I don’t enjoy playing games, but there is such pleasure in thinking about them. I especially do not play video games (Tetris stands as my hypocrisy here), but I am continually attracted to contemplating their effects in the world. I read these effects through my lover (who designs video games), and I imagine them through the regular play of the mind that, while instantly bored with buttons, is immensely intrigued by possible worlds.
In “The Video Game Art of Fumito Ueda,” Chris Sullentrop proposes that some games are capable of “evoking empathy in the gamer through the play itself, rather than through dialogue or animation,” and he suggests that guilt, sadness, a sense of one’s own capacity for violence and regret are but some of the mechanisms that can induce this heightened sense of interconnection. Perhaps empathy is a sense to be nurtured through performance. My lover and I, we wonder about this. What possible links between shame, despair and a cultivation of empathy as a sense to be refined (much like taste matures, both culinary and aesthetic, by eating and looking)? Tragedy, like a dinner party? Tragedy, like great art?
Sullentrop would counter that this idea is too simple, suggesting that “emphasizing the ways that games are tools for instruction—whether intellectual, physical, or moral—is an unfortunate residue of their origins as children’s playthings,” and a more enduring (or mature) understanding of their potential in the world is brought about through the possibility of video games to tell stories. Not all games tell stories, nor all food delicious, nor all art moving. But increasing our means of telling stories increases the diversity of what is told, and in this way we compound which transactions between us can be carried forward, be it between a maker’s imagination and their audience, between a chef and their guests. We develop other ways of listening. We increase our literate agility. So perhaps video games do not breed empathy, but expose us and render us tender.