Games that simulate & illustrate to improve empathy: A selection
I’ve selected a few games, some new, some old, some yet to be released, that are worth exploring. Some improve empathy on a personal level, others on a collective level.
Eco: An ecosystem simulation game
Eco has yet to be released on Windows or Mac computers, it is apparently available on Linux. It’s an interesting game concept to keep an eye out for.
The premise is that you as a player are part of a community on a server. You are spawned onto a planet at the dawn of civilization and are required to advance that civilization to a point where it may avoid or survive an impending natural disaster, such as a meteor, flood, earthquake, volcanic event. But you must do so without destroying your own planets ecosystem. If you fail in either, by not avoiding the natural disaster or poisoning your planet, you and the community suffer a server-wide permadeath or permanent death. There is no save point, you will need to start all over again from scratch.
It’s a very interesting and innovative concept that teaches collaboration, compassion and collective care for the outside world. And the actions you and your collective take have very real consequences in the game world. If you type of animal is hunted too often it will inevitably not spawn anymore, in other words, it becomes extinct. This influences the overall ecosystem, much like is a factory is built next to a river and the river becomes toxic, you no longer have clean drinking water.
I believe this game is worthwhile for all ages. The young can be taught from an early age what effects we as humans have in the world, and adults can be educated in a very clear and visual way what happens in our environment. This could be very worthwhile for certain populations in certain developed western nations of the world.
Spent: A simulation concerning poverty
Spent is a somewhat older game, but I felt it was worth mentioning as it is a very simple and straightforward gaming experience.
The game was created to illustrate the difficulties and struggle that many U.S. citizens who live in poverty face every day. Many of us in the West take this for granted but there is a large portion of individuals who have very little income, sometimes without the hope of receiving more, that still need to somehow survive in this world.
The game gives you the player, a single parent, $1000 to survive with for a month. Along with this comes a host of bills and payments, such as insurance, rent, food, transportation, medical aid, etc… And it requires you to juggle what is necessary, make judgment calls and morality choices on whether a sick parent or friend should receive a portion of it to survive as well.
The time-frame may not be the most accurate in terms of realism, but it does give a taste of what some people have to endure, without much choice.
This War of Mine: A war-torn survivor simulation
This War of Mine is a game developed by a polish games company and centers around a group of survivors, in a war-torn city, struggling to make it through each day. Your morals and empathy will be tested in this harrowing game.
You as the player need scavenge, steal and beg, in order to ensure that your band of survivors lives through to the next, all while a war rages around you. The game is based on the accounts of survivors from the Siege of Sarajevo and depicts many of the horrors that they had to endure.
Within the game, the death of one of your survivors is almost an inevitability. No matter how much you try, they may get shot, die from a sickness or of exposure. And this realization of the lack of control is a profound experience, as it is exactly that, which hopefully helps you realize the senseless nature of war and its effects on those that never wished for it. It brings to light the sad reality of the pointless death of human life in many war-torn regions in the world.
The game is very effective in bringing to the forefront the aspect of the war that many of us in modern peaceful societies try to avoid or are sadly ignorant of. Perhaps through experiencing this simulation and making the difficult choices that you are faced with when needing to survive will help you expand your understanding and empathy towards those that have to live through it in the real world.
On a side note, the developers of This War of Mine are developing a new game called Frostpunk, where you will be required to make the difficult moral choices on a much larger scale. Your morals, compassion, and ethics will be tested on a societal scale, as you will be required to ensure the survival of an entire city in a harsh and unforgiving environment.
Papers, Please: A civil servant simulation
Papers, Please in a simple sentence in a simulation about the difficulties of being a civil servant who must remain impartial to reach a quota so that they can keep their job.
You are this civil servant, and you must man a border control station of a 1980’s Soviet-style totalitarian nation. You de facto hold the power that allows people to enter to earn a living, to remain with their families, receive medical care, but also you need to ensure that dissidents and rebels do not enter and attack the innocent.
As I mentioned earlier, it is a great game that slowly increases in difficulty, showing you the bureaucratic mire that you eventually end up in, and yet still must navigate to ensure the well-being of your own family and make the right choice for those desperate and sad individuals showing up at your border control box.
It is a great example of how to balance external and internal empathy, intellectual and emotional empathy. You will need the capacity to balance care for those that are strangers to you, versus your own (virtual) family. The game is excellent in highlighting that great moral struggle of where do you draw the line between empathy and “only following orders”.