For exasperated parents, they can be a source of irritation, the cause of children’s squabbles, enraged outbursts, and a distraction from homework.

Video games may have some parents reaching for the ‘off’ switch, however, it appears they are set to play an even larger part in all our lives.

While it may be hard to stomach for parents who can’t take another Minecraft or FIFA20 meltdown, it’s emerged that Scottish video games developers’ skills are increasingly being used across a range of situations to help improve learning, health, engineering and design, the environment and heritage.

Talks organised as part of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s summer programme of online events, Curious, are set to highlight how the multi-billion pound games sector is making the leap from entertainment to everyday tool, with games and gaming technology potentially used to help in everything from healthcare to the battle against microplastics.

Games are also being predicted to transform the way school, college and university lessons are delivered, giving students the chance to absorb information while they play, earning rewards for achievements and being continuously motivated by tests and challenges.

In particular, games based around laboratory skills in subjects like chemistry or surgery techniques would eliminate the need for students to take part in real-life experiments, particularly helpful during the current pandemic, and also saving money by avoiding equipment breakages or health risks.

According to Abertay University lecturers Dr Andrew Reid and Dr Iain Donald, presenters of the three part talk ‘More Than Playthings’, games and game technology are already being applied to a variety of academic challenges and societal problems, with the advantage over other media of being able to present often tricky concepts in relatively simple formats that are entertaining, fun and particularly engaging.

“People think that kids spend far too much time on games and it's hard to get them off. We tend to assume the worst thing about games,” said Dr Donald.

“But we are going to see games being used in many different ways in the future. One of the exciting things is that we are just at the start of exploring all the things that we can do with games and gaming technology.”

In one case, a video game designed by Abertay University students to encourage children with cystic fibrosis to take part in important breathing exercises, is currently undergoing medical testing at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Archipelayo presents players with a series of fun challenges which have to be completed by using breathing techniques based on physiotherapy exercises intended to help clear patients’ congested airways.

The exercises can be tedious, uncomfortable and last up to an hour, meaning patients can become tired and unmotivated. Using the game, however, the exercises are turned into a series of fun mini challenges.

Designed by Konglomerate Games which was formed by students from Abertay’s School of Design and Informatics, the game features brightly coloured graphics and animation, and uses a Bluetooth linked physiotherapy device which players blow into in order to complete a series of fun challenges.

As well as masking the breathing exercises as fun challenges, the game, currently being tested by 150 children, also measures how well they adhere to the treatment.

Emma Raywood, from the Physiotherapy Research Group at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, said: “The response from the children has been excellent. We’ve had feedback that the games are enjoyable, and that they have made the exercises feel quicker.

“We’ve been told it’s helped them to feel they are doing their exercises in a more effective way, so we’re really pleased at how this has gone.”

The UK gaming industry is valued at over £5.7 billion and in Scotland employs around 40,000 people. However, video games are often portrayed as potentially damaging and addictive: last year the World Health Organisation voted to include “gaming disorder” as a behavioural addiction in its International Classification of Diseases.

Yet gaming has been regarded as a crucial support for young people during the pandemic, helping players to socially interact while remaining physically distant. The sector has boomed in recent months, with console sales soaring and record numbers of online players.

Meanwhile, new independent research from the National Literacy Trust, suggest video games may not be as bad as many parents think: it showed that playing video games can help literacy, creativity and improve young people’s wellbeing.

Nearly 80 per cent of 4,600 young people between 11 and 16 who play video games also read materials relating to gaming such as fan fiction, books and blogs, while a third believe the games makes them better readers.

Dr Reid, whose game Project Filter, is designed to highlight the environmental impact of micropollution in order to change public behaviours, added: “Games are not just about sitting down in a bedroom with the curtains drawn which is the stereotypical image of gaming. Games are being increasingly used in wider context beyond entertainment.

“Games are being designed in a way that playing them doesn’t feel like learning. Learning becomes an incidental activity that happens because you are playing the game, making it enjoyable to learn as a result of playing something.”

In one recent case, Abertay-based developers created a fun game around Schrödinger's Cat to help explain challenging quantum physics theories, while another has created a mock chemistry laboratory which students can explore and perform virtual reality experiments without risking spillages or smashed beakers.

Originally intended to showcase the laboratory to schoolchildren considering university chemistry courses, it’s now hoped it can be extended as a learning aid.

Another project currently in development for a Scottish local authority aims to create a Minecraft-based game which will highlight tourist and heritage attractions.

Staff and students at Abertay have developed other games which tackle sensitive issues, such as the challenges of dementia, and one which guides players through the tragic story and social consequences around the sinking of the Iolaire off the coast of Lewis just weeks after the end of the First World War.

Another recreated the interior of Edinburgh’s Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory and allows the player to virtually explore objects from the factory workers’ desks in order to hear their often poignant stories of service.

Dr Reid added: “Scotland is recognised as a powerhouse in gaming.

“Lockdown has accentuated this explosion in digital learning and game-based technology for learning experiences.

“We don’t see it slowing down and we do see ways that games could be used to solve some of the changes in society caused by the pandemic.”

The More Than Playthings online talks are being held this Sunday (August 16) and Sunday (August 23) at 3pm.