This study develops and tests an integrated model of how three psychological variables—presence, flow, and character identification—contribute to interest in learning and empathy with people from other cultures through a simulation game. U.S. college students played one of two roles (an American journalist or Haitian survivor) in the game that dealt with the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Presence was a powerful predictor of flow, character identification, and empathy felt during the games. Furthermore, empathy experienced by game play significantly predicted interest in learning more about the game topics. Flow and identification made secondary contributions to learning outcomes, with flow mediating the effect of presence on males’ empathy and identification contributing to females’ interest in learning. While the proposed model was generally successful at predicting outcomes, it did a better job of accounting for the experience of participants who played a role rooted in their own culture (the journalist) than in a different culture (the survivor), and for female than male players. Our results suggest that serious game designers should prioritize inducing empathy and immersive presence in players, giving secondary attention to designing for flow and character identification.
Bachen, C. M., Hernández-Ramos, P. F., Raphael, C., & Waldron, A. (2016). How do presence, flow, and character identification affect players’ empathy and interest in learning from a serious computer game? Computers in Human Behavior, 64, 77-87.