There is an emerging concern that modern technology-saturated environments, particularly computer games, are inhibiting the development of children’s empathic behaviour and social skills. We argue that the solution is embedded in the problem when hybrid learning design blends real-life social interpersonal interactions with digital representations. We present theory-informed design principles for creating tablet games with a focus on promoting empathic perception—a building block for the ability to see, sense and understand other’s internal states. Based on these principles, the game Empathy World was developed and trialled in a naturalistic three-month study in an early childhood education setting. Children learned to perceive empathy-worthy cues in various scenes and interacted with the tablet game to further their perspective-taking and to associate emotions with social contexts. The findings from this study show an increase in the selective tendency of children’s in-game perception of empathy-worthy stimuli and enhanced empathic concern. We argue that future design for learning can utilise the strengths of hybrid design for social development at a larger scale: integrating theoretically informed and rigorously tested digital tools in existing educational and social environments. Practitioner Notes What is already known about this topic Research has examined various developmental benefits of empathy and shown that empathy can be learnt. Digital games can be productive, easy to scale, tools that support learning. Sound design, based on theory-informed principles, can improve the effectiveness of digital learning games. What this paper adds It synthesises theories and research evidence of empathy and its development. It shows how empathy-related theoretical ideas and evidence were translated into hybrid design principles for developing empathy games and embedding them into children’s social learning environment. It illustrates how theory- and evidence-informed design principles were used to create a digital game to enhance empathic learning of young children in a hybrid technology-mediated environment. It explores and validates the effectiveness of a hybrid design approach by implementing the digital empathy game in children’s natural learning environment and analysing the data by capturing emerging patterns of development stemming from gameplay. Implications for practice and/or policy Pre-schools could enhance children's empathy learning by integrating specially designed empathy games in existing learning environments. Teachers and parents should be informed about how to create game-mediated hybrid environments that enhance children’s empathy.