This was a year of unrest and taking sides—the cries for compassion from those around us drowned out by our outspoken opinions on politics and preference. But even though it wasn’t a hot topic for 2019, compassion was still out there. Still fighting for it’s place in the world. With that in mind, a few of our writers considered what video games of the past year showed us this ever-important value. In a world of health bars, battlegrounds and strategies—where could compassion be found?
In The Outer Worlds, the first companion NPC most players will pick up is Parvati-an ace mechanic and also one of the most genuinely kindhearted and empathetic characters I have ever seen in a video game. Perhaps the best illustration of Parvati’s kindness comes shortly after you recruit her. Early on in the first act, The Outer Worlds throws the player a fairly tough moral choice. I had made my decision and was getting ready to execute it when I decided to ask Parvati for her take. And for the first time I can remember in a video game, an NPC actually changed my mind about a planned course of action, gently reframing a situation I’d been thinking of in terms of blame and justice as one of suffering and security instead. She remained a very kind and empathetic presence throughout the game, but that moment was one of my favorite gaming memories of 2019.
— Peter Martin
Many different stories explore whether or not artificial intelligence could achieve personhood, but Can Androids Pray? takes the question further. If artificial intelligences should be considered persons at a certain level of function, can they seek salvation? Should they? This game is packed with massive questions about salvation and the nature of God, which is surprising for a game you can play through in less than 30 minutes. And if I can hurt for simulated bots in existential crisis, how much more should I extend that feeling towards my fellow flesh-and-blood humans? — Madeline Turnipseed
A particularly rough Friday left me frazzled and needing someone to talk to. I opened Kind Words, a game where you respond to letters from strangers (most of them involving either personal crisis or requests for advice) or send your own. I typed out my problem and sent it into the chill atmosphere, not really expecting replies in turn. The next morning I was left in tears as I read six responses, all kind and all encouraging. This game has the potential to be a lifeboat to the many who feel like they have no one to talk to or can’t. It’s simplistic, empathetic and is possibly one of the most beautiful hidden gems to come out of 2019. — Stephanie Skiles
A lot has happened in the Final Fantasy XIV universe to bring us to Shadowbringers, yet this latest expansion highlights the player character’s compassion alongside the game’s NPC heroes. The expansion’s premise begins with the team being pulled to another world, called the First, without their knowledge. Still, they decide to stay and help in overcoming the Sin Eaters, mutant creatures terrorizing common folk and filling the sky with ever-present light. All of this centers on the character Minfilia, a comrade in arms who sacrificed herself to save the First and whose powers are constantly reborn to continue saving it. Minfilia’s compassion for the First, which was not her original world, inspires NPC heroes and the player alike to continue in suit—saving this world as they’ve saved their own time and time again. — Jon Campoverde
The Kingdom Hearts franchise is, in many ways, an overstuffed and complicated mess-but has always handled camaraderie and compassion well. Possibly none more so than Kingdom Hearts 3. Sora cares about everyone who has touched his life or the lives of his friends. From helping one Pixar character collect food to helping several series regulars regain control of their lives, Sora signs on without question. One particularly strong example is Sora’s reaction when he learns that a character has been trapped in the Realm of Darkness for ten years. Even though he has his own assignment, he’s focused on rescuing her. When they eventually find her and she attacks, he intuitively understands that her despair has changed her; and when she starts falling into the darkness again, his compassion brings her—and, in the end, all of the worlds—back into the light. — Lisa Eldred
In Fire Emblem Three Houses, you play as a young professor, teaching and bonding with students close to your age. As you progress, you begin to learn about them—learning their hopes,fears, and about their families and countries. Each student has their own reasons why they fight and, as their teacher, you guide and instruct them to be the very best they can be. But when war breaks out between their homelands, everything changes. As you are hurled into battle with former students, your very soul is put to the test: will you have compassion for the ones you’ve aligned with and fight them, or will you show compassion on your enemies and try to find another way? — Jonathan Reedy
A shining beacon in the world of farming and construction simulators, My Time at Portia embraces character relationships and helping others. The NPCs that you encounter around town are kind, except for the guy who runs the rival construction company. Yet even despite his nasty attitude, the game shows his nice side sometimes-reminding you that there’s no use being mean to someone even if they see you as their enemy. Portia also utilizes a “play date” mechanic when it comes to making friends, and offers plenty of side quests to help out your neighbors. It’s light hearted and cheery, never taking itself too seriously. Sometimes we forget that friendliness is compassion, but Portia serves as a reminder that helping others can produce some great rewards. — Tieranie Albright