Building it Better: A Foundation of Kindness and Empathy in Prosocial Design

Oct 23, 2018


Room 210



What are the barriers to a meaningful play experience, that keep players from caring about characters, and the world? And how can we build better experiences that create catharsis and encourage things like empathy and even kindness in players? iThrive Games ( is a nonprofit organization dedicated to using games to encourage prosocial growth, to the particular benefit of teens. We work at the intersection of mental health, positive psychology, education and game design. A substantial part of this work involves engaging with game developers to determine how neuroscience and social psychology can inform the design of games made for prosocial outcomes like empathy and kindness. Heidi McDonald, iThrive’s Senior Creative Director, will discuss the organization’s work, and in the process, offer lessons we have learned about designing for empathy and kindness and what specific design steps can be taken that connect with the neurological and psychological processes in the brain to produce these results. Bolstered by science, examples and developer interviews, McDonald will share the process iThrive uses to produce developer resources, share design tips from the resources, and explain what these concepts can mean overall to game design. Learn about how the mind arrives at kindness and empathy, and ways that developers might encourage these practices from the design phase; learn about what design pitfalls we have seen designers fall into when making empathy or kindness games, and how to avoid them. McDonald will share the results of a study iThrive sponsored, which found insights about “what makes a game meaningful,” and scholarly information about what narrative concepts are both personal and universal. This information will all be shared, not as a gospel on how to build games about empathy and kindness, but as reference material based in science, and as lessons iThrive has learned from working with these concepts in design for the past three years.

  • Heidi McDonald

    Senior Creative Director

    iThrive Games