to the homeless, engaging with thegame may increase their experienceof empathy, but they are unlikelyto give time or money to a shelterbecause their appraisal of the situationis incongruent with their goals. Inother words, people’s attitudes towardhomelessness will affect whether thegame leads to compassionate action orstops at empathy.
Supporting feelings of agency.
Feeling overwhelmed by empathicdistress or feeling a compassionatemotivation to take action seems todepend on how much we believe wecan make a difference. Appraisalstudies have shown that “feelingsof compassion should increasewhen the individual feels capable ofcoping with the target’s suffering.
Appraisals of low coping ability, bycontrast, should activate distress inthe face of another’s suffering, whichcountervails compassion-relatedtendencies when resources are low”([ 8] quoted in [ 2]).
Design decisions can either fosterfeelings of empowerment to supportcompassion or simply evoke empathyand possibly distress. Take, for example,various design approaches taken bycharities and nonprofit organizations:In the past 20 years we have observeda move from confrontational imageryof dire and overwhelming suffering(e.g., children dying of starvation) toimagery of people being empowered bycharitable assistance to improve theirlives (e.g., a community thriving thanksto clean-water access made possible bydonations).
In seeing that action works, weshare in joy rather than misery.
Designing for the underrated conceptof “empathic joy” in the face of greatsocial challenges adds empowermentto the picture, moving empathy towardcompassionate action.
Providing opportunities for the
practice of altruism. Practice makes
• Providing opportunities for the
practice of altruism
• Providing opportunities for
• Supporting compassion training
Addressing appraisals ofdeservedness. In the talk “TheAncient Heart of Forgiveness” forthe Berkeley Greater Good ScienceCenter [ 6], Jack Kornfield describesan encounter with a group of Tibetannuns who, as teenagers, survived yearsof imprisonment and torture as partof Chinese-government oppression.The nuns were asked if they were everafraid during this time, to which theyresponded, “Yes, we were terriblyafraid. And what we were afraid ofwas that we would end up hatingour guards—that we would lose ourcompassion.” A powerful testament tocompassion as resilience, rare exampleslike these of compassion in the faceof extreme injustice call to mind ourgreatest cultural heroes and suggestthat compassion in its pure state is non-judgemental. However, few of us haveexperienced compassion of such heroicproportions. In contrast, compassionis frequently derailed by appraisals offairness—whether or not we feel othersare responsible for their condition [ 2].
As such, designers seeking tofoster social change will need toaddress underlying perceptions ofdeservedness. In some cases, this willentail correcting misconceptions (forexample, about the various roots ofmental illness, obesity, or poverty).
In other circumstances, strategies forfostering empathy may be the first step,such as for conflict resolution (as withthe PeaceMaker game).
Jonathan Belman and MaryFlanagan, who provide guidelines forgames to foster empathy [ 7], give theexample of a game for eliciting empathyin relation to homelessness. They pointout that for players who attribute blame
by empathic distress or feeling
a compassionate motivation
to take action seems to depend
on how much we believe
we can make a difference.