Interactive documentaries overcome empathy fatigue to inspire action

Do you remember the last time you gave someone a gift? Called a friend in need? Volunteered in your community? Supported an indie artist’s kickstarter? Just remembering or thinking of your good deed instantly instills happiness in your heart. Maybe you’re now inspired to do good again. It’s called a positive feedback loop and is backed by science.
Karen Vanderborght

Now think of this morning's news. Do you feel inspired to do good? Probably not. Most likely you erased it from your memory. You might be suffering from empathy fatigue. Also called habituation, outrage exhaustion, desensitization or compassion fatigue. The ongoing slew of suffering, disease, war and disaster is too much for any one individual to contemplate. These problems are not easy to solve and have become the background noise to our daily lives.

Ad-supported media channels survive on attention and leave most of us shellshocked. As an excellent Guardian article so aptly put it, “What good is compassion if it doesn’t translate into concrete, external action? Perhaps it is rational to cut off the supply of emotion if it amounts to wasted energy.”

So here lies the challenge for any social impact initiative. How do you make people care and act to bring about actual change?

Interactive media is the trojan horse to break the defences of cynicism and apathy. Muuvment Purpose, for example, does this by linking short interactive experiences to existing social impact campaigns, and shortcuts the journey from thought to action. In other words, we ask you to click more and watch less. 

It’s the difference between a lecture and a hands-on workshop. Two major components are at play here: documentary content and interactivity.

A still frame from The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord (1973)

Documentaries are often meant to instruct, enlighten and empathize with their subject. Their popularity has grown beyond specialized festivals like Hotdocs and have become a staple on streaming platforms where they’re consumed in great numbers.

Meanwhile, in the gaming industry, a quiet revolution has been taking place. While triple A games rake in billions with (often literally) guns blazing, independent game companies make the industry more empathic by introducing social and emotional subject matter into game play. Initiatives like Games for Change celebrate these trailblazers who increasingly find critical recognition and an enthusiastic audience.

These kinds of games are also categorized as “games for good” or “games for impact.” 

So if you want to wake up that inherent ability for morality and compassion, then you need to step up your game. Take that quite literally.

Muuvment Purpose combines adventure and role-playing game mechanics with documentary storytelling, turning you from a passive spectator into an active change maker – ultimately making you feel good by doing good. A set of moral choices lets you carve out your own story path towards a social impact initiative that is measurable and, more importantly, attainable.

Here is my personal shortlist of “serious” video games and interactive stories that have inspired and touched me. They are all still available to play:

  • This War of Mine: Survive as a civilian in a besieged city. Your morals will be put to the test.
  • That Dragon Cancer: Absolutely moving narrative game about a family’s fight with grief and loss.
  • Bury Me, My Love: Text messaging adventure game about Nour, a Syrian migrant trying to find her way to Europe.
  • Pry: A compelling mix of text, audio and video narrating the effects of PTSD. Foremost an interesting experiment in mobile interaction design.
  • Attentat 1942: A combination of game mechanics and documentary interviews.

If you’d like to know more about how interactive video can be used to increase participation rates in your social impact campaign, please contact Muuvment at