Building Empathy Through AR and VR Technology – Research Outlines the Advantages for Games

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One of the biggest issues facing many gaming publishers and the industry at large is how to police and otherwise regulate vast, sprawling online communities that comprise the players for their blockbuster titles.

As more and more games move towards the games-as-a-service platform concept, it is even more important that publishers and devs take the overall health of an online community seriously.

And gamers get a particularly bad rap in the press. Whether it is tantrums or acting as any other competitive person would, there is a perception in the wider public that video games foster immature behavior and, at worst, callous or mean habits.

Of course, this could be said about anything and anyone but there is a reason the antisocial gamer is a prevalent stereotype and it is one that research shows the augmented reality and virtual reality could eliminate.

Venture Beat reports that not only do the immersive experiences of AR and VR games help foster empathy among people but also this has a range of benefits outside of just making a troll a better person.

Because money is at the bottom of all of this. Gamer health just happens to be a benefit the comes as a result.

Basically, what has the power to change a gamer’s behavior is known in psychology as an embodiment. An embodiment is a degree to which a player identifies with his in-game avatar and the level of attachment he feels towards it. If the gamer feels that the avatar represents who he is and “embodies” his values then the actions fostered in the game world could have a spillover effect into the real world which is why it is so important for games to foster pro-social, cooperative development among their online communities if they are to remain viable for the long haul.

Summarizing the gist of the collected research on this topic, Venture Beat’s Ketaki Shriram writes, “research suggests that virtual environments have a heightened capacity to inspire empathy via an embodiment of novel avatars (virtual bodies that do not resemble the user’s physical body).”

He continues by citing an example, “when people took on the identity of a piece of acidifying coral in virtual reality, they were more likely to show empathy towards the ecosystem after the experience. These findings indicate an opportunity for AR games to positively impact users and communities. Carefully crafted augmented reality games can bring people together and inspire empathy, kindness, and understanding.”

Part of why virtual reality and augmented reality gaming is so powerful in this regard is because of the much more immersive experiences they offer as opposed to traditional gaming. In the act of becoming part of some world or immersed in some kind of analogous creation, players can adapt their behaviors to suit the needs of the in-game world and these can either reinforce or teach positive habits for life outside of the game.

Thinking of gaming as a method of shaping behaviors has both good and somewhat dystopian points about it but, one thing is certain, VR and AR technology’s ability to offer a more nuanced approach to behavioral therapy is not being overlooked.

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