Unpack social issues when you walk a mile in another’s shoes

Given the recent spate of racist incidents witnessed in Singapore, there is little doubt that our nation has to work on making inclusivity more than an office buzzword. And here to reduce prejudice and dismantle stereotypes while fostering a more inclusive environment for all is To Be You, a newly released game experience conceived by non-profit, volunteer-run organisation Better.sg.

An interactive mobile game, To Be You aims to cultivate empathy by giving players the opportunity to experience life as someone else, making pivotal decisions, discovering challenges and dilemmas, not to mention connecting with people from all walks of life.

So play as one of two debut 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; or Amandeep Singh Sahota, a Punjabi Sikh young adult facing pressures to change his appearances and how he expresses his faith for National Service, his career, and even his relationship.

To Be You ultimately places the user directly in the character’s shoes, with each episode unpacking an aspect of personal identity, such as race, religion and gender.

To Be You (Credit: Better.sg)

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 which spurs youths to identify challenges and ideate ways to bring about greater social compact.

“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, and can act as a bridge to deeper sharing and understanding in real life.” says Dr Kalpana Vignehsa, a Sociologist and Research Fellow at Institute of Policy Studies, and research advisor for the project.

She continues: “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.”

To Be You (Credit: Better.sg)

Echoing her point of view is Gaurav Keerthi, CEO of Better.sg and Co-Lead of To Be You. Keerthi explains: “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 community. 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.”

To Be You debuted Jul 21, on Racial Harmony Day in Singapore. Experience the game here.