To Be You, an experiential and interactive mobile game that seeks to cultivate empathy debuts on 21 July 2021, Singapore’s Racial Harmony Day. The immersive fiction game gets to the heart of empathy by letting players experience “life” as someone else, make life choices, discover challenges and dilemmas, and connect with the life journeys of people from different backgrounds.
First conceptualised by a team from Better.sg in 2020, To Be You won the top prize at the 2020 MCCY ‘A Mission:Unite Hackathon’, a hackathon spurring youths to identify challenges and ideate ways to bring about greater social compact. Conceived to help dismantle stereotypes, reduce prejudice, and ultimately foster greater empathy and inclusiveness among Singaporeans, To Be You offers a fun game experience that will deliberate issues pertinent to the society today. To achieve authentic representations of what Singaporeans go through emotionally in the face of discrimination, To Be You worked with community organisations, focus groups, researchers, and writers to create compelling fictional stories based upon real accounts from Singaporeans.
“In a multicultural society, empathy is not optional. Our diversity is what makes us unique and we really want this game to be something that sparks change in the communities. Our team believes that empathy cannot be taught through lessons or excursions – it must be experienced and felt. We want Singaporeans to learn about the challenges of people different from themselves, to interact with their peers, to take the time to listen to their stories and experiences, and to understand what it’s like to be somebody else,” said Gaurav Keerthi, CEO of Better.sg and Co-Lead of To Be You.
Unpacking a Multi-faceted Personal Identity
To Be You debuts with two characters, Nadia Binte Rahim, a Malay-Muslim young adult who has a crush on a Chinese-Christian boy and dreams of being a doctor, but has to deal with conservative parents; and Amandeep Singh Sahota, a Punjabi Sikh young adult facing pressures to change how he looks and expresses his faith for National Service, his career, and even his relationship. To Be You places the user directly in the character’s shoes, letting them make choices in difficult situations, and go through seemingly ordinary moments in life from a different perspective. Each episode unpacks an aspect of personal identity, such as race, religion and gender.
Gamification for Social Change
The team has done extensive research on issues of personal identity in Singapore, as well as understood the behavioral patterns of Singaporean youths today. Analysis of the youth target demographic showed that mobile gaming is the best way to engage them. There are over a million gamers in Singapore, and almost a third of them play mobile games daily.
To create an immersive user experience, the team has adapted the game interface according to the psychographic design of the characters. Each story is told in an interactive narrative style. User interface includes Whatsapp chats, emails, and journal reflections and is kept in a casual, conversational tone to make the game fun, relatable and real.
“Many people find it tricky to sensitively talk about identity struggles. It is even harder to empathise with another person’s struggles. Our reference points tend to be our own lived experiences and perhaps those of people close or similar to us. We may also be afraid of the consequences of saying the wrong thing. Gamification is a great way to engage people, youths in particular, and can act as a bridge to deeper sharing and understanding in real life. Active engagement with the lived experiences of others as well as personal reflection are crucial to developing empathy. To Be You offers this embodied experience within storylines based on real life events. This game may just be a game changing approach in our journey for social progress,” said Dr Kalpana Vignehsa, a Sociologist and Research Fellow at Institute of Policy Studies, and research advisor for the project.
To Be You debuts on 21 July 2021, on Singapore’s Racial Harmony Day. Experience the game here.