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Reading: Empathy Puzzles: Solving Intergenerational Conflict in Young Adult Video Games


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Empathy Puzzles: Solving Intergenerational Conflict in Young Adult Video Games


Emma Reay

About Emma
Emma Reay is a PhD researcher at the University of Cambridge and an Associate Lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Southampton, where she teaches Critical Approaches to Videogames and Game Design. Her current project centres on child-characters in videogames, and her research interests include narrative design and character development, studies of representation, gaming and education, and ‘children’s videogames’.
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When Katie Greenbrier (Gone Home, 2013) and Edith Finch (What Remains of Edith Finch, 2017) return to their family homes, they are confronted with the frailty and fallibility of their parents. Photo albums they were never meant to find, letters they were not supposed to read, and receipts that tell uncomfortable stories reveal to the teen protagonists the secret, and sometimes sordid, lives that their parents have kept hidden from them. In this article, I argue that the ‘exploration’ game mechanic in both of these texts equates the strategic need to examine a puzzle from multiple angles with a cumulative sense of wholistic, interpersonal understanding required for successfully challenging adult hegemony and bringing about intergenerational reconciliation. I posit that these games present cross-generational empathy not as an end-state to attain, but as a ludic skill that precipitates action, meaningful consequence, and structural change. In other words, these video games connect empathy to agency, positioning it as a tool for problem-solving, sense-making, and intervention. This article responds directly to Bonnie Ruberg’s call to “end the reign of empathy” in the critical and commercial discourses surrounding video games, and follows her precedent of unpacking the ambivalence and complexities of ‘playing-at-empathising’ in order to identify counter-normative models of connection and intersubjectivity present in these texts.
How to Cite: Reay, E., 2020. Empathy Puzzles: Solving Intergenerational Conflict in Young Adult Video Games. The International Journal of Young Adult Literature, 1(1). DOI:
Published on 02 Nov 2020.
Peer Reviewed


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