Lego Universe And Autism, Or, A Shattered Heart

I hate reporting on MMOs shutting down. For how much the market is saturated, each game holds a special place in at least one person’s heart, and no matter how unmarketable the title was there will always be a group to mourn its loss. It almost goes without saying that when a kid’s MMO is shuttered, the effect is even worse. I received this comment on the Lego Universe article yesterday:

I sure hope you are willing to make the server files available to people who wish to run a private server in their home for their children to play. I understand you cannot allow internet based servers, but there should be a way to play on a LAN. Please, for those of us who bought the game. I have a son with Autism, and I am very concerned about how this shut down will affect him!
-Mike Shaffer

I think Mike misunderstood that I have no affiliation with Lego Universe, but how do you answer that question? How do you tell a child with autism that the game that has helped them so much is going away? A quick trip to the Lego Universe forums was apparent that Mike isn’t the only person in this position as a parent. Read on for other stories from the forums…

as i sit at the airport waiting for my flight back to the u.s., i’m thinking about the difference lu has made in my son’s life. it may sound silly, but lu has been a magical combination of his two favorite things…legos and video games. it’s been amazing to see the critical thinking and problem-solving skills he learned over the past few months, and the sense of self-worth he has gained. as someone who retreats into himself and ignores the world, lu provided a way to interact with community that didn’t care that he is obsessed with creating new LEGO inventions. he figured out how to use his network and collaborate with people to get to a new level. he learned how to build or catch(?) pets and put on his thinking hat in order to do certain things. he figured out how to use the tools at his disposal, what each brick did, how to navigate in a world with no maps, and the importance of “figuring it out” on his own. and though half the time i had no idea what he was talking about, the world he was building in lu came to life when he described it, jumping up and down with excitement as he built a new castle and described the function of each item he was using to create this world. he was even able to teach his brother to navigate the world and build his own little corner…again, as someone on the autism spectrum, it is rare for him to engage with his brother in a positive way period, let alone a full-on conversation. it breaks my heart that such an inspiring game is going away, and as of yet i have found no good substitute. if anyone has any ideas, i would desperately love to hear them…some games are not even close. for all of you at LEGO universe, know that you have been an inspiration to my son and he wishes on a star every night that perhaps it will be saved.
-jhnsn777

My son has autistic spectrum disorder also. As you wrote “…lu has been a magical combination of his two favorite things…legos and video games…”. My son started to learn English only because LU. He learned to collaborate with other, UNKNOWN to him people to solve the problems and hard situations. I confirm every word written by you. It really helps to my son to get new skills. No other game has such strong connection to real world as LU. I really don’t understand the decision to shut down the game, a best online/community game, created for kids ever.
-Isrouslan

I have a good friend who has a son who was also transformed by LU…a 7 year old boy who loves LEGO Universe, s autistic, and until quite recently had little or no speech, severe problems with comprehension and communication and although intelligent a mental age way below his 7 years. Through LU he has learned to follow directions. This is a child who until last year was unable to talk and used picture symbols to communicate with other people, but now talks in short sentences, and is improving every day. We believe LEGO Universe has had a direct effect on his ability to communicate and use language. He has learned to build in LU he uses complex behaviours with success, making stromlings and ronin appear, whilst health and armour are dispensed from models when you press shift, and other models talk and move. All these things he has taught himself. He even made a Tardis for his minifigure which takes off and flies in the air. Compared to most builders in LEGO Universe it is all quite rudimentary I admit, but for a child like him it is quite remarkable.
I would go on, but I am sure to run over the limit.
My grandson has ADHD, and has had similar successes in LU.. LU has been a miracle game for many of us.
-Msrowdyredhead

y son is the autistic child MSROWDYREDHEAD posted about earlier on in this topic. At six years old he was non verbal (couldn’t say words) and used PECS ( a picture exchange system) to communicate. He had great difficulty understanding what was said to him or following direction. He loved using his computer and so we introduced LEGO Universe during beta and found he really enjoyed it and when the game was released a year ago we both started playing.
The improvement in him has been remarkable. He now talks using sentences, his understanding is much better. He builds within LEGO Universe and taught himself how to use behaviours. He tackles all areas of LEGO Universe including dragons, frakjaw, you name it, he does it. He now understands money, all thanks to LEGO Universe coins.
For us LEGO Universe has been an incredibly useful tool. I have no idea how things would be if he had not had access to it. I am confident though he would not be as good as he is now, and of course he has a long way to go, and time within LEGO Universe is running out. Our son does not understand it is closing, the concept is beyond him.
I have written to the VP in charge of LEGO Universe, as well as the CEO of LEGO as I think they should know the changes for the better LEGO Universe has already achieved for our son.
Imagine how many children could be helped in a similar way.
-Kit1112

