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Abertay’s Serious Game Jam 5 battles the weather to support sustainability: Developing a Game to Educate about the Water, Energy and Food Nexus

Cation Games and the Winner of the ASGJ5 -   Tiles of Plenty

 By Paula Forbes

A Game Jam is a hackathon for video games, an event for like minds to come together and take part in Ideation and Creativity over a short timescale. The name derives from the Jam sessions common to music where musicians come together to produce music with little or no advance preparation. A typical game Jam usually lasts between 24 and 72 hours with participants consisting of programmers, game designers, artists, project managers, sound producers etc.  The tight time constraint adds to the pressure and stimulates creativity.  Abertay’s serious game jam or ASGJ5, is the fifth in Abertay’s history of serious game Jams (where games are designed for a purpose other than pure entertainment, such as education, or scientific exploration) and the aims were to develop game concepts to support the Stepping Up Nexus innovations and to enable a better understanding of the sustainability concepts.   

The Design Brief: 

To develop a fun, experimental game that raises awareness about the interconnected and interdependencies that exists between our Water, Energy and Food production systems e.g the WEF nexus. For example to produce food requires both energy and water, to produce energy, water (hydro) or land (bioenergy) is required. There are many examples of emerging innovations that are favourable to the water, energy, food systems e.g. anaerobic digestion (turning food waste into energy) and eating more insect protein in our diets would result in less Green House Gases (GHG) produced.


The game could have a strategy element to it e.g. a resource-based game that permits balancing multiple objectives, that account for budgets/ targets/trade-offs / different options for exploitation of the different innovations in the context of the Water Energy Food Nexus.  The game could highlight better use of existing food resources for the world in 2050 (using one or all of the proposed future scenarios). Examples of reducing food waste could be; re-distribution of food close to sell by dates; use of waste food to produce insect protein; use of waste food for energy production via AD (anaerobic digestion). The game should attempt to highlight benefits of innovations across water, energy and food.

The game will support understanding of the WEF nexus and support the overall aims of the Stepping Up project, find more information on the project website

The Game Jam:

Just as we were planning to begin exploring the themes of sustainability and the interconnectedness of Water Energy and Food we were brutally reminded of the uncertainty of our weather patterns as the so called ‘Beast from the East’ caused chaos to our well-laid plans. On the day we were supposedly starting the Jam with releasing the ASGJ5 brief, the University was announcing it was closing, public transport wasn’t running and life as we know it seemed to be grinding to a halt.  There were a lot of emails back and forth about what we should do; should we postpone the event? (difficult, given the students’ busy timetables and schedule), cancel? (no way), or try to go ahead and do the best we could under the circumstances? (well why not!).

Thankfully the students who had signed up for the Game Jam were not going to let the blizzard conditions stop them participating. Those that could get into the University Campus did so and most of those who couldn’t still managed to find a way to contribute.   Gamers’ technology came to the rescue, Discord – a popular platform to allow gamers to interact online whilst gaming became the communication tool that allowed team members to work together remotely.  On a practical level, I’d promised the students  bacon rolls, but as I had no idea if anyone was going to make it in on Day 1, I’d cancelled the large order I’d made, then was unable to reinstate a smaller order as the local sandwich shop had staffing issues (due to the snow).  But despite being unfed, the teams got to work.  Led by 4th year Game Design Management Student Phil Smy, who has experience of running previous Game Jams, a total of six teams emerged.  Some teams tweeted about their experience and these can be seen at #ASGJ5.

 Some worked entirely remotely due to the weather.  Phil stepped up and did an amazing job of keeping the Game Jam running as smoothly as possible given the unusual circumstances.  On day 2, I had a better idea of numbers so Bacon rolls were in place and spirits were high. Under normal circumstances, the Game Jam would end after the second day with presentations and judging taking place immediately. As we had remote teams and staff this couldn’t happen. We decided to allow the teams an extra day to work on the games if they wished, to make up for lost time at the beginning with all the uncertainty, with a submission deadline of Saturday afternoon.

