Gamepathy - Empathy in Games

Professors at IU International University of Applied Sciences create scientific basis for research into empathy in video games


The professors of the game design programme at IU International University of Applied Sciences are currently researching empathy in gaming and are using a completely new word creation: "gamepathy".

  • IU research team coins new term with "Gamepathy” 
  • Gamepathy is to make practical game design goals measurable, e.g. in avatar-player bonding or game mechanics 
  • Findings from new research discipline to be incorporated into training of future game designers 
  • Interdisciplinary conference on 27 October to launch new research field 

Erfurt/Regensburg, Germany, 10 October 2023. Until now, the focus of video games has been on entertainment value. In the meantime, there are more and more games that confront players with serious topics such as grief, loss and death through their narrative potential and consciously encourage them to put themselves in the shoes of the game characters and empathise with them. Game designers are the creative minds behind game development and play an essential role in implementing empathy approaches in games. The professors of the game design programme at IU International University of Applied Sciences (IU) are currently researching empathy in gaming and are using a completely new word creation: "gamepathy".

Prof. Thorsten Zimprich

"Games are interactive media that are not only used for entertainment, but can also be used for teaching and learning. Therefore, the measurement and promotion of empathy skills can also be addressed in the process of game design. If one combines the search for a suitable term for the connection between games and empathy with the exploration of the manifold possibilities of game design, the term gamepathy emerges, i.e. the fusion of game and empathy," explains Prof. Thorsten Zimprich, Professor of Game Design and Head of the Game Design programme at IU International University of Applied Sciences. 

With the newly created research discipline Gamepathy, IU’s research team wants to make practical game design goals measurable and comparable. Gamepathy research will, for example, investigate which characteristics an avatar must have in order to best train the empathy ability of players. Game mechanics and elements will also be examined for their supporting effect. 

At the same time, Gamepathy will serve as a basis for establishing Gamepathy as a research discipline and thus create a greater benefit for the practice-oriented training of future game designers. The findings from this new field of research should thus flow directly into the training of future game designers. 

Gamepathy is also the guiding concept of the first IU conference on game culture, which will take place on 27 October 2023 at the IU campus in Regensburg. It will take place hybrid, online and on campus, under the title "GAMEPATHY #1". 

IU invites the German-speaking DiGRA Chapter (D-A-CH Twitter section) and the Spielkultur Department of the cultural journal Nahaufnahmen.ch to the symposium. At the all-day event, IU professors will discuss the topic of gamepathy with experts and students, as well as previous research results. The conference is intended to kick off this promising field of research by providing different perspectives on the topic. 

Interdisciplinary conference as kick-off for Gamepathy 

In addition to IU's game design professors, external experts from a wide range of disciplines will also take part in the conference. For example, Brigitte Hettenkofer, a graduate theologian, will show how games strengthen team resilience. Prof. Dr. Sonja Gabriel from the University College of Christian Churches of Teacher Education Vienna/Krems (KPH) will put the topic of serious games, empathy and ethics into the pedagogical context. 

"We are also open to interdisciplinary offers - after all, this is what distinguishes modern scientific work," says Prof. Zimprich. 

IU students can also get involved 

Sarah Wegmann is in her fourth semester studying Game Design (B.A.) at IU. In her lecture, she deals with the question of how the game experience of players is influenced by the change of controllable avatars and their relationship to each other, and to what extent empathy can even pose a challenge here. 

Sarah Wegmann

"Empathy, change of perspective and identity in video games are a huge topic in the video game industry right now. And since I am very interested in the topic, the planned conference is a very good opportunity to get involved here," says Sarah Wegmann. 

"We should perceive video games as a medium that deals with serious issues like loss and grief. And especially with the potential they have in storytelling," Wegmann continues. 

About the study programme Game Design 

The Game Design (B.A.) degree programme provides students with in-depth knowledge in the areas of software development, game art, game studies and the game design craft. With practical study content such as user experience design, storytelling and balancing, the degree programme prepares students for a career in the games industry. In the course of their studies, students can specialise in areas such as Concept Gamedesign or Analytic Gamedesign. 

Gamedesign is one of many technology and future-oriented degree programmes at IU that aim to train professionals for important industries in a practical way. 

Gamedesign can be studied flexibly in distance learning or in the myStudium study model at IU. The full-time myStudium programme, with up to three professionally guided tutorials per week, allows students maximum flexibility as it can be completed either on-site or virtually. 

Further information on the Gamepathy symposium and the programme are available here: https://www.gamepathy.de/ 

Further information on myStudium at: iu.de/mystudium

Please send requests for interviews with Professor Thorsten Zimprich or Sarah Wegmann to the IU press team via: presse@iu.org


With over 130,000 students, IU International University of Applied Sciences (IU) is the largest university in Germany. The private, state-recognised educational institution with its headquarters in Erfurt began operations in 2000 and is now represented in more than 35 German cities. Students from over 190 nations design their studies according to their needs: whether practice-integrated dual studies, flexible distance learning or individual “myStudium”, which combines online self-study and campus life. IU wants to give people worldwide access to personalised education for a fulfilled and self-determined life. In more than 250 bachelor's, master's and MBA programmes, including over 50 in English, IU teaches students key skills relevant to the future. A digitally supported learning environment and the use of AI solutions help students to achieve optimal learning results and experiences. IU is one of the first universities in the world to have developed and deployed its own AI-supported learning buddy. IU cooperates with over 15,000 companies and supports them in the academic training of professionals. Partners include Motel One, Vodafone, AWO and Deutsche Bahn. Further information at: iu.org

The AI-supported learning buddy "Syntea" is now available as a public demo version in the ChatGPT store at the following link: https://chat.openai.com/g/g-P5olqoCPc-syntea