Empathy and its alternatives: Deconstructing the rhetoric of “empathy” in video games

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This article analyzes the contemporary discourse that surrounds video games. Specifically, it confronts the rhetoric of “empathy,” which has become a buzzword in North American industry, academic, education, and media conversations about video games and their supposed power to place players into others' shoes-especially those games created by queer or otherwise marginalized people. Scholars like Wendy Chun and Teddy Pozo and game designers like Robert Yang have spoken out against this rhetoric. Building from their writing, as well as critiques from the creators of queer independent games commonly mislabeled as “empathy games,” this article delineates the discriminatory implications of the term. Rather than simply dismissing “empathy,” however, this article unpacks it, turning to textual artifacts like news stories and industry presentations, as well as the 2016 video game Unravel (ColdWood Interactive), to deconstruct the term's many meanings and to identity alternative (queerer) models of affective engagement with video games.




Ruberg, B. (2020). Empathy and its alternatives: Deconstructing the rhetoric of “empathy” in video games. Communication, Culture and Critique, 13(1), 54–71. https://doi.org/10.1093/CCC/TCZ044

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