Estimated reading time: 1 minute, 57 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Possible Class Activity on Empathy 


Estimated reading time: 1 minute, 57 seconds

I’ve never properly studied empathy, though it’s a personal and research interest of mine. I think and write about it a lot, observe it, occasionally read around it, but not properly. I should remedy that.

In the meantime, this article I heard of through Audrey Watters’ newsletter is haunting me…and inspiring a class activity possible for my digital literacies course next semester inshallah. Possibly an activity across the globe?

So the tagline for the article is amazing:

“If you walk in someone else’s shoes, then you’ve taken their shoes”: empathy machines as appropriation machines 

And it’s about how VR empathy machines are more appropriation than building empathy and also, more importantly, this:

Do black people want you to feel better about enslaving them, or would they prefer safety and resources and equal treatment in the eyes of the law? Do Syrian refugees want you to appreciate their resilience, or do they want political justice and stability and to return to their homes?
If we want to empathize, we must always question who really “benefits” from our “””empathy”””. But VR empathy machines, especially slick UN-sponsored empathy productions built to milk donations from millionaires at Davos, definitely do not foster any kind of that critical reflection.


Here’s the idea of the class activity 

  1. Play some narrative games that foster empathy like I do in my games class. SPENT (poverty), BBC Syrian refugees game, Depression Quest. These can be played openly with students Tweeting or blogging their reactions
  2. Read this article and reflect on it OR watch the TED Talk before reading the article THEN reflect THEN read the article. Not sure. 
  3. Some collaborative annotation maybe?
  4. Students design their own attempted empathy machines (e.g. digital narrative games) OR develop some other digital means of spreading awareness and spurring people to action on a cause they feel strongly about

I’m particularly haunted by the comments in the article as well, especially a couple of Muslims in there, so students in my context might feel some resonance. Or not, I don’t know. I can’t put my finger on exactly why this article and its comments are haunting me, so I may need further reflection…but noting this brainstorm here.

Huh. This activity could work for my game design class this semester too, but it’s trickier… 


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