Popular Culture Review Vol. 25, No. 2, Summer 2014 - Page 55

51 citizens in public places throughout Seattle. Destroying them is not a requirement, but doing so provides a catalyzer in the form of a less oppressed city. More citizens will be out speaking freely, which in turns transforms the gaming world that particular player chooses to inhabit. The issue of immersion also leads to another major area of investigation in current video game studies. Put simply, researchers explore whether or not video games can teach empathy or morality. As a whole, the answer is probably not. While the question is intriguing, it might be the wrong one to explore. The question itself is inherently unfair and it is not one that would be asked of other forms of narrative. For example, one does not ask if literature teaches empathy or morality — as in all of them, as a whole. Indeed, some certainly might. Yet others are merely read for pleasure, with stories that are not intended to do more than provide entertainment, or a bit of an escape. Others might connect a reader to some greater understanding of what it means to be human, but without teaching or compelling that reader to become morally different. Scholars around the globe study literature in large part because of what it has to say about our common humanity. A reader may not learn to be like a character and he or she may not pick up traits of heroism, or altruism, or kindness beyond what he or she already possesses of these traits. Yet that does not preclude any reader from at least seeing how life is lived through the eyes and experiences of a fictional character. While there has been a concerted effort to undermine the study of the humanities in higher education, those calls have primarily come from those who assert that these sorts of explorations have no practical monetary value in the marketplace — they do not translate, the argument says, into jobs. Setting that unfortunate argument aside, the more telling point is perhaps that it does not focus on a call to do away with reading or to diminish the importance of stories to how humans frame their own lives. Even though video games may not reasonably be expected to teach morality or other major strengths of character any more than literature, the genre is forging ahead with new ways to connect human beings to one another through the sharing of grief and pain. “Empathy games,” as they have been dubbed, are the newest genre of games to begin to receive a lot of critical interest and attention and they reflect an exciting new trend in gaming. As Kimberly Wallace explains, “More and more developers are using games to convey their personal stories, tackling heavy issues like depression, alcoholism, and cancer to make players experience what it’s like to be put in an unsettling situation” (23). That does not mean that there are not video games that already tell stories tackling these issues, but these new empathy games seem to be striving for a more intimate gaming experience, as opposed to the broad, sprawling worlds encountered in many titles. Two games currently in development and nearing release illustrate the possibilities of this new genre. That Dragon, Cancer, currently in development, chronicles the battle Ryan and Amy Green’s son Joel fought against aggressive cancer. Unfortunately, Joel, barely four years old, succumbed to his illness earlier in