A La Carte: A Board-Game Project

By: Aaron, María, Jimena

With this project we want to address the information gap between large groups of ordinary people and their food. We chose this topic because in recent decades there has been a raised awareness around what we eat and how our food is produced. In addition, recent science has established links between disease and diet. The incidence of nutritional disorders like obesity and diabetes as well as heart disease and some cancers are also impacted by our food habits. This issue has increasingly been a topic of public debate and a matter of public policy, even as genetically modified food plants (GMOs) are consumed more and more.

The organic model has appeared as an alternative to the large-scale conventional food industry.  In a city like New York, today it is common to see farmer’s markets, food coops, and a variety of health food merchants. Critics of organic farming methods, however, have established that there are several misconceptions about organic food that make people believe it is healthier and better for the environment. In addition, critics focus on how much organic food cost, since it usually is more expensive than conventionally grown food, due to a variety of factors such as lower yields and more labor-intensive methods. Why are organic products more expensive and more difficult to find than conventional products? Where does the food we eat come from, anyway?

We propose a board-game prototype that will provide general information about some stages of the food production process. We plan to create a game that is portable, easy and fun to play in which the players have to put together a balanced meal, choosing each item from a range of choices, We are considering adding conflict elements to the gamers task, such as facing a threat to survival, life/death or economic collapse. At the beginning of the game, each player will be provided with a certain number of coins (representing money), miles and hours. Using these items, the player will go through the board in order to get the meal ready to eat. To move forward and get the meal ready, each player would have to make a decision that will cost money, distance and time. Every time the player faces two choices, he or she will receive the information necessary to decide on one option. At the end of the game, the player gets a synopsis with all the information about the meal he or she created.

We chose to create a game around this topic because of the power games have to examine social and political issues. Our approach to designing a game that deals with food systems draws heavily from Dartmouth professor Dr. Mary Flanagan’s “critical play” theory of game design. Flanagan defines critical play as “a careful examination of social, cultural, political, or even personal themes that function as alternates to popular play spaces.” Her design model incorporates critical play through a focus on values. The process of design is as follows:

·      Set design goals and values.

·      Develop rules, which support these values.

·      Design for diverse play styles.

·      Develop playable prototype.

·      Test with diverse audiences.

·      Verify values, revise goals.

·      Repeat as necessary.

Key elements of this project are sustainability, affordability, and access. We are taking a popular play space, the board game, and subverting it to examine one particular aspect of the industrial food system.  We are also drawing on Brecht’s theories of epic theatre for this project. In his writing on the subject, Brecht spoke heavily on the role of illusion in traditional theatre and how illusions kept the current social order in place. Epic theatre, however, sought to avoid the engendering of illusion so that real issues could be examined. We wish, through game play, to highlight the choices consumers have when it comes to their food and show how those decisions can affect them in real ways. The game is not just a distraction, but a playful representation of the daily choices food consumers make.

We plan to design our game by developing a process of participatory inquiry by asking consumers, farmers, and grocery sellers about their food preferences and habits, in order to let the values of the game our game emerge both from our research and from participants insights. We plan to play the game on site with at least three different groups of people in three different types of communities. Groups will vary by age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic profile. Schools, parks and playgrounds are public spaces where we hope to play the game. We are also considering partnering with NYU’s Wagner Food Policy Alliance in order to utilize the most current information in designing our game.


About the cost of food:



About games and game design:


Fullerton, T. (2008). Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games (2nd ed.). Morgan Kaufmann.

Flanagan, M. (2009). Critical Play: Radical Game Design. The MIT Press.

Media Theory:

Willett, J. (1982). Brecht on Theatre. Hill and Wang.

Categories: Reflective Posts


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