Role-playing gamers have more empathy than non-gamers

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When you and your friends are sitting around the gaming table, you’re not just slaying orcs or battling the unholy legions of the dead. You’re becoming a more socially adjusted person. That’s because role-players have more empathy than those who have never sat around a table to slay a dragon.

According to the paper, “Empathic Features and Absorption in Fantasy Role-Playing,” by the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, researchers ran 127 gamers through two tests: the Davis Interpersonal Reactivity Index, which measures empathy (the ability to relate to other people) and the Tellegen Absorption Scale, which measures absorption (focus on the task at hand). They discovered that gamers scored higher than non-gamers on the IRI scale of empathy.

This “confirm[s] the hypothesis that fantasy role-players report experiencing higher levels of empathic involvement with others,” the abstract says.

Gamers have empathy? But these are the guys who laugh at your failed saving throws and leave you in a locked crate while they grab the loot (not that I’m bitter). But it seems that gamers are really good at putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes/boots of speed. We can imagine ourselves throwing fireballs, and we can imagine the pain of the burn.

Psychologists agree that empathy is an important characteristic—even if they can’t agree on a definition. Dr. Nancy Hoffer, clinical psychologist, said in a phone interview that different branches of psychology have different definitions. For the most part, it’s the ability to identify with other people. And it’s important because, as Hoffer explained, “In a social world, empathy allows us to interact with each other without killing each other so that we won’t eat each other.”

[Sidenote: Me: “So we don’t…eat each other? Oh gods!” Dr Hoffer: “I stand by my quote.”]

The University of California, Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center writes that empathy reduces prejudice, racism, and bullying and boosts relationship satisfaction. GGSC says that empathy is “a vital first step in compassionate action.” We could all use more of that.  

There’s no way to tell if people with empathy are naturally attracted to RPGs, or if people can develop more empathy as they play.  Videogame players, who frequently play alone, weren’t mentioned in this study, either.

But if this study is correct and gamers are empathic, and empathy leads to compassionate action, it would therefore follow that gaming makes the world a better place. Now get rolling.

Feature Image Credit: Wiki Commons/ Creative Commons

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