(University of Innsbruck)

“Complicity and Empathy: The Gamification of Emotions”

In 2016, game-designer Brenda Romero argued that “games convey complicity like no other medium can” (Romero in Wadell 2016). Exploring this claim, I will discuss the relationship of complicity, empathy and gamification in serious games. I am particularly interested in the question whether empathy is actually an effective way to learn about systemic and individual injustices and how empathy is being used or abused as a means and an aim in educational contexts with a particular focus on the intersections of gamification. Here, I will argue that gamification is not only used as playful way of teaching positivist knowledge. Gamification, is also employed as a means of “affecting affects” (Wächter, Complicity Network Description).  

By looking at serious games that attempt to induce or nudge subjects towards a sense of empathy, I will explore with Toby Smethurst and Stef Craps “the inter(re)activity [of computer-games], the way they create empathy, and how they make the player complicit with in-game events.” (Smethurst and Craps 2015, 271).I will, firstly, introduce the recent trend of so-called ‘empathy-games’, such as Anna Anthropy’s Dis4ria (2012), Amy and Ryan Green’s auto-biographical That Dragon, Cancer (2016); Pixel Hunt’s Bury me, My Love (2017) and Zoë Quinn’s Depression Quest (2013). Secondly, I will explore how the respective game-mechanics aim to strike a balance between allowing immersion and creating empathy. Thirdly, I will conclude with a short examination of an exhibit at Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia, which connects empathy and complicity by means of gamification.