After coming down from this week’s episode of Critical Role (any other Critters in the crowd?), I spotted this interesting bit of news on Geek & Sundry: researchers have found that tabletop roleplayers display more empathy than non-gamers.
Though I’ve played with my share of murder hobos and munchkins, those findings ring true. To play in a tabletop campaign, you have to inhabit a character. You need to know who they are, where they come from, and how they’ll react to the events around them. You can’t passively experience their story – you’re part of creating their story.
Empathy is the ability to relate to other people, so relating to imaginary people probably takes a good bit of it.
Geek & Sundry has the details of the research, published as “Empathic Features and Absorption in Fantasy Role-Playing,” by the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, and spoke with clinicians about why empathy is such an important thing.
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.
Tabletop roleplaying also builds a whole host of beneficial skills, encourages us to be social, and just so happens to be terribly fun. Whether it makes us more empathetic or attracts empathetic people, those are already pretty great benefits for a hobby. Teaching us not to become cannibals could only be a side benefit.
If you’re interested, maybe it’s time to get out there and give it a roll!