Maybe you feel sick over the infamous torture scene in Grand Theft Auto V and want to amend for all the crimes you’ve committed since September. We feel you. Rockstar’s latest game is far from the epitome of an ethical or empathetic game.
These games are. With a little help from the Electronic Software Association to get us started, we’ve rounded up a list of 10 games that you can play or support to get in touch with morality again.
Release date: Sept. 5
Quandary is a free browser game that emerged from the combined efforts of two student development teams, the Learning Games Network, and FableVision Studios. Each of the three episodes takes up to 30 minutes to complete and will help you learn how to better solve problems.
Players act as captain of a futuristic space colony and must weigh issues that the residents (depicted as digital character cards) bring to your attention. This means considering multiple perspectives, gathering all the facts, and making the best choice for everyone’s needs.
Release date: Aug. 15
Gone Home is The Fullbright Company’s debut title, an interactive-story game for PC, Mac, and Linux. You play as a girl who’s come back from Europe to find an empty house, her family members missing. Letters, audio diaries, and mementos piece together their stories.
The 1995 setting, riot grrrl music, and horror vibe might draw you in, but Gone Home is about empathizing with the reasons people have for acting a certain way, even if their behavior or perspective clashes with your life views. Extramarital affairs, sexuality, and abuse are among the issues that Gone Home explores through characters you come to know intimately but never meet.
Gone Home requires a couple hours to finish.
Get Water! For India
Release date: Sept. 19
Get Water! For India is the newest version of Decode Global’s debut game (available in the App Store). It’s a story-driven endless runner that follows a girl named Maya, whose search for water interferes with her education.
This edition features support from nonprofit organization Charity: Water, which helps bring clean drinking water to people around the world. Players learn about the hardships that people in developing countries endure every day and the ways we can make a social impact.
For once, you can actually feel good about microtransactions: Half of proceeds from in-app purchases benefit Charity: Water.
Release date: Sept. 14
Here’s one that should appeal to every gamer: 9.03m from Space Budgie is a first-person art game about the devastating Tōhoku earthquake that rocked Japan in 2011, triggering a devastating tsunami that killed thousands and disrupted the country’s business industries. The PC title (available on the indie-game digital distribution service Desura) aims to remember the victims as people, not numbers in news reports.
Players comb Baker Beach in San Francisco, where debris from the tsunami washed ashore, to gather objects and collect butterflies. Half of sales benefit Aid for Japan, which helps children who lost their parents in the tsunami.
You can also vote for the game on Steam Greenlight.
Release Date: May
Actual Sunlight deals with mature themes and features heavy profanity, so it’s not for younger players. Developer Will O’Neill describes it as “a short interactive story about love, depression, and the corporation.”
Players assume the role of Evan Winter as he moves through three distinct periods in his life, but they’re only observers. They can’t change the destructive path he takes in life.
The tackling of issues like suicide makes Actual Sunlight an emotional experience similar to Depression Quest, in which players learn what it’s like to suffer with a mental illness.
Release date: February 2012
The unconventional war simulator Unmanned is a Games for Change Festival award winner from writer Jim Munroe and Italian studio Molleindustria. Available for free in browsers or as a download for PC and Mac, it examines the comfortable and relatively guilt-free life of a soldier who controls remote attack aircraft.
Through its split screens, Unmanned explores this separation of soldier and battlefield and the personal toll — and apathy — of killing from miles away. To the character, acts like shaving and playing video games with his son are as normal as assassinating a real-life target.
Call of Duty this is not.
Other good picks
Below is a quick run-through of ethical/empathy games that either have yet to release or are a bit older but still deserve a mention.
I have no idea if we’ll ever be able to play Pig Chase, but just hearing about it should make you feel good. Players control a ball of light on their iPad and move it around until they can see the snouts of real-live pigs. When the pig touches the light on a special touch-sensitive display, it emits sparks. If the human and pig move in sync through a goal triangle, then they set off a fireworks show.
What’s different about Pig Chase is that it doesn’t turn an animal into a form of entertainment or educational lesson as much as it encourages a bond between us and a creature we normally consider food. And it looks fun for the pigs.
The Novelist by Kent Hudson is an action-adventure game for PC and Mac that was Greenlit on Steam. It asks whether someone can achieve his dreams without sacrificing his relationships with loved ones.
As Kaplan writes the book of his career, he struggles to balance the responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood. Players control a ghost who can help the Kaplans, but every decision has a consequence.
A similar but older game is Gravitation (free), which is about “mania, melancholia, and the creative process” and the pressures of parenthood.
Martin Le Chevallier’s Vigilance 1.0 tasks players with taking care of a virtual city. Players earn points if they stop crimes as they happen and correctly punish wrongdoers, but blaming the innocent deceases the score, and every missed crime adds to the city’s immorality.
Vigilance 1.0, which came out in 2001, is free for PC and Mac.
That Dragon, Cancer
Chances are you’ve heard of That Dragon, Cancer, an emotional game about two parents raising a child with terminal cancer.
It’s coming exclusively to Ouya next year, and it’s not going to be an easy experience to get through. But the Greens’ story is one of hope, and it sounds beautiful.