New trend in video games forgo violence, embrace empathy

Studies show kids who play empathy games more cooperative, socially aware

Author: Allison McGinley, Special Projects Producer, amcginley@clickorlando.com
Published On: Nov 29 2013 11:15:00 PM EST   Updated On: Nov 29 2013 11:51:25 PM EST
empathy video games
ORLANDO, Fla. -

The bombs. The bullets. The crimes. Often, video games are blamed for desensitizing people to violence, but there's a new trend in video games getting noticed for doing just the opposite -- helping players explore their emotions and feel compassion for others.

In a single day, Meghan Ventura could decide whether families can pass through immigration, help a father cope with his son's cancer, or assist a woman with her struggles in a developing country.

Thankfully for Ventura, it's all a just game.

“These kind of empathy games can bring you these really intense, rich worlds, you know, and present issues you otherwise wouldn't have known about," said Ventura.

Gaming is a $60 billion industry worldwide.

While these empathy games are a tiny portion of that right now they’re gaining ground.

With titles like 'That Dragon, Cancer,' 'Papers, Please' and 'Half the Sky,' players face a range of emotions as they deal with various dilemmas. 

"'That Dragon, Cancer', which is about a father dealing with his son having cancer, and you know just being there with him and trying to keep his son just from -- stop crying and there's no way to do it. It's just so hard to watch and to even play through," said Ventura. 

The ability to make decisions for the characters is what makes the emotional experiences of these games appealing to people like Ventura.   Her choices impact the outcome.

And the games can impact the player, too, according to recent studies.

[WEB EXTRA: Empathy Games]

“We're finding in our studies kids who play more pro-social types of games end up increasing their empathy over time and then behaving more cooperatively and pro-socially in the real world," said Douglas Gentile, PhD.

The findings show all ages are affected.

“I've studied from about 2nd, 3rd grade, up through college age and we find pretty much the same effects no matter what age we look at," said Gentile.

Ventura still plays other traditional video games, but finds the empathy games equally entertaining-just in a different way. 

“Looking at the difficulties that they face in their day to day and how, you know, they're just kind of caught in this vicious cycle, really just brings it home," she said.

This type of game is available on a range of platforms rom videogame systems to online.  They range from free to about sixty dollars. 

“That Dragon, Cancer' is only available at expos right now, but will be released in just a few months.