Games transport and transform us, so can they also teach us to be more empathetic? Informatics Professor Theresa Jean Tanenbaum has been researching this question for quite some time. “A lot of my work is about how to create experiences of identity transformation and empathy through play,” she says. To further this work, he is teaming up with Heidi McDonald, senior creative director at iThrive Games, to organize UCI’s first Empathy Game Jam.
“I met Heidi last year at the UCI Women in Gaming event, where it became clear that we were kindred spirits,” explains Tannenbaum. Her work with iThrive focuses on promoting positive psychology through play to empower teens, and the company supports game jams that aim to “find the kind.” So, at the recent Global Game Jam that Tannenbaum hosted at UCI, iThrive sponsored prizes for games that fostered kindness. “This was so successful that we decided to host another jam at UCI, focused entirely on empathy and using a combination of my research and iThrive’s pedagogical materials,” says Tannenbaum.
The free event, which will take place at the UCI Esports arena on May 18-20, aims to bring together high school students, UCI students and local game developers to produce prototype digital games that promote kindness. Computers with Unity 3D, Audacity, Blender, GIMP, Krita, Chrome and Skype will be provided, but registration is required as space is limited. The event will start at 7 p.m. on Friday night with a reception and dinner. It will then run from 9 a.m. through 10 p.m. on Saturday (with lunch, dinner and snacks provided) and will resume at noon on Sunday with lunch. The jam session will conclude at 5 p.m., followed by a showcase, judging, dinner and awards. Select empathy prototype games and microgames for PCs could be featured on the iThrive Games website or used for research.
“My hope for this event is that it will build positive collaborations and mentorship between the games community at UCI and the larger Orange County game design community,” says Tannenbaum. “I also expect to see some great games come out of the weekend!”
— Shani Murray