Developing an empathy spectrum for games

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Games often encourage players to feel empathy for characters or scenarios by design. However, the term ‘empathy’ is often misunderstood and used in a variety of contexts as a substitute for feelings of sympathy, pity and compassion. This article defines a distinction between these similar terms and uses their definitions to describe how players emotionally engage with a game. This helps define an empathy spectrum, ranging from pity to compassion, that can be used to subjectively classify different games. To show the spectrum in use, the article discusses a variety of video games that can be placed at the spectrum’s key points, before discussing how games might reach the spectrum’s furthest point: compassion. The research hopes that modelling these abstract psychological concepts on this spectrum can help game designers, players and scholars better understand the range of emotional responses present in games.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)635-659
Number of pages25
JournalGames and Culture
Issue number6
Early online date5 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021


  • games
  • empathy
  • empathy games
  • sustainability
  • reflection


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