Teams were asked to present their games the following Monday over lunch break, when thankfully the weather conditions were better.  Having not seen what was being developed, I was excited to see the presentations.  Our team of judges included experts in Game Design, Marketing, and researchers from the Stepping Up project.  Here are the incredible results:

Team 1 Cation Games: Tiles of Plenty (1st Place)

The first team to present were Cation Games (a team of six Abertay students from 2nd, 3rd and 4th year, and a nice mix of programmers, artists and game designers).  The judges were hugely impressed with what they had achieved and this team won First Place in the Game Jam. Best features of the game were:

  • Chance to learn at small scale first
  • Idea of waste management being important
  • Incorporating Stepping Up projects innovations, ie AD, insect protein, food redistribution.
  • Appealing aesthetics, and fun feel
  • How the team approached the ‘Interconnectedness’ of Water, Energy & Food
  • Simple enough to play for younger audience
  • General high level of presentation and overall it feels very polished
  • Opportunities for education  

Team 2: Planet XYZ

 Interesting strategic colony simulator approach.  Points we liked were:

  • Liked Fun, retro feel to the game
  • The idea of different colonies    encountering different conditions
  • Incorporating waste as an indicator
  • Considerations of wellbeing in the game
  • How depleting one resource has a negative impact on the others

Team 3 Jank Games:  When the Cull Begins (3rd Place)

Really out of the box thinking for this dystopian world, it was very dark but original.

  • Liked the presentation of the different documents
  • Post-apocalyptic feel to the graphics was very fitting
  • Making people consider the ethical implications of severe Climate Change
  • This would be something that would be quick and easy to pick up and play
  • Would be an excellent mobile game (swipe left for die, right for live).
  • Originality

Team 4: Planet City (2nd Place)

Really nicely presented game that came a close 2nd to the overall winner. A lot of thought had been put into the underlying mechanics and this game would be more suited to a slightly older target audience than the similar concept presented by Cation, it has more complexity – but very well considered and presented. Excellent graphics and overall feel, we liked the hexagonal tiles too.

    We Liked:

  • Idea of raising awareness of our bad habits to have a positive impact in the real world
  • Close match to the project remit
  • Incorporates Stepping Up innovations - insect factories, AD etc.
  • Chance to consider new innovations
  • Consideration of pollution levels


Team 5: Space Station Survival  - keep the population of the Space Station Alive.  

 We liked:

  • The fact that the space station is a ‘closed system’ but on a smaller scale this makes the concept of Water, Energy, Food interconnectedness easier to consider.
  • Inventory system
  • Requirements well thought through
  • Nice attention to detail (great plant growing sprites)

Team 6 : Carbon Clicker

Really unique Augmented Reality 3d approach taken for this clicker game.  Another out of the box concept.

We liked:

  • Fun physical interaction for the clicker
  • Gesture control interesting
  • The fact that it uses augmented reality to present virtual buildings in a real world setting.
  • Younger audiences would love this type of game

Summing Up the ASGJ5:

I was really blown away by the creativity and fantastic concepts produced by our students in such a short time-frame. To convey how Water, Energy and Food are interconnected in an understandable way is not an easy task, but one which our students achieved with a wide variety of ideas.  I was disappointed to be snowed in whilst it was ongoing, but I think it actually made the presentation of ideas really exciting to the judges as we hadn’t much knowledge of what had been produced.  We are hoping to be able to take the winning concept forward to produce a fun and educational dissemination tool for the project.  I’m happy to report that despite the lack of sustenance and the terrible weather the students who participated enjoyed the experience. Thanks to everyone who participated, especially Phil Smy for enabling the Game Jam to run despite the arctic conditions.

 Here are a few quotes received after the event.

“I'd like to say a massive thanks for hosting and supporting this Game Jam, as well as for granting our team's entry third place! It means a lot to everyone involved, especially considering the additional difficulties present in the jam due to weather.”

 “Thanks to the organisers for this game jam, that was a really good first experience of working with a team! “

“I had a blast making the game with my team ☺️ “

“Thank you and your colleagues so much for a great jam, the team really enjoyed the experience - and although the weather was a pain it taught us some really useful lessons in remote working and communication.”


©Steppingup 2024