November 23, 2018

On Monday 29th October the Arts & Prosocial behaviour Group (APRG) met for their second meeting of the academic year.

This month we had our first international guest speaker, Dr. Chaio-l Tseng, a research associate in the Faculty of Linguistics and Literary Sciences at the University of Bremen. She gave a talk her ongoing project titled: “Narrative arts, prosocial messages and emotion-centred communication: A multimodal and transmedial approach”.

Narrative arts like films, novels, games and comics have the power to simulate events which can be extremely moving for observers, players and readers. In this way, these art forms can play an important role in getting people to pay attention to social issues. Dr. Tseng has been investigating the narrative factors and media mechanisms behind how narrative arts can influence and change
behaviour and attitudes.

Dr. Tseng first introduced the topic to the group by speaking about war films. She mentioned that war films are usually not entirely about war, but more so about the emotions that people experience in wars. She has previously published work on war narratives but acknowledged that more empirical study is needed. Her current project has expanded on this research by shifting from war narratives to interactive games and apps that have prosocial messages (that is an explicit aim of changing people’s behaviour for the better). She stated that persuasion, social influence and changing behaviour are the main purposes of prosocial messages.

Dr. Tseng went on to talk about some of the types of video games that trigger empathy.

Although it may seem contradictory, war games focusing on violent shooting and combating that allow you to play the role of innocent civilians who are trying to survive in a war zone may increase empathy. This is due to strong identification with the characters and the inherent human desire to survive by any means possible. Dr. Tseng noted that in games like these, context is very important and that lots of narrative and verbal descriptions are needed for them to be successful, alongside constant moral justifications for carrying out acts that are usually viewed as immoral (e.g., killing).

Another game that she described was called “That dragon, cancer” which was centred on a family who had a son with cancer. In this game players were able to take the perspective of different characters such as the mother and the father.

The last game that she mentioned was an award-winning children’s app that was based on the film “The Fantastic Flying books of Mr Morris Lessmore”. In the app, children are able to take the perspective of Mr. Morris and/or join him in engaging in prosocial tasks such as helping him to mend books.

To conclude, Dr. Tseng stated that through analysing a lot of data from narrative art forms, there may be at least two basic main mechanisms that are crucial for triggering empathy in these types of games.: 1. shared actions co-performed by main characters and media user during the interactive narrative process, contextualised by pro-social motivations, 2. and shared point of view, which depicts vulnerable emotions shared by the main characters and media users.

Following the talk, we had a fruitful discussion with lots of interesting comments and questions such as:

  • Does sound have an effect on the experience of empathy?
  • What distinguishes empathy games from normal games? In all types of games, players are engaged so is it related to the specific activities that you engage with in the game?
  • Do empathy games increase empathy on their own, or do players need to engage in some kind of reflective practice after playing?
  • Is prosocial behaviour hardwired into play in general (e.g., tag, catch, hopscotch)? Or are games inherently competitive? And if so, how does competition interaction with prosocial behaviour and empathy?
  • Can we use experimental methods to test the impact of these types of games?

Thank you to everyone that attended, Dr. Tseng for the interesting talk, Dr Dieter Declercq in the School of Arts for organising the visit and the Aesthetics Research Centre, Centre for Film and Media Research, and the School of Arts Graduate Studies Committee for help with funding.

For more information on Dr. Tseng’s work check out her webpage:

For more information on empathy games check out:

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