Food Security Simulator

In creating this game, we used the USDA’s report on SNAP participant characteristics to understand the types of people who participate in SNAP and the budgetary choices they face, combining it with datasets on average monthly rent in Massachusetts, consumer goods prices, and some of the previous SNAP data we’ve worked with.


This game is targeted at the general public, especially those who do not know much about SNAP and who SNAP participants are. We estimate this game to be appropriate for groups of 3-4, but it can easily be adapted to accommodate different numbers of people, though the mechanics (particularly the scoring system) probably need to be refined with further playtesting.


The goal of this game is to give people a better understand of who participate is SNAP and some of the challenges they face. This is presented as a role-playing game, giving each player a persona that not only defines their financial constraints but also provides some emotional grounding. In presenting this information in a personal way, we hope to increase the empathy that people feel toward SNAP participants and even compel them to take action.

Game Description

See all cards here:

At the beginning of the game, each person draws a character card. This card gives them information about who they are and how much money they can spend.

In the first round, each player must decide how much of their money to allocate towards food. They are given no direction, and allowed to come up with their own numbers and told to write them down on a sheet of paper. This sheet of paper is then turned over and set aside.

Each player then draws an Event Card. Event Cards can be positive or negative changes in the character’s life – for example, it could be something like a work-related injury (resulting in medical fees or reduced productivity) or getting money from relatives. Blank Event Cards indicate that nothing of significance happened to the player in this round.

In the second round, players are given housing options to choose from. They are given concrete options, each with a set price and any additional associated costs, such as transportation and utilities, provided to them.

After this round, each player again draws an Event Card.

In the third round, players are given additional options for things to buy, such as clothes, toys, cell phone, etc. They may choose to buy as many of these as they want — these provide bonus “happiness” points.

Again, each player draws an Event Card.

At this point, players are scored based on how well they met their needs (food, housing, and other purchases) and stayed within budget. As a post-game reflection activity, the players are again asked to decide how much money they would like to spend on food, revising their estimates based on how well they did in the previous round. Finally, players are asked to compare their initial and final food budget allocations.

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