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Virtual Escape Room Gamification to Help Tackle Mental Health in Singapore

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Although not a panacea for the lack of mental health care, the use of technology can improve and expand mental health care in areas where providers are scarce, such as rural areas. Since of geographical barriers or the stigma associated with seeking help, technology could assist clinicians in reaching out to difficult-to-reach populations. Access may also be facilitated by the fact that some types of technology, such as apps, are less expensive than traditional care.

The topic of mental health is frequently discussed these days, especially with the pandemic raging, as well as lockdowns and the shift to work from home. However, mental health conditions are still stigmatised today, and those who suffer from them may feel trapped because they lack an outlet to help them overcome the problem. With this in mind, the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) decided to gamify the educational experience around mental health in collaboration with one of Singapore’s creative innovation agencies, allowing players to put themselves in the shoes of an individual suffering from one of the four major mental health conditions in Singapore.

NCSS decided to create an effective virtual experience that engages its target audiences in a meaningful and holistic way by combining cutting-edge web technologies with gamification. This experience was thoughtfully designed to be available to users at all times and from any location.

The creative goal is to develop a thought-provoking and educational platform that would effectively engage and educate users. According to NCSS, the concept of a virtual escape room arose because people who suffer from mental health conditions frequently feel trapped with no way out. With a virtual escape room, users can effectively put themselves into the shoes of the protagonist, and experience what is it like being in their world.

Participants in the escape room get a glimpse into the life of a young person dealing with a mental health condition owing to the immersive multi-sensory experience. In the game, players assume the roles of young people suffering from major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and eating disorders.

The execution was divided into four distinct concepts and timelines. Each scenario was released at regular intervals to maximise focus, effectiveness, and reach. The creative innovation agency created an immersive 360-degree 3D platform that allowed users to navigate as if they were in a physical room.

Digital tools should not just be used reactively in mental health. AI and big data can be used to better understand the scope and impact of mental health issues that have emerged in response to the pandemic. Studies have found an increase in language symptomatic of mental health concerns associated with COVID-19 by applying machine learning models to SMS text messages and social media data.

To date, the interactive e-Escape Room has registered more than 23,000 page views. There were 400 unique user sign-ups and over 3,000 unique user interactions across the different episodes. NCSS also collaborated with institutes of higher learning, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth as well as the National Youth Council to engage youths to participate in the e-Escape Room through various youth platforms.

In contrast, digital tools have the potential to help forecast future problems as well as provide an effective way to deliver mental health support on a large scale during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they will only be able to do so if researchers and practitioners respond to the urgent call for individuals and organisations to commit to meaningful and long-term equity and diversity in digital health, and best practices in data science.

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