Is there such a thing as “empathy games”?

I know that connecting the words “empathy” and “Games” to form one term might seem a little weird at first. But believe me, after reviewing the many articles and studies on the subject I can guarantee you there is such a thing as “Empathy Games”. This article even suggests certain games can help us become more empathic by changing our perceptions. 

Empathy is a deep appreciation for some else’s situation and opinion. It begins with being aware of someone’s problem, understanding it, feeling and caring for their situation, perceiving a similarity of experience, and being compassionate.

It is often challenging to teach people to feel empathy for others and take action that will genuinely help their situation. Empathy is always present in most people, but over time, if they don’t practice and act with empathy towards others, they will eventually grow to have less empathy for others. Without empathy, someone may be less likely to notice when another person is hurting or show remorse when they intentionally hurt others. 

This is why it is essential to find specific activities that can help to increase empathy in people, especially for kids, while they are still young. Empathy games are one of such activities that can help to increase empathy in people, or at the very least increase cooperation, between people. The new game genre has stirred up a lot of activities within the games industry. The games are designed to immerse a player in a particular experience so that the player will be able to empathize with the game’s protagonist or subject matter.

Most video games have characters that are warriors, thieves, race car drivers, and so on but empathy games aim to make us into better people, by putting ourselves into the shoes of the games’ characters to understand what the person is going through. Empathy games hope to address the detestable aspect of games like fostering of violence and isolation.

Serious Games vs Empathy Games

Although you get to have fun playing them, serious games are games whose primary aim/objective is not fun or entertainment but for learning and practicing skills, to educate players. Ultimately, an empathy game is a type of serious game that focuses more on teaching empathy than any other values. 

Benefits of Empathy Games

  • Studies have shown that there is a connection between a lack of empathy and the rates of bullying. Empathy games can help to make kids understand and improve empathy, which will then reduce the likelihood of a child, possibly becoming a bully that hurts others.
  • Schadenfreude is the opposite of empathy. It is when someone delights and takes pleasure in another person’s misfortune. So it stands to reason that since empathy games can help improve empathy, it will help to lower the level of schadenfreude.
  • While success has been recorded with empathy games in improving empathy in many individuals, this is not the case for some. However, even if it doesn’t improve their empathy level much, it can help to change their perspective.

Popular Empathy Video Games

Many different serious games have been developed with the aim of teaching and improving empathic feelings in individuals. There are many with different themes and goals, examples of what some empathic games are based on include; race awareness, displaced immigrants, conflict resolution skills, respecting others’ opinions, dealing with poverty, and many more.

That Dragon Cancer

This is an autobiographical game about a father and his experience with his son that was diagnosed with having a rare and deadly form of cancer. In the game, players become Ryan Green, the father who tries to console his son Joel and stop him from crying in the hospital overnight.  However, none of the player’s efforts will seem to stop the son from crying. So, can you win the game and stop your son from crying. This game shows us that in life, we sometimes don’t have any control whatsoever over what comes at us.

Demon Chic

This is a serious game dealing with mental illness.  Most times, we don’t often think about the lives of people, who may not be like us, but they are still human beings, and Demon Chic helps us to see this truth. The main objective of Demon Chic is to show the relationship between the three main characters as one of the differences tempered by mutual understanding, emphasizing personal autonomy. The main statement or message this game wants to pass across is to “let people be what they want to be as well as how they want to be” since it doesn’t hurt anyone, which completely aligns with the concept of empathy.

Can All Games Create Empathy?

By putting yourself in the shoes of a video game character interactively, you get the chance to see and experience a situation you have never had to deal with before. This will then allow you to understand at least a little bit of what others are experiencing daily, which may then increase your feelings of empathy for them when you come across people that are in such situations. 

The research around this matter is important as many children today spend more time playing games than interacting with other children. The topic has become even more relevant following the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown of the educational system in many places around the world. It’s important to remember that there are many different types of games and to say all games change our perceptions in a way that helps us become better people would be a wrong conclusion. But that’s ok! Sometimes we just need to have fun or unwind after a stressful day. Just like movies don’t always have to teach us something, so can games sometimes help us reduce stress. Games like Bubble Wrap or even simple online slots will not help improve our latent empathic feelings, but at the very least, they are great games for handling stress and anxiety. And that’s a good start! 

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