Creating Empathy through Interactive Content

Of all the possible uses for interactive content, the one I am most interested in is for getting people to care about a cause, getting them involved, and inspiring change.  This is done most easily through the creation of empathy in an audience.  The first time I felt really passionate about a cause was when I saw the movie “Hotel Rwanda.” I was so shocked and outraged at the West’s inaction toward African violence, that I helped create a group at my high school to raise awareness about the genocide in Sudan.  Clearly, the creative team behind “Hotel Rwanda” knew something about empathy, though I’m sure inspiring high school students to write letters to their Senators was not their primary goal with the movie.  But for the organizations and creative projects that DO want to inspire this kind of action, there are a lot of ways to create empathy.

One of the best ways is to put the audience in someone else’s shoes.  Having an idea of what someone is going through is the core idea of empathy and there are a lot of interactive projects that use this tool.

Spent is a game where you attempt to make it through the month as a person severely under the poverty line. You have to find a job, buy groceries, pay bills, and make hard decisions about family and health.  After each decision or task, the game gives feedback about why the decision has such an impact for people with very little means.  This kind of information makes players really think about what they would do in this situation, and consider the grim reality of poverty.  It creates very strong empathy because  players would understood more about need and survival for people with very little.

This next example is empathy on a rather larger scale.  In the United States we don’t know what it is like to not have access to water and food on demand.  Oxfam’s GROW campaign seeks to educate people about the realities of food shortage around the world through an interactive map feature.  Clicking on different countries will explain what are the specific problems that country faces, what causes them, and their widespread impact.  Then users can see graphically displayed statistics on hunger, photos from each country, and finally ways to help.  This feature not only makes the global food crisis understandable, but also shows users what it would be like in each of those countries through pictures and statistics.

My goal once I graduate is to work in nonprofits and non-governmental organizations, which need donors and volunteers to survive.  Empathy is at the very core of their operations, and interactive features like these would be powerful tools for any nonprofit.   My first project for Interactive Storytelling will be an interactive feature showing the refugee resettlement process.  The potential client is the Center for New North Carolinians, so I am aiming to make something they can use to help educate people about what it means to be a refugee, how they get to North Carolina, and why.  I’m excited to get some practice for the ‘real world’ with this project and because it is a cause so close to my heart and my studies.

To see my interactive project for the Center for New North Carolinians, go to my personal website, here.

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