I have aspergers and my brother as ASD, we both loved this game, and we are so sad to see it go. I don’t know what I will tell him when he asks for it after january…
… Thats why I say, make it freeplay!
-Flamingewok

My son is also on the autism spectrum, this game has meant a lot to our whole family. I can not express had much this has affected us. A game that we could all play together that was kid friendly and to be honest adult fun as well. I hope that this game is bought out by another company and that lu will continue even if it is to be slightly different… i have looked at other games with my to boys and none appeal as this one does…good luck and be well.
-Lukascarter

I feel your pain seaside, I’m not at all popular either. When I got LEGO Universe, I could finally socialize with people who thought the same way I did. I have friends outside LU, but I’ve never felt more among people who care about me and understand when I mess up or say something weird. Everybody in LU was patient with me when they learned that I’m not a very fast typer, and that I can get a little over confident of my experience and quick learning. Everybody had the same hobbies, the same way of thinking, the way of standing up for someone you’ve never known before when they’re insulted by someone you’ve never seen before, either. Everybody had that way of masking their heroism and intelligence with a lovable dose of clumsiness, and everybody was aware that everybody on LU was like that. LU was a utopia. It can’t go. Everybody was close enough alike that they could understand each other, but not so that they were all the same. We were all the same kind of people. We were LEGO people. Pardon the pun.;)
-Skeletor

And I’d like to end with Kit1112’s response to a troll on the forums, because it should just about shut up anyone who might be thinking of posting “it’s just a game,” comments.

You really do not get it, do you?

Do you have a child with autism?, if you did then you would understand LEGO Universe has been much more than just a game to these children.

It has helped my son to talk, to communicate, to understand about money, this is quite outstanding for a “mere game”.
-Kit1112

Lego Universe isn’t just a game for Lego enthusiasts. For some, it was a learning tool, for others a window into the outside world, and for others a temporary vacation from an inhibiting condition. This article isn’t meant to demonize Lego Group because inspiration stories are grand, but don’t pay the bills, we understand that. It’s a reminder that while the end can only be death, what we take from the game is not from when the servers go offline for the final time, but the lessons we learn along the way, the new friends we meet and move on to new frontiers with.

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  • Anonymous

    If you could, please reply to the concerned parents and suggest Minecraft.

    It won’t have the same built-in systems for talking with other people, and they’ll have to monitor their children’s playtime more closely if they allow the kids to hop onto servers or navigate forums… “but”… it has a lot of potential as an equivalent therapeutic and educational/problem-solving game.

    If they were willing to hop around and find the fan sites that explained how to get the various rare items in LEGO Universe, and if they were willing to use the social tools present there, odds are good they’ll make the similar leap necessary to get involved in the Minecraft community.

    • Hello,

      Absolutely. I’ve forwarded your suggestion and hopefully the parents will find Minecraft to be suitable. A few games were thrown around as suggestions, and I feel Minecraft may be rejected for the same reason games like Roblox were: Because while the games have a social aspect, there is a lack of protection of one’s creations that Lego Universe offered.

      Still, I appreciate the suggestion.

  • Naomi

    There are also some private servers out there that will likely continue to run after LU shuts down. There’s a short list here: http://topofgames.com/LEGOUniverse/, but I would warn parents that private servers sometimes work a little differently than official servers, and there are likely to be few moderators online policing things like language and offensive content.

    There are also a few old single-player games LEGO made a while back that have the building and animating aspect, but nothing else. “LEGO Creator: Knight’s kingdom” is the only one that comes to mind, but I’m pretty sure it was part of a series. LEGO digital designer (http://ldd.lego.com/) is just a building program, but it could make a good reward for kids who enjoyed LU.

    If the designing and animation aspect appeals to a kid and the LEGO part is less central, there’s a programming suite (http://www.alice.org/) designed for kids that might fill the void. Again, single-user, but I remember the forums being a good social space.

    I really wish there were more products like LU out there – I don’t have a child with Autism, but I work with kids on the spectrum, and I know how devastating it is to find that “magic key” that really opens up their world, just to lose it as its starting to do the most good. I wish these families all the best.

  • Jill

    Just passing along some suggestions that may help children with autism after the closing of LU. My son enjoys watching the Ninjago cartoon on the Cartoon Network on Wednesday nights…can DVR and watch anytime. Also, you may try watching videos of LU on YouTube to facilitate speech and language. Also, google and print out pictures of LU to facilitate conversations as well. Hope this helps…we have had many tears and frustrations before trying these.