Empathy in Digital Games

Digital games are more than mere entertainment. They are chances to explore a vast array of ideas, events, rules and worlds. They are experiences full of activity and empathy. It’s this particular quality that games possess which shines for better or worse.

Each digital game is a unique “professor” and each game shares different concepts and ideas to masses of players, the “students.” Digital games major on empathy, allowing “students” to experience an idea or concept through interaction in gameplay.

Here interaction is of the highest value, because this learning is achieved through experience. Heavy Rain is an adequate example. The game’s central theme questions what a person is willing to endure or do to save a loved one.

The catch is that the story progresses based on decisions you make as the character. This tool of teaching is so invaluable to the experience, because soon players find themselves empathizing with this desperate father (Ethan).

Vision blurs during pain, control wanes as nervousness explodes, movement becomes slower and more difficult and emotion fluctuates from frustration and despair to peace and hope—all to have the player empathize with what Ethan is experiencing.

Heavy Rain attempts to force these emotions onto the player and soon I did feel what Ethan felt. His decisions were my decisions and the struggle to resolve the situation challenged me to ask myself if fulfilling a specific task is worth rescuing a life, a son no less! Now I’m drawn to ask the question, how do I continue to honor God in such virtual experiences?

Empathy, Monitored

See, because digital games possess such teaching ability, it’s paramount to analyze what’s truly being taught beneath the on-screen activity. Do the lessons taught reflect the truth found in Scripture or are they relative?

I was taught much in this experience, but it was inconsistent with what the Bible teaches of patience, love and faith. God was not the focus—human emotion owned the spotlight. Heavy Rain is masterful in committing players to empathize with a desperate and down-trodden father. Given the situation, it naturally concludes that he’d be worried about his son. I see no argument there, but players are drawn into this emotional sludge to contemplate it all on their own.

The decisions the game presents are devoid of faith and lack God’s providence. The game is a question of whether or not to take matters into your own hands. The game plays with the idea that all things merely hinge on what people accomplish in their own strength.

Heavy Rain boasts a cast of characters that are very human—broken, battered, confused, desperate and defeated. And through it all, they all are assisting one another in some way to bring this ordeal to a close. While it seems a good attempt to praise human effort, without God it merely places trust in people.

What’s wrong with these ideas? Is God honored when focus is terminates on humanity? The answer is no. So what did this game teach? That human effort and persistence is the answer—at least for “good” endings.

But God is the answer to life’s questions, problems, worries and struggles. He is joy, peace, happiness, courage and strength. To use just one example from Scripture, look at a situation David found himself in.

God Among Adversity

David was a part of the Philistine camp, a terrible enemy of his own people, Israel. He arrived on the battlefield ready, but some of the Philistines remembered him and the defeats he handed them, and so sent him home. At the same time, a rouge band came into his village and took the women and children hostage. God didn’t create the evil that had come on the camp, but his providence worked itself by sending David home to realize what had happened.

Their families torn, the warriors lost the will to fight and became bitter toward David. But what did David do? Scripture declares he inquired of the Lord and He told David to go after them and that he’d recover the families without fail!

How quickly their despair turned into an action plan to obey the voice of God. Scripture continues to show how they succeeded in what God had promised, but it didn’t come about of their own effort. God worked through David’s heart and David turned not to himself, but God.

Moreover, the Bible teaches that when we turn to God, He will send His peace—that peace which surpasses all understanding. That’s how to honor God in difficult situations. That is truth. There are other games that subtly teach humanism, but it’s a lie no matter how compelling the stories are.

The power of Heavy Rain as an empathetic work pulls on the soul, particularly the emotions. Gaming either edifies or dries out the soul, whether through sight, hearing, feeling and thinking.

This is why spending time in prayer is important, why reading what God says on a matter in His word is important. The meditation prepares the mind (the soul) for practicing holiness. Even during times of gaming, you must keep guard over your mind.

We don’t play games in a vacuum, apart from God. Each game played has a message and must be viewed and understood through Christ Jesus. To do less is a dishonor to the Holy Spirit and a potential setback to your faith.