SNAP Judgments Impact

Mary Delaney and Stephen Suen

One of the clear data stories that emerged from studying our data sets is that SNAP participants are forced to make trade-offs that adversely affect the health and happiness of them and their families. Based on the constraints that an average SNAP participant faces, both monetary and temporal, there is no way for a person to spend time with their family, earn enough money for food, rent, and other expenses, and adequately maintain their personal health. In addition we noticed that an easy way to alleviate some of these issues is the short term is to eat pre-packaged or fast food. However, these decisions, though possibly beneficial in the short-term have negative long-term health consequences. In short, SNAP participants have so many constraints placed on them, that many struggle to survive, much less thrive.


The goal of SNAP Judgments is to give people a better understanding of the challenges and choices faced by SNAP participants in the hopes of increasing empathy and awareness. We hope to accomplish this by incorporating the data we have found into a story, such that a person experiences that data without directly being presented with it. In addition, we decided to create a choose-your-own-adventure game so that players would be forced to actively think about the choices that SNAP participants face and make those decisions themselves.


The game’s audience is college-aged students who are not on SNAP and have limited exposure to the choices faced by SNAP participants. The data we used is local, so Boston or Cambridge based college students are the ideal target, but the storyline of the game is not unique to the Boston area. This demographic also seems to be an ideal audience for a text-based digital game, because people in this age group would likely be somewhat familiar and comfortable with games of this sort. As the goal of the game is to inform players about SNAP and increase empathy for SNAP participants, this also seems like an ideal audience. They are old enough to understand the complexities of the decisions that people face but young enough that they may be open to changing previous views they had of SNAP participants.


After talking to people who tested the game, it seems that we accomplished our intended goal. Players consistently expressed that they were much more aware of, and sympathetic to, the daily choices faced by SNAP participants. Using a time-limit choice mechanic, we were able to express why people on SNAP have to make certain decisions. The sheer difficulty of the balancing act between food, money, health, and happiness was made tangible to players through the mechanics of the game system. In addition, though there was not a direct call-to-action incorporated into the game, players expressed, both verbally and in survey responses, that they would be more likely to donate time to money to help those with food insecurity than they were prior to playing the game. This suggests that they were both more aware of SNAP and the challenges faced by SNAP participants and that they felt empathy towards them.

SNAP Judgments Methodology

Mary Delaney and Stephen Suen

SNAP Judgments is a narrative, data-driven choose-your-own-adventure game where you assume the role of a person on SNAP. The player’s objective is to make it to the end of month, trying to meet the requirements for livelihood (food, shelter, etc.) while staying within their assigned budget. From our perspective, the games goal is to give people a better understanding of the trade-offs that people to SNAP face, in the hopes of increasing empathy for SNAP participants.


To create our game, we pulled data from a number of different sources. For the food aspects of the game, we used data from the Mayo Clinic,, Peapod, fast food restaurants, and several research papers to get accurate information of the recommended amounts, nutritional value, and approximate costs of various types of food.


In addition to the data on food, we also used datasets on the demographics of SNAP participants to help us make the constraints that the player faces as true to life as possible. We chose a single mother of two children, the type of person who most often participates in SNAP.


For the housing component of the project, we assumed that the player character was living in subsidized Section 8 housing — as SNAP does with food, the government subsidizes housing so that low income Americans only have pay 30% of their income in rent. This was further supplemented with data from the Cambridge Housing Authority on the types of units available and where they are located, as well as information about the payment standard and utility deductions.


To prevent the food-centric aspects of the game from becoming too overwhelming, and detracting from the player’s experience, we simplified food into food groups. We simplified food into a system of units, which were normalized such that 4 units comprised a full meal for an adult and 3 comprised a full meal for a child. Using the data described above, we calculated the average nutritional value, recommended weekly amounts, and cost for each food group. A summary of the calculated data that was used directly in creating our game can be found here. When at the grocery store, players could choose how much of each food group to buy. When at home, players could choose how much food to cook, and that total amount was taken equally from each food group.


Our text-based choose-your-own-adventure game takes a player through a month in the life of a SNAP participant. To allow for decisions with longer-term impacts as well as typical daily decisions, we decided to have our game cover the course of a month, with the player experiencing selected days each week. It includes both typical decisions, which a player encounters every day, and unique choices as a result of a particular experience.


We tested the game and administered a survey to players. Playtesting allowed us to find and fix bugs in the game to improve the overall player experience. Based on our survey and talking to people who played the game, it seems as though we accomplished our goals. People agreed that they had a better understanding of SNAP, and the challenges faced by SNAP participants after playing our game. They also agreed or strongly agreed that they would be more likely to volunteer or donate to help those with food insecurity.