Enter The £50K Virtual Healthy Neighbourhoods Challenge

Enter The £50K Virtual Healthy Neighbourhoods Challenge

Scottish Game Developers Can Access Up To £50,000 from NESTA and InGAME To Address Healthy Eating Issues In Scotland

The Virtual Healthy Neighbourhoods Challenge from Nesta and InGAME is an ambitious competition to harness the potential of game design and game technologies to better understand and solve the challenge of healthy living and promoting healthy food choices. The project is part of NESTA’s mission of adding two years of healthy life expectancy to 10 million people across the UK. 

The competition is open to gamemakers and media enterprises across Scotland. Up to 10 applicants will be selected to participate in the Nesta briefing event. From these, three semi-finalists will be selected to receive £5,000 to develop pitches over two weeks.

After pitching and interviews, one team will win the competition and be awarded a further £45,000 to prove their concept in an eight-week prototyping phase. 

Challenge Closing Date: 09:00, Monday 8th November 2021

Game Developers Wanted

In this open call, Nesta and InGAME are looking for superstar small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and teams from across Scotland. Teams must have the advanced game design, game engine programming and data analytics competencies required to apply their knowledge and creativity to help Nesta better understand how food environments affect our access to healthy and more affordable food options.

This new understanding will then be used to imagine and de-risk systems-level interventions that shift dynamics within food environments to ensure healthy and appealing food options are accessible and affordable for everyone, whoever they are, wherever they live.

Why Healthy Eating?

Right now, the floodgates of unhealthy food are open wide, and these options are overwhelming families.

Because healthy food can be more expensive, more difficult and costly to access and take longer to prepare than less healthy products, it is much harder than it should be for families to eat healthily.

But we can improve people’s health in the UK by working to improve the flow of affordable, healthy food options. 

We need to find innovative and experimental approaches to show that what surrounds us shapes our opportunity to be healthy, and increase public support for effective policy changes to turn the tide on unhealthy food.

We want healthy and appealing food options to be accessible and affordable for everyone, wherever they live, work or play.

girl playing on sand box. Virtual Healthy Neighbourhoods Challenge
Photo by Ostap Senyuk on Unsplash


The concept of the ‘sandbox’ as a place to experiment and test new ideas is well known. Children play with ideas and build imaginary worlds within the confines of a sandbox. Innovation sandboxes provide a collaborative space to invent and build the future.

Synthetic sandbox environments – powered by 3D game engines – are increasingly utilised to create simulations of unparalleled scale, complexity and fidelity. These game environments enable us to understand and map complex challenges, formulate responses, rapidly test interventions and understand their systems-level consequences in a virtual world before implementing them in the real one.

Synthetic sandboxes are currently being used for everything from optimising car factories to ensuring better passenger flow at airports to mitigating threats to national security. They help safely innovate and de-risk decision and policy making by limiting unintended consequences in the real world. As a result, the potential of synthetic sandboxes to help us improve lives, drive positive social change and build a better future is enormous.

For the Virtual Healthy Neighbourhoods Challenge , Nesta and InGAME invite Scottish gamemakers and developers to harness and validate the potential of synthetic sandboxes to build a better, more healthy future focusing on Dundee – the home of Scotland’s pioneering, vibrant and thriving videogames cluster.

Like so many other cities, towns and neighbourhoods, some of the food environments within Dundee can make it difficult and costly for families to access shops selling healthier food. Issues such a high density of fast-food outlets, small and expensive convenience stores and advertising and product placement converge to create a tidal wave of unhealthy food.

Dr Chris Lowthorpe, Senior Fellow for Collaborative R&D at InGAME, said:

At InGAME, we believe game design techniques and game technologies are transforming the world. Add in the awesome creativity of the Scottish games sector to those techniques and technologies, and the innovation potential for driving positive change is immense. That’s why, in partnership with Nesta, we’ve launched this call for superstar Scottish developers to help solve one of the UK’s most ‘wicked’ real-world problems – obesity.

Why Get Involved?

As well as winning £50,000 to improve health and longevity across Scotland and the UK, entering this competition provides opportunities for ambitious studios, developers and teams to establish themselves in a fast emerging and highly-lucrative applied games market.

Participants also get to work with InGAME – Scotland’s world-class R&D centre for games innovation – and NESTA. In addition, successful applicants will experience a journey that further develops crucial competencies such as strategy, communication, investor readiness – and will retain the rights to all the IP created throughout the competition.

Who Should Apply?

This open call is designed to appeal to the widest range of applicants who possess the required core competencies and superpowers, particularly:

  • Game design/development SMEs 
  • Unincorporated but established game design/development teams 
  • Unincorporated game design /development teams formed to respond to this call
  • Media enterprise SMEs. 

Any organisation or team applying must have its main place of business and operational activity in Scotland. 

Sean Taylor, Director of InGAME said:

The applied use of game engine technology and game design techniques will prove fantastic tools as we strive to better understand how food environments affect our access to healthy and more affordable food options. We’re excited to be working with Nesta to bring this challenge to the Scottish games sector.

About Nesta

Deborah Fox, Head of Creative Innovation at Nesta, said:

Our Healthy Life mission is to increase the average number of healthy years lived in the UK, while narrowing health inequalities. Our vision for the Nesta Playbox is to provide an evolving, data-rich game technology-based environment that enables Nesta to better map and understand the systemic challenge of obesity and test ways to improve access to healthy and affordable food. We’re delighted to partner with InGAME and we’re excited at the potential of working with Scotland’s videogames sector to harness game design techniques and create a Playbox that helps to address our mission and drive positive change.

InGAME is led by Abertay University in partnership with the University of Dundee and the University of St Andrews. All of the centre’s work is tailored to respond to a clear user need, commercial opportunity or social challenge.

How do I Apply?

If you have any questions about the challenge, or the application process, please contact InGAME directly.

Challenge Closing Date: 09:00, Monday 8th November 2021


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