14 thoughts on “2019-Week-3: Empathy”

  1. First off, I think the distinction between empathy and compassion in the first reading is a really interesting one. I’ve never really thought about how they’re different, but the article describes

    “While empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help.”

    I think making the distinction helps us pinpoint what we want emotionally out of a rich game; empathy can be powerful for a player to connect with a world, while generating compassion alongside that empathy may cause the player to make moving choices about how they play. I love choice heavy games, so a lot of the way I am thinking about the difference revolves around games that seek to envoke empathy and emotion to get the players invested in the choices they are making.

    The other reading that stuck out to me was “When Good Intentions Go Awry.” I do not have any time spent with games that are designed to increase empathy, so I can’t speak much from personal experience. But I do love games that allow you to choose to have empathy. Fallout New Vegas did this really well. One quest off the top of my head that stands out is “Beyond the Beef,” where the player has a choice on whether they want to save Heck Gunderson or allow him to be eaten by the cannibalistic social club that has him kidnapped. While in reality, the choice is pretty easy, the virtual world is a little different. First off, the Ultra-Luxe has treated you really well up to this point, while Heck is immediately jerkish to someone who might be his last hope. This, along with the possibility that the players are often role-playing, potentially as a cannibal themselves, or more commonly as a generic evil character, throws some wrenches into the ability and desire to choose compassion.

    1. I completely agree that compassion and empathy are two different things. Would it be fair to say that compassion is the path to empathy, or would it be a different relationship?

    2. This choice of empathy I think is very important for “Stop Expecting Games to Build Empathy”. Muncy claims that games “can’t make you care”, which I believe is true. Games can’t make you, but I feel like choices like those throughout Fallout and other games are the path to helping people learn, and give them a good push to care.

  2. Summary: This week, two of our readings were simply analyzing compassion. Compassion is defined as “suffering together” and, while it is related to empathy, they are not the same. The other two readings we had were about Games and how they relate to empathy. In both cases, the author argues that games, being interactive experiences, aren’t conducive to feelings of empathy. Because choices are made and the player feels a sense of agency, it’s hard to directly cause empathy within a player. One article (Good Intentions) focuses on a single game: a sort of poverty simulator. However, because of the ability to make decisions, the game actually decreases the empathy players feel towards the impoverished. The other article (Expecting Games) discusses games in general, although it uses Life is Strange as an example. The author claims that games just don’t have a strong impact on people in general. The idea they propose is similar to the cliche “you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Because games are, ultimately, controlled by the player, the developer has no real impact unless the players allow them to.

    Quote: “Games can’t make you better. That’s your job.” -Stop Expecting Games to Build Empathy

    Comment: While I agree that games can’t build empathy directly, I believe that’s where compassion comes in. Suffering with someone is an entirely different story. Yes, while you’re playing the game you’re thinking about kills and scores and winning, but some games have learned that, in order to make someone feel something, they need to slow down. My link is gameplay footage of one of the times a game has made me feel compassion. In Bastion, by Supergiant games, the player (referred to as “the kid”) is given a choice: they can either save Zulf or they can leave him behind. This would be an easy choice, but Zulf and the kid have some history. First, Zulf is a member of the Ura race and the kid is Caelondian. The two races have been at war for centuries. Second, Zulf left of his own free will, breaking the last hope for both races as he left. Zulf is captured by the remaining Ura, despite trying to help them, and beaten within an inch of his life. So the player’s choice is a hard one. If they leave Zulf behind, they’ll have to fight hordes of enemies. If they take Zulf with them, the kid is made useless by the burden. It is only when the player decides to save him that the compassion kicks in. If they leave him behind, they probably won’t feel any remorse because, after all, they get to fight hundreds of enemies to make themselves feel better.

    Question: Slowing down the gameplay and removing a player’s agency is one way to introduce compassion, but are there others?

    Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JvNhc13oKI

  3. “Empathy is active: it involves both mental acuity and changes to behavior. Understanding without change isn’t empathy. Emotion without action to help others isn’t empathy.” In the article Stop Expecting Games to Build Empathy, Julie Muncy discusses the truth behind the notion that games can change an individual’s views on life. She starts with discussing the argument about how people state that being able to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” will result in understanding and action. These statements, however, have no scientific backing for them. At the end of the article, she sums up her argument by stating, “Games can’t make you better. That’s your job.” I would say that I agree with her overall argument. I do not think that people change themselves as a result of a video game. I think that games offer an outlet to understanding another, but does not change an individual’s morals. My question for the class is stated as such: Do you feel like video games have changed your morals?

    1. Video games, up to this point, have not changed my morals. In my case, video games have always been a lazy attempt at relaxation, nothing more.

  4. Summary: Compassion is empathy when compounded with wanting to aid another person. It specifically occurs when that empathy involves perceived suffering. There is also, according to Paul Ekman, a taxonomy of compassion which includes emotion recognition, emotional resonance, familial, global, sentient, and heroic compassion(s). Sentient is the most interesting, and I presume the primary compassion of PETA. It is defined as “feelings of compassion toward cockroaches, toward any living being.” On somewhat of a tangent, compassion is tied into the article titled “When good intentions go awry” by Gina Roussos. She argues that online games, specifically those that are meant to create positive attitudes towards marginalized groups, tend to fail in their intent. Instead, in one specific research case pertaining to a game that was supposed to increase positive attitudes towards the poor, she found “that playing the game had no effect on positive feelings … In fact, the game had a negative effect.” She argues this occurs because the game affords personal agency to the player, thus negating out any empathetic aspect. According to her, if you remove agency via watching a video instead of being in control, the game’s intention works. Another article, titled “Stop Expecting Games to Build Empathy” by Julie Muncy, hits the same note. According to Muncy, the “science on [games increasing empathy] is inconclusive at best.” She goes on to discuss agency much like Roussos but then devolves her argument into one simple sentence: “Games cant make you better. That’s your job.”

