Reading Blog 12 – October 16, 2015

“Chapter 2: Empathy” (p. 18-23) by Ian Bogost from “How To Do Things With Videogames.”

One of the biggest benefits of video games is that it helps you develop a new perspective on life by putting you in someone else’s shoes. For a few hours in a day, you get immersed in someone else’s environment, and you get to see what a typical day in their life is like. Whether that be in the middle of a battlefield or a foreign planet, video games give you a first-person perspective into a whole new world. Bogost writes about this phenomenon, and argues that it helps people develop a sense of empathy. At first, I found this a bit hard to grasp. I couldn’t understand how violent video games helped you develop a sense of compassion for someone else. If anything, I would think that you would develop less compassion and more aggression towards your enemies in video games. However, Bogost uses the example of video games modeled after serious world issues. For example, he talks about a game called “Darfur is Dying” which puts the player in a position of a Darfuri child who needs to avoid militia soldiers in order to gather some water. This game is formatted like a normal action-adventure game, which really highlights the issues that it’s trying to address when playing the game. By taking on the vantage point of a Darfuri child, you get a sense of what their environment would be like and develop a sense of compassion for them. Bogost relates this ideal to a lot of other games, such as Hush and the E.T. game. In these games, the player is put in a position of weakness rather than power. Through these vignettes, players are able to understand what it feels like to fulfill these peoples’ roles, which isn’t always pleasant or gratifying. It’s an interesting way to look at video games, one that I’ve never considered before.

Links:

  1. “Why Video Games Can’t Teach You Empathy” – http://motherboard.vice.com/read/empathy-games-dont-exist
  2. “How can playing a game make you more empathetic?” (Podcast) – http://www.npr.org/2015/03/27/395039920/how-can-playing-a-game-make-you-more-empathetic
  3. “Can A Video Game Teach Empathy?” –  http://www.slate.com/articles/life/family/2014/02/trip_hawkins_s_next_act_if_you_can_a_startup_for_social_emotional_learning.html

Discussion Questions:

  1. What other roles or perspectives can video games teach you?
  2. Do video games help you understand someone else’s experience (like Bogust argues) or just an experience that’s outside of your comfort zone? To me, those are two different things.
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