft is designed for youth ages 7–14 who have experienced the death of one or more people in their lives. College-age mentors from Connected Camps, along with volunteers from Experience Camps, moderate interactions taking place in the virtual world.
“We saw kids on day one start talking about their person who died,” says Salen Tekinbaş, “[and] saw multiple instances of kids engaging with their grief through expressions of their identity.”
The team ran a pilot from July 18–22, 2022, with approximately 30 kids participating. “We saw kids on day one start talking about their person who died,” says Salen Tekinbaş, “[and] saw multiple instances of kids engaging with their grief through expressions of their identity.”
The project is supported by the philanthropic investment of the New York Life Foundation, which provided a $100,000 grant. In addition, the Templeton World Charity Foundation provided $50,000 to further advance the work.
“If we had only five days to prove something,” says Dubin, “we proved that we opened a space that the kids wanted to come back to.” The team reopened ExperienceCraft on August 5th, letting participants invite new people, and they are now collaborating with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Dubin believes this project could inform other trauma-related work, including gun violence, safety in schools and drug overdoses. “This work really has legs to help other areas in these environments, so I’m excited about the potential.”