Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

A study of empathetic play in serious games
by Belman, Jonathan, Ph.D., New York University, 2016, 160; 10129582
Abstract (Summary)

This work explores some key questions associated with designing games to foster empathy. First, how can design practice build on the understandings of empathy that have been developed in a variety of disciplines? Although empathy has been thoroughly studied in many fields, the lack of standardized nomenclature makes it difficult to apply knowledge from one to the next. Here, I present a theoretical framework that helps organize and explain research on empathy across disciplines. I also use the framework to propose heuristic best practices for designing games to foster empathy.

Second, what does “empathetic play” look and feel like, and how does it impact the player? In the research presented here, 81 participants played the game Layoff. Some were prompted to play “empathetically,” while others received no prompting. Both quantitative and qualitative findings suggest that the experience of empathetic play is distinct from that of entertainment-focused play, and that empathetic play produces distinct attitudinal and behavioral consequences. Specific findings include the following:

2. Empathetic players approached in-game decisions as moral dilemmas, while entertainment-focused players were much less likely to engage with the game on moral terms.

3. Empathetic players were much more likely to experience emotional states that have been associated with empathy in prior research, i.e., empathetic concern and personal distress.

4. Empathetic players were more likely to associate their own histories with people represented in the game.

5. Once the game was over, players who had been prompted to engage empathetically donated more of their remuneration to a charity serving victims of economic hardship.

Overall, these results suggest that (a) players will not reliably adopt an empathetic (as opposed to entertainment-focused) posture without some form of prompting, and that (b) empathetic engagement inside of a game can encourage altruistic behavior in the world outside the game.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Goldman, Ricki
Commitee: Isbister, Katherine, Nissenbaum, Helen
School: New York University
Department: Administration, Leadership, and Technology
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 77/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Educational psychology
Keywords: Cognitive empathy, Empathy, Games
Publication Number: 10129582
ISBN: 978-1-339-87473-9
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