Stop expecting games to build empathy

stop expecting games to build empathy

In this article, we will see what ‘Stop expecting games to build empathy’ means.


Games have been an integral part of every teenager’s life since times immemorial. However, in ancient times, there was no technology and no internet. Hence, people used to play offline games and indulge in sporting activities. During the times of the emperors and the empresses, hunting was considered a favorite sport. With the coming of age, other games such as cricket, soccer, and countless others have been played. Apart from these, indoor games such as chess and ludo have been played. If we fast forward to the present times, the internet has become inevitable in all our lives. Quite a large percentage of the teenage population uses it to play games of some type or the other. Just like everything else, this too has its own set of pros and cons. However, empathy is an emotion that cannot be taught from gaming activities.

Why games cannot impart empathy among people?

Games played during any era tend to instill a sense of competition among the players. Empathy is an emotion almost contrary to that of competitiveness. It refers to the feeling of understanding what someone is going through and share his/ her grief. All games, whether old or new, only intend on letting the opponent down. It goes unsaid that one cannot empathize with someone with who he/ she is competing. There are hardly any games that teach people the value of emotions like empathy and compassion. These are emotions that tend to soften an individual’s heart. However, though important for personal development, the spirit of competition cannot make one empathize with people.

  1. Starting with games as simple as chess involves reading a person’s mind. It requires the players to play brain games with each other. Empathy cannot be a brain job. It is an emotion felt in the heart. Chess requires brainstorming but empathy requires experiencing. It is almost as if both things are contradictory to one another.
  1. Also, if we talk about team games such as cricket and soccer, they support a team. In this case, also, there is no empathy for the opponent. Moreover, even if a team member is injured or unable to perform, the others support him only due to the selfish reason of wanting victory.
  1. Talking about online games such as PubG and COD, they are extremely destructive for the mind. They are very violent and tend to destroy soft emotions from the mind of the players. They are constantly in the hoard of wanting to virtually hurt each other.

All these instances prove that the individual’s selfish needs are involved in his victory. Therefore, emotions like empathy are selfless. Also, the word “game” is often used in a negative sense too. For example, “Do not play games with my heart,” which means that do not hurt me. Therefore, we should stop expecting games to build empathy among those who play them.

Games in the Ancient Period:

As mentioned earlier, the reign of emperors and empresses often promoted hunting as a gaming activity. In many countries across the world, the rulers were proud of their skills. The killed animal would often be displayed on the walls of their palaces as proof of their skill and might. Thinking further, we could label war as a “game” too, because just like another other game, it too involves the feeling of wanting to defeat the opponent.

Q) Why can gaming in the ancient period not instill empathy?

  1. Hunting involves killing various species of fauna for their various body parts. The valuable parts are then sold in the market as a symbol of great pride. 
  2. Again, this is extremely conflicting with the idea of empathy. If the person hunting had felt a sense of empathy, he/ she would not have wanted to hurt the animal in the first place. 
  3. Instead, they would have valued the life of the organism and spared them. Killing the animal for personal use is self-seeking. It almost ruins the idea of all organisms having equal rights to life. 

Now, if we talk about war, it is the opposite of empathy. It has been called a “game” because, like every other, the idea of wanting to bring the opponent down is the crux of the whole fight. It is a direct aversion between two rulers. It not only creates a tussle between two empires but also divides their people. Ideas like compassion are meant to bring people together. It is meant to treat everyone as an equal. However, war denotes the feeling of wanting to win over someone’s territory. These ideas of war promote concepts such as slavery, which tends to bring pain to a certain class of people for no fault of theirs. Anyone willing to empathize with these people would fight selflessly and ensure that citizens of both the winning and the losing states are treated equally.

Outdoor games:

There are numerous outdoor games such as badminton, tennis, and many more. Both these games are similar to one another in terms of being racket sports. Badminton involves the usage of a shuttlecock, and tennis uses a ball. These games are meant to force the opponent to make a mistake to win a point. Again, this is a violation of the basic principle of empathy. In a case where the opponents empathized with each other, there would have been no winner or loser in a game.

  1. Discussing a different genre of sports that involves fighting and martial arts is not teaching the contenders the values of empathy. 
  2. It is understood as to why these sports activities cannot teach someone to empathize. The players are directly fighting and hurting each other physically. 
  3. Seeing the other person injured, they tend to take advantage of his or her weaknesses. They have a general tendency to hit on the other person’s weak spot to win the fight. 
  4. In wrestling, there is a specific move referred to as the half nelson choke, where the opponent uses the arms to try and choke the opponent. This might hurt the wrestler or seriously injure him too. 

Indoor games:

Q) Indoor games are non-violent, so how do they question the value of empathy?

Here, the basic essence is for the reader to understand that most games of any form teach the players anything but the idea of compassion and empathy. It does not matter whether the game is violent or passive, indoor or outdoor. If we consider the example of chess again:

  1. It is an evaluation of the opponent’s mind. It involves capturing his/ her pieces to move forward on the board. 
  2. This can also be explained as contrary to the idea of empathy. These concepts involve taking every person or situation, whether good or bad, in one’s stride.
  3. In chess, the player is metaphorically removing his opponent’s piece from his/ her route. 

This is how indoor games, though non-violent, can still prove to be a source of extreme competition and hatred among individuals.

Video games:

The internet is becoming an inseparable part of everyone’s lives. This has led to a reduction in the proportion of people playing sports. On the other hand, those competing online have increased hugely. 

  1. Games like PubG are extremely destructive for the mind. They tend to stray the player from all emotions related to empathy and love.
  2. The player constantly wants to injure his contenders virtually to move ahead in the game.
  3. Even if he/ she does befriend someone, it is only done to increase the probability of victory.
  4. These games are particularly responsible for promoting a great amount of violence among teenagers. 
  5. Also, these games are extremely addictive and tend to keep playing in the mind of the players. Since the maximum population playing such games belong to teenagers, it is furthermore dangerous.


Teenage is a very tender phase in the life of an individual. The guardians need to be well monitored to ensure that the child is not staying in the wrong direction. Emotions like empathy and compassion tend to keep an individual going on the right path. The moment someone loses the importance of these emotions, he/ she tends to have a negative and destructive mindset. This is detrimental for the adolescent and his/ her family members, friends, and other well-wishers.

Q) Are there any games that tend to promote empathy among the players?

Looking at both sides of the coin, certain games aggravate these positive emotions among the players. An example of one such game is the ‘Crystals of Kaydor.’ It is related to a condition of existential crisis. It includes a damaged spaceship and an individual who needs to communicate with aliens to carry out life.

One must remember that games of these kinds are rare. The spirit of gaming promotes the idea of competitiveness. This is good to a certain extent because all values are required to live a life in some form or the other. However, they prove to be a stark contrast to the idea of empathy as they only involve bringing the opponent down to prove your worth.

Hence, we should stop expecting games to build empathy among all those who play them.


                                                                                    -Vedika Gupta

Stop expecting games to build empathy

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