ExperienceCraft: a world in Minecraft built with and for grieving kids

Parents rely on Connected Camps to provide an engaging online experience for kids. Most families are looking for camps, clubs, and classes with guided play in popular games like Minecraft, Roblox, and esports titles. We help kids build community and friendship with peers that have similar interests and experiences.

ExperienceCraft is our newest program, and it has a specific purpose: it’s exclusive to kids ages seven to 14 who have experienced the death of one or more people in their lives. We’ve found that, even in this difficult situation, a well-moderated Minecraft server can provide a safe space for connection and play among youth. Keep reading to learn more about the ExperienceCraft server, why parents can confidently let kids play there, and what makes the server appealing to kids.

ExperienceCraft Overview

For the new ExperienceCraft, we partnered with Experience Camps. They provide national, no-cost programming and support for grieving children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or primary caregiver. Through summer camps, year-round programs, and other content, they help to reframe the experience of grief and empower kids with the necessary coping skills to move forward with their lives. Through compassion, connection, and play, Experience Camps allows grieving children to embody a life full of hope and possibility.

Katie Salen Tekinbaş, Connected Camps’ co-founder and chief designer, said the new joint program is “designed to create a sense of belonging for players who might feel isolated in their grief. Because it’s online and free, we hope it’ll be easy for families to participate. This will be a space where families can be confident in the providers and kids can feel connected and build a sense of belonging.”

A recent story in Mashable provided this overview of ExperienceCraft:

In a recent holiday campfire challenge, players built virtual objects like a snowman and flames that turned into a house. In the memorial garden, one player constructed a dining room table set in memory of having a sit-down dinner. Sometimes players will talk about what they’ve built with the group or in a private chat. Other times, it’s cathartic for players to simply share what they’ve created without going into detail.

“Not unlike camp itself, it’s a great mixture of fun but also opportunities to express that grief if you’d like to,” says Fox Besch, a 17-year-old Experience Camps participant who joined the server as a volunteer during the pilot.

The continuing development of the ExperienceCraft server is supported by a grant from The New York Life Foundation. ExperienceCraft is free to join. It includes a custom Minecraft server as well as an affiliated Discord server (which allows for voice chat and social connection outside of Minecraft). It’s open every week from Friday-Sunday, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET.

Parents Feel Confident in ExperienceCraft Environment

Connected Camps is pleased to partner with Experience Camps to make these supportive experiences available to many more youth by providing them online. Our joint ExperienceCraft server is always staffed by counselors and volunteers who undergo background checks and receive crisis and grief training. They monitor interaction at all times. Kids will not have the ability to share personal information while playing in ExperienceCraft. 

Before kids enter the server, a parent or guardian must enter basic contact information which allows us to “safelist” participants. During registration, we’ll gather a little information about the grief event. We also like to know if the child has experience in Minecraft, which is not necessary. Once kids are registered and approved, they’ll be able to join the server. As with our standard KidClub server, players will review a tutorial which outlines expectations and standards to create a great community.

Why Kids Will Love ExperienceCraft

Kids love Minecraft, and they’ll love this server! There are three play areas available: Creative, Survival and Minigames—all popular aspects of Minecraft. Organized activities and free play are available throughout. In the Creative World, for example, there is a Memorial Garden for celebration and reflection. Participants can also visit “Zen spaces” for de-escalation, private conversations or alone time, or visit the “Resort” for moderated conflict-resolution.

In this space, kids will explore their own creativity through unstructured play, collaborate with peers, and deepen their knowledge of Minecraft. Counselors also love Minecraft, so there will be friendly guidance and challenges available.

In addition to this special server, Connected Camps invites kids to dive into art, science, and technology through fun camps offered for all kids and ability levels. They’ll enjoy the challenge and the camaraderie in all our programs.

Connected Camps co-founder Mimi Ito puts it this way: “For years, Katie and I and our team have designed, observed, and evolved online play-based programs for kids. We provide a variety of options from game design and coding to theater or science. Our counselors are near-peer mentors who simultaneously relate to participants and guide good online behavior. We combine their input with our university-based research into connected learning to evolve and improve our offerings. As we grow, we strive to meet the needs of more and more kids, ranging from afterschool fun to extra support when it’s needed most. We invite all families to find their interests and join us at Connected Camps.”