Kids learn to empathise with others via video games
Schoolchildren throughout Europe will be able to hone their social skills and learn to empathise with others thanks to a new type of interactive video games being developed by European researchers.
The games, which feature characters with emotional intelligence and role-playing capabilities, focus on social interaction. They enable children to see and feel how it is to be bullied, or to be different in other ways from the majority of students.
The games also encourage children to be proactive when faced with bullying, for example, by showing them what happens to the characters featured as they face different scenarios and outcomes.
The children learn at a gut level what the best course of action is, such as reporting bullying to a teacher. While the games do not replace traditional methods of teaching children social skills and understanding, they reinforce the more traditional, factual lessons that are already a part of many curricula.
Researchers set up eCIRCUS to build on the success of an earlier project, VICTEC, which developed the FearNot! game software that is now being introduced into schools to combat bullying.
Game beats the bullies
The partners who developed the FearNot! software are psychologists and computer scientists from the UK, Portugal and Germany. They initially set out to use their very different fields of expertise to design a virtual-reality school where children could simulate a bullying situation.
The researchers developed a bullying demonstrator, involving a cast of three-dimensional characters in credible scenarios based on the accounts of children who had actually been bullied.
Using the demonstrator, children follow bully Luke and his victim through various scenarios and interact with the program by making decisions on what to do next at key points in the ‘play’. For example, they can choose to ignore the bully, or hit back or report the bullying to someone. Each of these choices will have different consequences.
One of the aspects which makes this software a particularly powerful tool is that the characters react in real time in an unscripted way and express emotions such as fear, anger and worry.
The eCIRCUS project has continued developing FearNot! by expanding the range of characters and episodes, improving user interaction and by getting the software into schools. The project team also developed a new game to promote intercultural understanding.
Emphasis on empathy
In both cases, the focus is on empathy and social immersion, with children being drawn into the games to experience what the victim of bullying or the shunned immigrant is feeling. Conflict resolution is the desired outcome in both scenarios.
On a broader scale, the partners are hoping the dissemination of results from the project will have a significant impact throughout Europe on approaches to social and emotional learning, and result in improved quality and innovation in technology-enhanced learning.
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Funding SchemeSTREP - Specific Targeted Research Project