The Design of RPGs to Teach Ethics and Empathy

Presented by Karen Schrier

This 60-minute paper presentation investigates how role-playing games (RPGs) may support ethical thinking and empathy skill practice in formal and informal learning environments. In particular, this research considered how participants think through ethical decisions in Fable III, a video game. In this study, twenty males, 18 to 34 years old, were randomly assigned to play Fable III, with half assigned to play as a male avatar, and half assigned as a female avatar. Ten males were randomly assigned to work through written scenarios based on Fable III’s scenarios. Ethical thinking skills and thought processes used were identified and analyzed. Results suggested that all game players, regardless of avatar gender, practiced ethical thinking, and that the inclusion of specific design elements may support more frequent use of ethical decision making skills. The design principles suggested include: providing authentic ethical choices and contexts, clear and appropriate consequences, and opportunities for building relationships with one’s avatar and the game’s virtual characters. Based on this research, I propose a set of design principles for creating games to help young adults practice ethical thinking and empathy skills. I will also discuss implications for K-12 and the in-classroom use of games.


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