Playing with food in FEAST's gaming workshops (Astrid Mangnus, Utrecht University)

FEAST HQ Report, WG2

On the 11th and 28th of May, FEAST hosted two gaming workshops in a series of activities around the future of food in collaboration with Prof. Joost Vervoort and myself, visiting researchers form Utrecht University, the Netherlands. Earlier activities include three backcasting focus groups for the food future of Kyoto prefecture and a series of workshops in Noshiro, Akita prefecture. The use of games is a new and fun way of exploring possible futures. In both workshops the participants played two games: a video game and a card game. We were interested in both the effect that the method of gaming had on the participants, as well as the plans to come out of the process.

The first game, a prototype for the video game LetsKyoto, was developed by game design students from the HKU University of the Arts in Utrecht. In it, the players pass a controller around and each make decisions for one person in Kyoto’s food system (farmers, restaurants, supermarkets, consumers etc.). At the end of every round, the players discuss and vote for a policy intervention. The second game was a card game, the FPC Simulator, which invites players to form a fictional Food Policy Council (FPC) for Kyoto prefecture. An FPC is a group of people that represents many sides of the food system in a certain place (e.g. production, consumption, distribution and waste management). Combining their powers, these people aim to coordinate activities that improve the social, environmental and economic sustainability of their local food system. It is a concept that FEAST’s working group 2 has been interested in for a while.

The computer game was hypothesized to increase learning, give participants new ideas about interventions in the food system, and increase empathy with other roles. Results turned out to vary between participants: for each person that indicated that his or her insight in the workings of the food system improved “a lot”, there is one that answered “barely”. The computer game format is perhaps more accessible for some than for others. Both workshops yielded some interesting point of improvement for the game with which FEAST could possibly develop it into a fully functioning food game in the future.

In the FPC Simulator card game, the FPC gets 1,000,000 FEASTyen from the bank and every round represents a year. It all starts with the players filling out a role card for themselves based on their own real-life position. Every player has 3 main issues on their role card that they think the FPC should address. During the introduction round, the facilitator writes down each player’s top issues on the FPC agenda sheet. After determining the agenda, a chairperson is appointed who oversees the budget, does the writing and leads the FPC’s discussion. Now that the FPC is in business, it’s time to support food initiatives in Kyoto prefecture that do good work. These initiatives come in the form of cards, of which the FPC has to draw three from three decks: Kyoto, and for inspiration also Japan and the world. To support its initiative(s), the FPC should make a plan. The intervention is written down on an activity card, and a budget is allocated to it. The facilitator gives the FPC a feasibility rating, which the FPC can shortly plea to raise. Once it’s set, the FPC has to roll a 20-sided dice. A score within the feasibility rating means success, one above it means failure. Then it’s on to the next round! In case of failure, the members should take some time and spend some budget to make the failure right. They can then roll the dice again and try to get to success. A final step at the end of each round is rolling for disaster. If it’s a 1, the FPC should roll again to find out which disaster off the disaster list has hit them. This has to be dealt with in the next round. After the play session, the different FPCs in the game shortly presented their agenda and set of interventions to one another. There was a prize for the team with the highest number of successful initiatives.

The participants said afterwards that they encountered many new ideas, like that everyone thinks of the future in a different way and that there is more demand for local produce than they thought. Also, the participants learned more about an FPC and mostly felt motivated to join a real one in the future. For the second round of the card game, the players were asked to play someone else at the table. The majority of participants indicated that this led to a better insight into other people’s perspectives.

But what about the FPC plans? Well, those make Kyoto’s future look exciting! In the first workshop, the winning FPC plan had the idea of letting children experience tea farming four times a year. They would then sell it at a tea festival market to parents and other interested people, so that they could experience the entire value chain. In the second workshop, the winning FPC plan was a mix of an eco label, research project and educational schoolyard that the players had developed so that it could run over several years, or several rounds of playing, and they invested again each round. In this second workshop, the bigger budget and especially the rounds with no budget limit yielded very innovative results. For example, there was a plan for a vegetable dating service, connecting people to the farmers that farm their vegetables, and farmers to people with rare indigenous seeds. Another example was the “KodoMall”, to be built in a run-down shopping street, complete with a field and all kinds food related activities. All this would run on a virtual currency that could only be spent by kids. The group even thought of ways to prohibit parents from taking their children’s money to buy food.

All in all, many new insights, interesting outcomes and a lot of food for thought. A big thank you to everyone who came out to play!

Flyer for Gaming Workshop in Kyoto

Trying out the video game “LetsKyoto” (Photo: Astrid Mangnus)

Working on the plan for the FPC initiatives (Photo: Momoe Oga)

Voting for the best intervention activity (Photo: Momoe Oga)