Abertay University, one of the jewels in the crown of the Scottish tech ecosystem, established the world’s first video games degrees in 1997. Since then, the university in Dundee has churned out thousands of students who have gone on to fill vacancies at some of the best computer games companies on the planet.

It has also helped stimulate the local ecosystem, with 40 gaming companies in the city region alone. The current crop of students in the final year of their undergraduate courses demonstrated the ongoing global appeal of Tayside as a gaming destination, with 53 students from countries including India, Slovakia, Italy, France and Germany, in addition to 177 from the UK.

Among them at this year’s Digital Graduate Show – the annual showcase for students about to embark on their gaming careers – were a budding design trio testing out their ideas from accessibility features to virtual reality education and graphics technology.

“People still view virtual reality technology as a medium for entertainment and leisure, rather than something that can benefit society as a whole,” says Arjun Bhatnagar, a final year computer games and programming student at Abertay. Bhatnagar has been working on a virtual reality platform to help train people how to do life-saving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). He said: “I know people get trained looking at videos, or reading some text, but I would much rather learn by doing something rather than reading about it.”

The altruistic approach to video games technology is one shared by fellow student Bridget Casey, who has been working on a platform for visually impaired games designers. “My goal was to take the structure of a traditional games platform and expand on that so it includes people,” she says. She said she was inspired to do something for visually impaired people after attending a games expo in London last year. “There was a panel there on accessibility in games, and there was a panellist who was totally blind. He talked about how he had always wanted to get into designing games but he’s never been able to because the tools weren’t there. I’ve always been interested in tools, so I thought about trying to create something that might allow for that.”

Justin Syfrig’s project was focused on bringing a new type of enhanced lighting technology to graphics in computer games. “My adventure here was to try to discover how reflections are rendered in video games, because reflections are always lacking in my personal opinion. I think this is how you can get the best results for real-time graphics.” The showcase event also featured over 100 concepts, from games to promote exercise, a 3D printed glove that allows VR users to feel simulations of texture while inside a game, and crime scene investigation.

Bathed in the purple glow of gaming mood appropriate lighting, the Digital Graduate Show was hosted at the university’s School of Design and Informatics last Friday, June 2. Sponsored by local gaming companies whose founders came from the campus – Team Terrible and Ninja Kiwi – the event was a chance for the students to meet with future employers, whether it be in gamification apps, character design or immersive new worlds.

It’s that innovation which has led to an explosion for the sector in Dundee. The city’s gaming cluster has expanded massively over the past three decades, attracting £400m of inward investment since 2019 and seeing an estimated 164 per cent increase in direct gross value added (GVA) over the same period. Since its launch in 2018, the university’s InGAME (Innovation for Games and Media Enterprise) centre has has upskilled more than 1,700 professionals and supported more than 175 collaborative research and development projects.

It has also worked on a wide range of projects, with the centre’s partners including Beano Studios (DC Thomson), BBC, Creative Dundee, Creative Scotland, Dundee City Council, Immerse UK / Knowledge Transfer Network, Microsoft, Nesta, Outplay, Roblox, Scottish Development International, Scottish Funding Council, Scottish Enterprise, TIGA, V&A Dundee, Ukie, and Women in Games.

Full list of 2023 Digital Graduate Show winners:

  • The D3T Award for Excellence in Art: Alex Williams, Computer Arts
  • The D3T Award for Excellence in Engineering: Justin Syfrig, Computer Games Technology
  • Rivet Games Excellence in 3D Art: Daniel Tolland, Computer Arts
  • Interference Pattern Most Industry Ready Work Example: Alex Williams, Computer Arts
  • Dundee Contemporary Arts Prize for Visual Storytelling: Rachael Hogg, Computer Arts
  • NEoN Digital Arts Prize for Addressing Gender and Identity Issues: Cameryn Tuliao (Game Design and Production), Charlotte Wilkinson (Computer Arts) and Eleanor Findlay (Computer Arts)
  • V&A Dundee Young People’s Collective Award for exceptional example of collaborative work: TBC
  • Unesco City of Design Prize: Bridget Casey, Computer Games Technology
  • Playground Games Award for Outstanding Achievement: Angus Dale, Computer Game Applications Development
  • Blazing Griffin Award for Best Sound Design: Henry Neff, Computer Arts
  • Rebellion Accessibility Award: Derek Paton, Game Design and Production
  • Kilted Otter Awards for Authentic Cultural Representation in Art or Design: Linda Vet, Computer Arts
  • Pocket Sized Hands ‘Most Unhinged’ Award for the Most Wildly Creative Project: Jaromir Stifter, Computer Games Technology
  • Ninja Kiwi More Awesomer Award for Game Development: Lochlainn Brindley, Computer Games Technology
  • Ninja Kiwi More Awesomer Award for Visual Design: Emily ‘Amelia’ Wood, Game Design and Production
  • Hyper Luminal Games Award for Innovation in Character Design and Representation: Dasa Falisova, Computer Arts
  • nDreams/Nearlight Award for Game Design Innovation: Dominik Gawron, Game Design and Production
  • Creative Assembly for Best Game/Interactive Experience for Health and Wellbeing: Rhiannon Nash, Game Design and Production
  • Outplay Award for Game Design: Samuel Chaba, Game Design and Production
  • Outplay Award for ‘Fresh Thinking’: Niko Drousie, Game Design and Production
  • V&A Dundee Young People’s Collective Award for exceptional example of collaborative work: Paige Wilkie (Computer Arts), Nikola Drousie (Game Design and Production), Jack Teviotdale (Game Design and Production), James Conroy (Game Design and Production) co-awarded with Morgan Finney (Game Design and Production).

The gaming sector will be a focus of Digital Scotland: Tayside conference at Abertay University on Thursday.