    Quote: “Sympathy is our strongest instinct … Forgotten by evolutionary science for quite some time.”
    Comment: Unknown to me is this concept, supposedly purported by Darwin that sympathy is a stronger instinct than any other. I would hasten to argue that while sympathy can be the strongest instinct for a group of people, it is not necessarily the base case for all humans. Darwin’s logic for this argument comes from the fact that “communities of more sympathetic individuals were more successful in raising healthier offspring to the age of viability and reproduction.” (See link) While this may be the case, his logic falls into the realm of a non sequitur. Just because a trait tends to lead to greater success does not mean that it is the “strongest” of the traits. For instance, I would posit that if you compared the instinct of personal survival vs. sympathetic action, personal survival would trump sympathy.
    Follow-up: Do you believe sympathy is the strongest instinct? If so could you provide research that backs up your claim?
    Link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/born-be-good/200902/darwins-touch-survival-the-kindest

    1. I agree that it is a stretch to consider sympathy to be the strongest instinct. That’s not to say that it is not important, but in the grand scheme of humanity and survival, we see that those with leadership and work-ethic tend to “succeed” far more often.

  5. “An empathy game can make you cry, but it can’t make you care. That’s up to you.”

    Summary: Compassion is the act of not sharing someone’s feelings, but makes you actively care for and seek change for their struggles. There are various forms of empathy as described in the Paul Ekman’s piece which includes recognition, emotional understanding, reactive responses, and compassion that exists at different levels. In both of the articles focused on games, the authors claim that video games cannot generate true compassion. It may make you feel for a character but unless you take action to change these situations in real life, it is not true compassion.

    Comment: I’m on the fence about this one. While I do agree that you’re not really compassionate unless you take a hard stance on something, I wouldn’t someone would get nothing from playing a video game that offers a close look into someone’s life. If you can walk away with a better understanding of a situation and in turn that allows you to have more empathy when you see it in real life then the game definitely made a positive impact. Maybe not a big one, but a positive one.


    1. Forgot my question,

      Question: At what point is something considered true empathy after playing a video game? Will I need to vote or volunteer or protest? Can my changed perspective and attitude towards a certain situation be enough?

  6. The first couple readings, “What Is Compassion? Why Practice It?” and Paul Ekman’s “Taxonomy of Compassion”, briefly define compassion. With the first explaining that compassion differs from empathy as it is not just feeling the pain of another, but the following desire to relieve it. Ekman’s article then breaks down empathy into emotion recognition, emotional resonance, as well as familial, global, sentient, and heroic compassion. His article points out the details of how each differs and the effects, as well as reasoning for such parts of compassion.

    The other two readings, Gina Roussos’s “When Good Intentions Go Awry” and Julie Muncy’s “Stop Expecting Games to Build Empathy” take the idea of compassion and analyze it in games. The Roussos article begins very positive, applauding the ability for games to increase empathy and foster community. But as she attempts to back up these claims with an experiment, it backfires. In playing a game about the experience of poverty, she finds that players actually had less compassion after playing. Her main finding being that the decision making involved made people feel more agency as a poor person, leaving them with less compassion for people that now seemed to be more responsible for their circumstances, a result of bad decisions. The Roussos article ended with the positive feeling of the start, claiming that games had the ability for good, but that care had to be taken in their design to ensure their proper experience. Muncy’s article was not of the same positive outlook on games. From the beginning, Muncy criticized games as being overly praised and protected by their community, with much less power to positively impact people. Muncy claims games are powerful, they bring in lots of money and are fun, but “they can’t make you a better person”.

    I was not a huge fan of Muncy’s article, while video games are overly praised for their ability to change, I think she was overly critical. I did however really like this quote: “An empathy game can make you cry, but it can’t make you care”. Games can portray experiences and make you feel emotions, but it does not mean it will alter your behavior after, just like movies and TV. However, just as in the case of a well made article, TV show, or movie, they can. Games can help better people, they do a good job of fostering community and helping build social skills and confidence. Once again, not all games do this, but if done correctly, they can.

    This TED talk by Jane McGonigal is one of the reasons I hold these beliefs about the potential for games to do good for the world: https://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world

  7. “Sentient Compassion is when you extend feelings of compassion toward cockroaches, toward any living being. We don’t know whether people who have global compassion have sentient compassion. But my hunch is that if you’ve got sentient, you’ve got global. The Dalai Lama and Darwin agree that sentient is the highest moral virtue.”

    This quote touched something deep in my mind. When I was a little child, I was taught throughout my life that the highest form of virtue is a concept from Confucian: “Do no impose on others what you yourself do not desire.” I took this doctrine to every aspect of my life, but still inevitably hurt people sometimes. I was frustrated by this fact and wonder why I could not make everyone happy even though I tried my best. Later I started to learn that this conception is definitely correct, but there is still more unsaid. While what you do not desire is not what others desire, what you desire may not be what others desire either. Preventing double standard is indeed moral, but empathy and putting yourself in others’ shoes is harder and should be exalted more.

    My question is when players of video games have full control over their character and sometime even all the NPCs, including their life or death, will this lead to disrespect of life and essentially, lack of compassion?


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