Video games, especially those using virtual reality technology, are now being used to teach people empathy, with a pair of new games putting people in situations meant to show them what it’s like to be persecuted. It’s a testament to how far the technology has come and can be a great tool to help people see situations from the perspectives of everyone involved.
One game, for example, puts you in the shoes of a baseball player in the 1940s, who is playing in the Negro Leagues. Not only do you get to try and get a hit of Satchel Paige or track down a long fly ball from Josh Gibson when playing “Barnstormers: Determined to Win,” but you also get to experience life as an African-American living through segregation. Players in the game talk about the struggles they faced and you get to see the inequality and poverty firsthand. The game’s creator said it was important to him to be honest about that period of American history and re-create the world that African Americans had to endure.
If baseball isn’t your cup of tea, how about getting on a plane as a Malaysian American woman and seeing what life is like. “On the Plane” portrays the xenophobia that people like her experience and allows you to take the role of different passengers, who come from different backgrounds, and engage with other people on the flight.
“This project is part of our efforts to harness the power of virtual reality and artificial intelligence to address social ills, such as discrimination and xenophobia,” says Caglar Yildirim, an MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) research scientist who is a co-author and co-game designer on the project, in a published report. “Through the exchange between the two passengers, players experience how one passenger’s xenophobia manifests itself and how it affects the other passenger. The simulation engages players in critical reflection and seeks to foster empathy for the passenger who was ‘othered’ due to her outfit being not so ‘prototypical’ of what an American should look like.”