Role-Playing Gamers Have More Empathy Than Non-Gamers

by Hawke Robinson published 2016/01/13 17:00:00 GMT-7, last modified 2022-11-12T09:26:33-07:00
An article about researching indicating that Tabletop Role-Playing Gamers score higher on empathy measurement tools. Thank you CAROL PINCHEFSKY ON JANUARY 13, 2016, for posting this on Geek & Sundry.
While this research still repeats the ongoing problem that almost all of the research on the effects of role-playing games has been correlative rather than causal (I have written extensively on this issue), so it does not determine if gaming causes increased empathy, or that those with higher empathy are drawn to RPGs, it does help as additional evidence refuting the negative stereotypes about gamers.
Fortunately, the research does help to further defy the inculcated, media-enhanced, stereotypes making gamers out to be insensitive and lacking empathy or compassion. In that case, causality is not necessary to disprove the stereotypes.
Of course, this particular essay is only limited context, but the inclusion of the other research (some of which I linked to earlier in these comments) over the years, seem to continually re-affirm similar observations about gamers having far more "positive" traits than the media & cultural stereotypes would indicate. :)


 Geek & Sundry Article Link:

Also thank you Richard Wentworth very much for posting this article in the Facebook RPG Brigade Group, and drawing my attention to it.
There have been a number of indications along these lines from previous research, it is nice to see some more up to date information.
It is these indicators that prompted development, and seeing positive results in using RPGs for At-risk youth and the Autism Spectrum (ASD / PDD / Aspergers, etc.) populations, using tabletop RPG and LARP to work on developing social skills, including empathy:
Below is a list of some related essays from others, on studies of gamers on Empathy, Meaninglessness, and related topics:
Note that the study using Play By Email (PBEM), indicated players in that format had lower empathy scores, maybe this could be extrapolated as an indicator as to the effects (or draw of personality type to) of some formats of computer-based RPGs:
Again, thank you for drawing attention to this valuable topic.
Happy Gaming!


Archived article in case it moves or disappears.


When you and your friends are sitting around the gaming table, you’re not just slaying orcs or battling the unholy legions of the dead. You’re becoming a more socially adjusted person. That’s because role-players have more empathy than those who have never sat around a table to slay a dragon.

According to the paper, “Empathic Features and Absorption in Fantasy Role-Playing,” by the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, researchers ran 127 gamers through two tests: the Davis Interpersonal Reactivity Index, which measures empathy (the ability to relate to other people) and the Tellegen Absorption Scale, which measures absorption (focus on the task at hand). They discovered that gamers scored higher than non-gamers on the IRI scale of empathy.

This “confirm[s] the hypothesis that fantasy role-players report experiencing higher levels of empathic involvement with others,” the abstract says.

Gamers have empathy? But these are the guys who laugh at your failed saving throws and leave you in a locked crate while they grab the loot (not that I’m bitter). But it seems that gamers are really good at putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes/boots of speed. We can imagine ourselves throwing fireballs, and we can imagine the pain of the burn.

Psychologists agree that empathy is an important characteristic—even if they can’t agree on a definition. Dr. Nancy Hoffer, clinical psychologist, said in a phone interview that different branches of psychology have different definitions. For the most part, it’s the ability to identify with other people. And it’s important because, as Hoffer explained, “In a social world, empathy allows us to interact with each other without killing each other so that we won’t eat each other.”

[Sidenote: Me: “So we don’t…eat each other? Oh gods!” Dr Hoffer: “I stand by my quote.”]

The University of California, Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center writes that empathy reduces prejudice, racism, and bullying and boosts relationship satisfaction. GGSC says that empathy is “a vital first step in compassionate action.” We could all use more of that.  

There’s no way to tell if people with empathy are naturally attracted to RPGs, or if people can develop more empathy as they play.  Videogame players, who frequently play alone, weren’t mentioned in this study, either.

But if this study is correct and gamers are empathic, and empathy leads to compassionate action, it would therefore follow that gaming makes the world a better place. Now get rolling.

Feature Image Credit: Wiki Commons/Creative Commons

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