Case Study on VR Empathy Game: Challenges with VR Games Development for Emotional Interactions with the VR Characters
Keywords:Virtual reality, empathy development, games for children, educational games, case study
Empathy development in young children (6 to 9 years old) sets a foundation for emotional regulation and social skills for children’s futures. Researchers from the fields of virtual reality (VR) and game design highlight the potential of VR technologies as a great tool to promote empathy. However, there is little empirical and systematic knowledge on how to use VR technology to help promote empathy in young children. To address this gap, we developed a VR Empathy Game prototype to explore how VR experiences can inculcate empathy development in young children. To evaluate this prototype, we conducted a qualitative study with 15 children from 6 to 9 years old. We used an interpretive case study to provide an in-depth understanding of children’s experiences with the VR Empathy Game. To guide participant selection, we used a purposeful sampling approach and intentionally included K-3 children with different empathy and social skills levels.
This paper describes one case representing a challenge that children with a low level of empathy can experience while playing the VR Empathy Game. This case explains the game experience of a seven-year-old boy, Gabe. The case is entitled: “The VR Empathy Game Experience with a Focus on Exploring the Environment and Looking for Clues.” Gabe confused intrinsic and extrinsic game goals and played the game focusing only on the VR environment. He perceived the game characters as an information source rather than building relationships with them unlike the children with a higher level of empathy. This case represents the group of four boys who participated in our study. In comparison with other participants, Gabe’s case provided very little evidence of noticing the characters' emotions. Our findings suggest that game designers should provide additional scaffolding for children with little levels of empathy, including additional reflective questions and reminders to interact with the characters. We also suggest a follow-up study exploring how different storylines would help children’s game experience.