Video Games and Empathy: Some Sources

Yesterday, I was curious about the relationship between interactivity and empathy. As I continue to be curious, I thought I’d post a few resources that I found about empathy and video games:

Pixels and Pathos: Video Games and Empathy

An academic presentation by Dr. Alf Seegert. Seegert argues that some recent video games, enable players to experience empathy, not just by inhabiting other’s worlds, but by participating in them (and as them?). I like Seegert’s conclusion:

I think the empathy-evoking potential of video games is summed up best by my student Jackson Myrick. When asked what differentiates video games from other media, he answered that it’s not the ability to inhabit multiple perspectives, “but to enact them—not only bear, but bear responsibility.”

Alf Seegert

I’d like to put this idea of not just bearing witness, but bearing responsibility, in conversation with Nina Freeman’s suggestion that her game is aimed at making players feel what she felt:

I’m not interested in making players feel like they are in the story. I’m interested in making players feel the way I felt in that moment.

Nina Freeman

In Gaming: A Shift from Enemies to Empathy

An NPR online article about a recent shift in video game development, from “mechanics to storytelling”. This article was mentioned in Seegert’s talk. In describing the shift towards emotional engagement with the characters and story in a game, the article discusses three games: Gone Home; Papers, please and That Dragon, Cancer.

That Dragon, Cancer

A video game by Ryan Green and team. Here is their game description:

That Dragon, Cancer is an adventure game that acts as a living painting; a poem; an interactive retelling of Ryan and Amy Green’s experience raising their son Joel, a 4-year-old currently fighting his third year of terminal cancer. Players relive memories, share heartache, and discover the overwhelming hope that can be found in the face of death.

Ryan Green, et al.

All This Time

This morning, as I was browsing through the demos for the latest POV Hackathon projects, I found All This Time. Here’s their description:

This project gathers data points and real-time conversations on the web to create a video that explores the often painful and ironic juxtapositions between joy and sadness when one experiences a loss.

Femi King, Simon Lindsay, Emily Pakulski, Angela Tucker

I was moved by the prototype video in which a disembodied voice discusses the day their father died, juxtaposing his death with other, more mundane and/or joyful events that occurred on that day.

What form will this project ultimately take? How will it work? Will it ever be made? I hope so.

Interactivity and Empathy

I’m not interested in making players feel like they are in the story. I’m interested in making players feel the way I felt in that moment.

Nina Freeman

This morning, I was struck by this quotation from the article, This video game is a startling, brilliant approach to personal narrative. It’s about a new game, Freshman Year, that Nina Freeman recently created using Flixel. She distinguishes between typical story video games—players make choices that dictate what the character does—and her story game—players sometimes choose between two actions, but they always lead to the same story.

Freeman’s ultimate goal seems to be to tell her story and to get others to feel what she felt (in this case, what she felt as she went to bar, couldn’t find her friend and experienced a difficult encounter with a male bouncer). She wants to encourage others to experience empathy.

What is the relationship between empathy and interactivity?

As I think about interactivity in online stories, her narrative approach makes me curious: What is the relationship between empathy and interactivity? Is inviting a user/player into the storyteller’s world a form of interactivity? What kind of active agent is the player in this type of story?

I want to think about these questions a lot more. They seem to get at struggles that I’m having with whether or not my online stories are interactive and what forms (visible and invisible) that that interactivity might take.

resource: While doing a quick google search, I found this cool resource for empathy in i-docs from the NFBC.