Face the Future: Can a Game Teach Teens Empathy?


Justice game for the future

Face the Future, a massive, open, online game event, is taking place for Sunday night through Monday night to be played on computers, tablets and smartphones in a “collaborative simulation” encouraging young people (13 or older) to share ideas and think deeply about empathy.

Creator and veteran game designer Jane McGonigal told USA Today, “It’s a game that builds empathy by creating opportunities to see the world from many, many other points of view.”

Face the Future is a collaboration by nonprofits Facing History and Ourselves and the Institute for the Future research and education group. The game is set in a near future where digital devices will enable us to share the actual neurological fingerprints of our feelings. It’s described as:

This is a game of ideas, hopes, concerns, and predictions. In the game, you’re asked to imagine a world where a new technology, called the FeelThat Network, tracks and shares information about our state of mind and body. It’s like any other social network—but instead of sharing words, photos, or videos, we’re sharing our physical sensations and emotions.

The content of this video is powerful and designed to be provocative. The four scenarios are make-believe and, while they are based on real technology that is being developed today, they take place in an imagined future. However, the content feels very real and can be challenging.

This game is not about whether Facing History and Ourselves does or doesn’t support this technology or similar technologies that are being developed today. This game is an experiment in imagining the future; to think about what’s possible; and to be in conversation with other people across the globe about how the world is changing, how we want to respond to, prepare for, or try to affect or alter those developments.

The players’ ultimate goal is “to see the future not just from their own perspective but from massively multiple points of view. The only way you can do well is through collaboration and being respectful of other people in the game,” as McGonigal told USA Today. “If you’re a jerk or harassing people or just bullying people or criticizing people without respect, nobody will play with you and it will be an unsuccessful game for you.”

Facing History works with teachers to help them connect difficult periods in our history with today’s events. Following arguably the most contentious presidential election in our history, Facing History’s Anne Burt said in USA Today, young people “just looked at us over the last 18 months, and they looked around the world, at other things that have been happening, and they saw what kind of discourse and experience the adults have been conducting. We need this right now. They need this.”

Burt added, history “isn’t inevitable — it’s the result of choices that people make.”

Discussions will be monitored by teachers in participating classrooms and players can go online to offer 140-character “micro-contributions” and create longer chains of ideas with players scoring points by building on another’s idea.

“Players level up and earn achievements by paying attention to what other people are saying and building on their ideas. The more players build from a single idea, the more value it has. The game’s highest achievement level comes from working with 100 other players to examine the same idea from 100 different angles.”

Hourly reports on a blog will track the most creative ideas and provocative conversations and “At the end of the game there will be this record, this real-time analysis,” said McGonigal which will include the “100 biggest conversations.”

The event officially begins Sunday afternoon at 6 p.m. EST, but players can join anytime Sunday or Monday. Facing History is expecting to sign up several thousand players worldwide.

The post-electon timing aims to “challenge each other to radically reimagine the future of empathy and civic participation, taking people outside the bounds of daily modes of thinking. This experience will encourage collaboration to build shared visions and meaningful conversation about what the future might provide for us all.”