#MARKiesAwards 2021 case study: Gamification key to helping NCSS tackle mental health

The topic of mental health is often discussed nowadays, especially with the pandemic raging on as well as the lockdowns and shift to work from home. However, mental health conditions are still stigmatised in today's society and those affected might feel trapped as they do not have an outlet to help them overcome the issue. With this in mind, the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) decided to gamify the educational experience around mental health, allowing players to put themselves into the shoes of an individual suffering from one of the four main mental health conditions in Singapore.

At the end of the day, NCSS sought to de-stigmatise mental health conditions among youths and young adults in Singapore and managed to impress the judges with its campaign. This resulted in the team winning bronze for Most Effective Use – Government Sector/ Non-Profit Marketing and finalise for Most Creative – Campaign Pivot at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE’s recent MARKies Awards 2021. 

Challenge 

NCSS is the overall body that represents more than 400 member social service agencies in Singapore. First established in 1958 as The Singapore Council of Social Service, it was restructured in 1992 to become NCSS. Its core mission is to offer leadership and guidance in social service, whilst enhancing the capabilities of social service agencies. 

In 2018, NCSS launched Beyond the Label in an attempt to encourage the public to go beyond the label of a mental health diagnosis, to view and regard persons with mental health conditions for who they are. This initiative came after a Singapore Mental Health study in 2016 said one in seven people in the country have experienced a mental health condition in their lifetime. The nationwide study also identified major depressive disorder, alcohol abuse and obsessive-compulsive disorder as the top three mental health conditions in Singapore.  

Since then, NCSS Beyond the Label has been exploring innovative ways to engage and educate the target audience on mental health conditions. In 2019, NCSS successfully rolled out a physical escape room during Beyond the Label Fest 2019, with the objective of de-stigmatising mental health conditions among youths and young adults. The physical escape room was met with great success, and NCSS wanted to continue the momentum in 2020.  

Pushing boundaries, NCSS decided to use the latest web technologies, coupled with gamification, to curate an effective virtual experience that will engage their target audiences in a meaningful and holistic way. This experience was thoughtfully engineered to be accessible for users, anytime and anywhere. Thus, eliminating the limitations of a physical escape room, which further augmented the campaign in terms of reach. 

Strategy 

With its key objectives in mind, NCSS appointed creative agency Trinax to explore the feasibility of the idea. Both teams engaged in several brainstorming sessions to identify the strategy behind the idea. With youths and young adults identified as the main target audiences, it was also extremely important to use the correct mediums and platforms to bring this idea to life. 

Gamification was identified as the key component to this project, specifically – gamification with a purpose. The creative rationale was to curate a thought-provoking and educational platform that will effectively engage and educate the users. According to NCSS, the idea behind a virtual escape room came about because very often, people who experience mental health conditions feel like they are trapped, and they have 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. 

Four main mental health conditions were then identified: 

1. Mood disorder: depression and anxiety
2. Bulimia
3. Obsessive-compulsive disorder 
4. Schizophrenia 

The teams wanted to come up with a persona and storyline for each mental health condition and segregate each of them into a different escape room. 

The first escape room featured the character Afiqah – a 17-year-old student who was under tremendous pressure to do well in her academics and perform her role as the eldest child by taking care of her siblings. These expectations and pressure got to Afiqah, which triggered her depression and anxiety. 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, commonly referred to as OCD, was the mental health condition highlighted for the second episode. This time, the persona is William, a 25-year-old young adult that has just graduated and is embarking on the next phase of life as a young working adult. William struggles from an excessive urge to keep clean, which directly affected his efficiency at work. 

The third escape room illustrated how mental health conditions could start from a young age. At the age of seven, Jonathan started to experience hallucination. Hallucination makes him believe that he is seeing things and hearing voices that others cannot understand. Jonathan suffers from schizophrenia. 

Execution 

The execution was broken down into four different concepts and timelines. Each scenario was released in intervals, to maximise the focus, effectiveness and reach. Trinax was able to engineer an immersive 360-degree 3D platform where users could navigate as if they were in a physical room. In each customised room, players could explore the 360-degree environment and attempt to find clues and hints. Finding clues will help them solve interactive puzzles that require users to think from the character’s perspective; what would someone with this mental disorder do in this situation? 

Throughout the gameplay, Trinax also incorporated the use of voice-overs, in a realistic and gritty way. Every character was fitted with a customised voice-over, that came from real life voice talents, to bring the whole experience alive. Careful character screenwriting was also a big part of the project, to bring realism and authenticity to the experience. 

Combining this with overall art direction, graphic treatment and in-house designed visuals, the experience was delivered in an educational, holistic yet gamified manner. In order to bring the experience up a notch, Trinax also made used of their in-house green screen studio to film intricate scenes where counsellors addressed the issue on hand. All in all, users were further engaged with a filmed debriefing session by actual certified counsellors after the experience. 

To further drive the objective of raising awareness for mental illnesses, an interactive quiz was incorporated at the end of each escape room. This quiz allowed users to further evaluate how they could provide help, should their peers or family members experience similar symptoms. 

Results 

Beyond the Label e-Escape Room was first launched on 26 September last year. During the launch, NCSS said mood disorder was the first mental health condition featured and there were almost 100 sign ups just on the first day of launch. There was also a healthy mix of demographics as users' ages ranged from 17 to 55. 

The different scenarios were subsequently rolled out as episodes two and three, released on 24 October last year and 24 February this year, respectively. Each episode was released with intervals to maximise its reach and focus on each mental health condition. 

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. According to NCSS, this campaign also proved that Trinax was able to infuse interactive gamification with a purpose to achieve the objectives set by NCSS.