Two video games developed by Abertay University students in Dundee have been awarded top international design prizes.

Powerchair Football, based on the real-life game of football for people with disabilities, and The Healing Tree, a game exploring grief and trauma therapy, were recognised at the International Serious Play Awards.

Created by third year students from Abertay’s School of Design and Informatics, the games were awarded Silver and Bronze prizes respectively in the competition’s ‘Student’ category.

The games originally emerged as part of a coursework project that tasked students with designing a game under the banner of ‘applied games’. The term refers to work that is intentionally designed for purposes beyond entertainment, focusing on topics such as social issues, learning and education.

Lecturers deemed the end products so impressive that they were submitted to the International Serious Play Awards, which honour outstanding learning products which incorporate game elements and were created for use in education or training.

Students worked with Tayside Dynamos on the groundbreaking powerchair football game.

Powerchair Football, which was developed by the Blueshift Studios team, received a Silver medal at the ceremony.

The eight-person group spent time with the Tayside Dynamos in Dundee getting a feel for the electric wheelchairs used in the sport – using input and feedback from players to create the work, which was designed for PC.

It is the first powerchair football game of its kind in the UK.

Student Jake Brodie, producer of Blueshift Studios, said: “It’s a very different kind of game. It’s not really something that’s been done before. We got in touch with our client, the Tayside Dynamos, and went along to their training sessions.

“In our first meeting it became pretty clear what they were wanting from us: which was something that was realistic, something that represented the sport in a way that they were happy with. 

“Going to the training session was kind of an eye-opener. It was also about getting the realism down as much as we could. The controls, how they move, how everything interacts with each other. 

“Our goal was to give them something in the end that they were happy with, and also to create something that fulfilled the brief – which was to let the players feel like they’d been seen in a video game, which they hadn’t until then.”

The Taywild team behind The Healing Tree used an academic paper by Abertay lecturer Dr Hailey Austin and Seattle University Senior Lecturer Dr Lydia Cooper, exploring how games can be used to aid people suffering from trauma, as the basis for their work.

Using stunning artwork, the final product allows players to restore the health of the titular tree, shaping it to their own design as they explore its roots and branches via various characters dealing with differing life problems.

Inspiration for the work came from a range of sources: from the games Spiritfarer and Mutazione, to Art Nouveau and nature itself.

The Healing Tree, which is playable via PC browser, was developed with Dr Cooper.

Student Tally Summers, producer for Taywild, said: “The brief itself was based on an academic paper about exploring games as trauma therapy. That is something that captured my mind and a lot of the teams’ minds specifically.

“For my Honours project that I’m working on this year I’m very much going along a similar line of creating a serious game which is tackling complicated emotions and playing with the idea of player empathy. 

“For me personally this project has probably decided where I will go with my career.”

Games and Arts lecturer Dr Austin said: “Serious games is a concept that games can be more than fun – they can have a social purpose. They are games that have a message, a purpose that can help people. 

“The students were given briefs that had a serious play angle, and the games they made were really, really good. Both of the games have different takes.

“We’re so excited and so happy that they have been recognised at the International Serious Play Awards.”

Games production lecturer Dr. Andrew Reid added: “These types of projects not only challenge students to push themselves in their craft as developers, but it also demands that they understand wider social or cultural challenges and address these through making games. 

“The awards are a real testament to the work and dedication that the students committed to these projects. 

“We are very proud that our students continue Abertay’s record of success at the International Serious Play Awards.”

The Healing Tree trailer:

Powerchair Football Trailer: Powerchair Football Trailer – YouTube