Commentary If… Game Co-founder: It’s Time for Games that Teach Empathy By Jessica Berlinski - Aug 28, 2014 Game Development, Market Analysis If… Co-founder Berlinski: “The climate is ripe for video game companies and investors to make money on empathy-building games…” I remember exactly where I was when I learned about the Sandy Hook massacre: in San Francisco, up early, getting coffee in a hotel restaurant. News reports of the 20 children and six adults killed by a former student at the elementary school blasted out of the television. I couldn’t stop watching—horrified, saddened, disbelieving. I was in San Francisco to jointly plan a new venture: create one of the first video games with a mission to build social-emotional learning skills in children and help reduce violence. News of the horrific tragedy began focusing on possible causes, among them violent video games. Although proof linking violent video game play to real life violence is controversial, there is proof that video games are good platforms for building prosocial skills. The climate is ripe for video game companies and investors to make money on empathy-building games for two reasons: parents want them, and they align with an identified market trend towards greater empathy. Parents, the purchasers of games for children 2-11 years of age, are eager to buy games that build social-emotional learning (SEL) skills. Parents want their children to learn to regulate their emotions, to understand how others feel, to persevere through challenges, to build healthy relationships and to make good decisions. Bestsellers like Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed are making parents and teachers ever more aware of the studies that demonstrate the importance of these skills—even over academic knowledge—to a child’s development. According to Shira Katz, Senior Director of Education Content at Common Sense Media, the premiere entity dedicated to rating media for families, parents are interested in games that build these skills. She also attributes a growing acceptance of games as effective learning tools in the classroom to parents’ increased receptivity to prosocial games. “Parent voice is strong,” says CommonSense Media CEO Jim Steyer. “Whatever [parents] want—and their kids ask for—should be what companies produce if companies correctly gauge demand,” adds Katz. Socialmoms, a media company that leverages the power of parent bloggers to promote products, knows the strength of the parent voice. “Companies know that parents’ voices not only have great reach, but are authentic and trusted by other parents,” shared CEO Megan Calhoun. Socialmoms’ 50 percent annual growth rate substantiates this. “More and more major brands are starting to ‘get’ the power of the online parent community,” shared Calhoun. Parents’ interest in video games that build skills like empathy parallels market research on the subject. Peclars, an international trend forecasting company whose clients include Disney, Target, Walmart, American Girl, Toms, and Honda, helps companies align products and branding with upcoming trends for maximum success in the marketplace. One of four macro trends their team of sociologists, semioticians, and brand strategists has identified as an emerging trend is “empathy.” Director of Consumer Insight, Emma Fric, shared why consumers are increasingly interested in empathy: “Social networking gives us more tools than ever before to connect with others, across generations and communities and across the globe. This connectivity both demands and rewards perspective-taking or empathy.” Paris-based Fric cites Coca-Cola’s kindness and sharing campaigns and Dove’s self-acceptance campaigns as prime examples of companies that have tapped into consumers’ desires to express positive emotions to others and themselves. Both parents’ desires and research trends point to a ripe marketplace for video games focused on helping children connect with themselves and others. In February we put this to the test and launched our social-emotional learning game. Over 200,000 parents and teachers downloaded the app in its first two weeks out. I can’t be sure that I helped thwart violence by making this game, just like I don’t know (yet) that first person shooter games—which represent the second most popular video game genre, eating up 20 percent of the $6.1 billion video game industry—are causing it. But with 97 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 17 playing games, investing in and creating more games to help children embrace differences, work through conflict and be kind makes both moral and financial sense.