There is a recent movement that has occurred in the video game world which may be attributed to developments such as virtual reality that attune to our need to connect as humans. Chris Milk, an immersive storyteller in his TED talk “How Technology can create the ultimate Empathy Machine” has been studying the cutting edge of technology use and its ability to make humans understand, feel and empathize. He cites film as the first technological medium in this evolution and later explains how VR builds on this medium by creating an environment that simulates full immersion in the story.
He concludes that Virtual Reality is the ultimate empathy machine and he uses it to tell the stories of immigrants and refugees to world policymakers.
Developments such as VR films have brought a change on how this medium and other interactive experiences such as video games can be used to help people in negative circumstances to be better understood. There has been a recent influx games and experiences that are meant to demonstrate these sorts of human situations such as with cancer, dementia, and mental illness, here are some examples.
That Dragon, Cancer is a video game that explores the story of a family and their son diagnosed with terminal cancer. The game goes through how the family went through this experience and presents poetic representations of the situation to players.
Before I Forget by UK based 3-Fold Games explores the perspective of an elderly woman suffering from dementia. In an article by Mark Serrells, author of the CNET article, “The video game that helped me understand my grandma’s dementia” Mark wrote, “I’d forgotten that people with dementia are also, in their own way, grieving.” This deep empathy is typical of these experiences, rather than watching what happens, the problems unfold as the player interacts with the environment creating a more direct connection between the player and the experience of those who suffer with this condition.
“Games are traditionally power fantasies, a medium in which players are the driving impetus. You solve problems, defeat monsters, save the day. Stripping back that power is, in some ways, a revolutionary act.” This divergence from the tradition of games draws into question whether games have a new genre to fill or are these experiences games at all? I named them empathetic simulations, but would there be a better name? The answer remains to be found should games like this continue to be produced and accepted as titles worth playing and seeing for years to come.