'Escape' experience a great way to drive home a message

Interactive game activities let players get a different perspective and learn about cause

Real-life escape events, in which teams race to solve puzzles, are no longer just about having fun.

They incorporate interactive elements, from "hallucinations" to being chained up, and are being used to raise awareness of issues such as drug abuse and animal cruelty.

Over the weekend, for instance, players took on the role of dogs chained for slaughter, or animals facing laboratory tests. The games, which raised funds for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), were designed by four animal-loving Dunman High School students.

Called Team Pawsitive, they were one of 100 teams to receive funding of $1,600 in this year's Citi- YMCA Youth For Causes programme. "We felt that the mechanics of the game were most ideal to bring across our message on animal abuse, by letting participants experience first-hand what it feels like to be trapped, abused and helpless," said team member Lin Huiqing, 17.

FRUITFUL EXPERIENCES

People learn and remember more effectively through experiences.

MR JUSTIN LEE, founder and managing director of The Escape Artist.

The time pressure and sense of being trapped are hard to simulate otherwise. "With these feelings, players would be able to empathise with the animals which SPCA works hard to protect."

Players of an anti-drug escape game in June faced hallucinatory apparitions such as giant animals. Nearly 2,200 players took part over two days, as part of the Central Narcotics Bureau's (CNB) annual Anti- Drug Abuse Campaign.

A CNB spokesman said: "We hoped that participants would be able to experience the true reality of overcoming addiction, through the interactive gaming experience."

  • What are escape games?

  • In escape events, players - usually in teams - race against the clock to solve cryptic puzzles. In doing so, they take on roles within a storyline, such as having to escape a "werewolf-filled village".

    Despite the name, escape games may also have other goals, such as "preventing a nuclear meltdown" or solving a mystery.

    In the Central Narcotic Bureau's game, teams pass through phases symbolising a drug's addict's journey. At the final puzzle, they must make the right choice to successfully "escape addiction".

    But unlike traditional puzzles such as crosswords or Sudoku, escape games have no instructions. Players rely on intuition and creativity to figure out what is required.

    Some events take place in a single room but others have a wider setting, with past locations including the National Library, Gardens by the Bay and Haw Par Villa.

    Escape events have been held here since 2012. The first few were adaptations of Japan's Real Escape Game series, but home-grown firms have since got into the act.

More than nine in 10 participants said it was "a great way" to promote anti-drug messages. Said Ms Ruth Ong, senior manager of the CNB's Preventive Education Unit: "The escape theme game also exemplified our key message of 'Drugs are addictive, escaping is hard, don't start'."

A portable version of the game has been made to take it to more youth.

University student Benjamin Huang, 21, said: "The event definitely taught me about aspects of drugs and drug addiction I hadn't known before. For example, it was my first time hearing about the four stages of drug addiction."

Escape games are used to promote ideas not just to the general public, but within organisations too. At the Home Team Learning Festival later this month, officers from the Ministry of Home Affairs - particularly those involved in training - will play a game with the theme of investigating a murder.

"The escape game activity aims to provide the Home Team community with a different perspective on learning through games, and excite officers to embrace new ways of training," said an MHA spokesman.

The hope is that trainers will be encouraged to incorporate "experiential activities" when designing their training curriculum, he said.

Escape games have been used to teach primary school pupils about Singapore's history, or inform the public about first aid. But events such as the CNB's go further, combining education with a message.

Traditional awareness campaigns convey information through exhibitions and talks, said Mr Justin Lee, founder and managing director of The Escape Artist.

But the anti-drug game designed by his firm aimed "to establish a more meaningful connection with the participants", who must engage with the subject matter as they play. "People learn and remember more effectively through experiences," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2016, with the headline ''Escape' experience a great way to drive home a message'. Print Edition | Subscribe