Two Dundee video game developers have won £45,000 each to build virtual neighbourhoods – including a replica of Dundee’s Hilltown.
The virtual neighbourhoods will be built using real-time 3D game engines.
They will incorporate elements of popular video games, such as Minecraft and SimCity.
Konglomerate Games and Biome Collective will use the money to develop their initial ideas into playable proof of concept games.
The prize money comes from a joint project between Dundee-based research and development centre InGAME and Nesta, the UK’s innovation agency for social good.
The Virtual Healthy Neighbourhoods Challenge called for Scottish video game makers to pitch ideas for developing virtual food environments.
These will be used to produce a better understanding of how our food environments shape access to healthy and affordable food.
They will also be used to test new approaches so healthy food options are accessible and affordable for everyone.
A virtual Hilltown
Biome Collective’s idea is a simulator in which players manage resources for a virtual version of the Hilltown area of Dundee.
Director Malath Abbas said: “Play provides a sense of freedom, connection, ownership and agency.
“It can simplify complex systems and generate new perspectives on existing challenges.”
Mr Abbas said the company’s goal is to create a game to help obesity.
“The data shows our relationship with the food environment is core to this.
“It’s a multi-layered challenge but we know that games can engage people.
“Our goal is to make a playful experience that clarifies some of these challenges to help policy makers and the general public better understand the food environment.
“We want to empower them to make a positive impact.”
Moving supermarkets and takeaways
Konglomerate Games’ winning idea involves building an environment where players can build a city and adjust the food environment.
Players will be able to build or move takeaways, supermarkets and restaurants.
Chief executive Jamie Bankhead said it was an “innovative challenge”.
He said: “We are very excited to be working on a game with a potentially huge impact on health and the way we think of food and food environments.
“Hopefully the outcomes and progress of this project will help shine a light on how games can be used in new ways to solve real world global problems.”
The companies were two of five games developers shortlisted.
They were each awarded £5,000 each to develop and pitch ideas after an open call in October.
Both concept games will provide data about food environments that can be applied in the real world.
Nesta, InGAME and Scottish health and policy experts will work with the developers to ensure the prototypes can produce insights into how food environments shape people’s opportunity to be healthy.
Gaming firms helping solve obesity?
Researchers will most likely play the games so they can gather data, which will inform “real-world solutions”.
Head of Nesta in Scotland Adam Lang said unhealthy eating is a problem across the UK.
He said the issue is “overwhelming” families and having a “hugely detrimental effect” on people’s health.
Mr Lang said the games could help ensure “healthy and appealing food options are accessible and affordable for everyone”.