Empathy Games: Life, Meet Play

Empathy game designers don’t have massive teams or huge budgets, but that doesn’t stop them from making important, moving games.


It’s difficult to write about the emerging genre of “empathy games” without dimming their liveliest characteristics. Even their title is nebulous. You might say empathy games attempt to put you into someone else’s shoes, and indeed many do. However, while big-budget titles strap you into iron-clad boots and decorate your torso with rifles and grenades, a game like Cart Life, for example, hands you divorce papers and a small sum of cash and asks you to provide for a daughter.


Empathy games are about lives – even a single life, in some cases. They grab the wide-angle lens that big developers use to tell stories of galactic destruction and they zoom far in on, say, a transgender woman crossing the street. If we’re looking at human life in quantity only, then yes, the stakes are smaller. But through intelligent writing and design choices, these creators have managed to make a rude, overheard comment feel more menacing than a looming Death Star.


by Brian Albert