The subject of prediction, early intervention and data privacy in mental health raises a lot of ethical considerations and, due to its academic nature, young people are often left out of a critical debate that will likely impact their future. 

Oxford University partnered with PRELOADED, and youth marketing agency Livity, to understand how a game could be used to forward the debate around this important research topic. This presented us with a unique challenge: could a game be both engaging as a playing experience on a complex subject matter, and at the same time, help to collect meaningful data from the target audience that could go on to inform research? 

The result of the collaboration was Tracing Tomorrow, a first-person, narrative-led exploration around the consequences of sharing mental health data, encouraging players to progress through the game by making important decisions with no right answers.


The target audience for Tracing Tomorrow is 16-18 year olds. In order to engage that audience, and collect meaningful data on what they thought and felt, we had to inspire a sense of authenticity in the gameplay. This meant user testing regularly with sub sections of the audience group during Concept Development and throughout Production. A great contributor to upholding the authenticity of experience was the NeurOx Young People’s Advisory Group that helped us develop scenarios that students are likely to face at school or college. 

Contrary to the role playing nature of most games, after user testing different options, we decided early on to have the audience play as themselves. The project was interested in moral dilemmas, and by inviting the player to play as themselves, the situation was more visceral and immediate, and can therefore generate more honest, realistic responses to aid the survey. 

Dealing with sensitive mental health topics meant establishing the right tone was a priority for the game design. PRELOADED worked closely with ethics experts from Oxford University to distill weighty subjects and address topics through unbiased and ungendered gameplay. These language guidelines later underpinned the wider marketing campaign to create a holistic user experience. 

Stylistically, the game is simple and abstract, meaning the player can engross themselves in the heavy topic without getting bogged down in details or convolution. The abstract graphics ensured that players of different races, genders and backgrounds felt represented which was an important success metric for the game. The accessibility and seamlessness of the mobile-first design, and the option to access the game through any browser, also helped to add to the authenticity of the teenager’s playing experience. 


The backbone of Tracing Tomorrow is the gamified survey. Oxford University’s aim was to collect data on how young people feel and behave when faced with ethical dilemmas about their mental health, well-being, and identity in the context of predictive technologies.

There were two objectives to the data collection: data used in research of the ethics of mental health prediction, and data validating or invalidating the success of a digital platform as a means of gathering research and delivering information. To meet these objectives the game gathered three types of data: demographics, gameplay choices and gameplay analytics (before, during, after gameplay). 

The gameplay analytics were useful to understand the drop-off and validate data integrity (i.e. if someone didn’t finish the game then their gameplay data was not complete). Other data helped to detect if players engaged with the learning content. Facts delivered in the world about mental health were hidden behind the requirement to tap an icon and once onboarded to the ‘find facts’ mechanic, the Oxford University team was able to measure how engaged players were with learning content based on the number of facts discovered. 

By turning the survey into a game, something conventionally dry becomes an engaging, playable and fun experience. Unlike the data tracking technologies mentioned in the game, all choices in the game were recorded anonymously. PRELOADED set up an analytics solution that ensured that there was no way to link any data to a player’s identity.  

The finished product is a seamless synthesis of data research, emotional storytelling and exploration of a weighty, current topic. Within 4 weeks of launch, the game had already delivered meaningful results. Over 15,000 young people had played the game with a completion rate of 41% (in comparison, a high completion rate of a 30 second video sits at around 20%) which proves how effectively the format engaged the target audience. 

Most importantly the game, supported by the wider influencer marketing campaign, encouraged a conversation amongst young people around mental health topics.  

https://www.instagram.com/p/B71fRH1lQ18/ – ‘ Yes broo! facts though mental health is no joke and this technology will be massive help ??’

https://www.instagram.com/p/B71Wfg0nDVc/That’s amazing! Thank you for voicing the topic⭐️❤️

https://www.instagram.com/p/B70tJidDY3S/ – ‘Only by speaking out can we create lasting change. And that chance begins with speaking out’ 

A note from our project partner BeGood: We can all experience mental health challenges from time to time, especially – but not always – at stressful points in our lives like exams, changes in family relationships, or when experiencing loss. If you want space to talk to someone confidentially about anything you’re going through, you can find a list of services who can provide support here.