Art Crayon Toolkit: Impact Report

The overall goal of the Art Crayon Toolkit is to increase children’s engagement with art. Specifically, we aim to: (1) encourage children to look closely at the visual elements of art, including color, (2) spark an interest in learning about art and artists, (3) prompt children to actively create and connect art to their own lives.
photo 2The intended audience for the Art Crayon Toolkit is children from age 7 to 12. We imagine it would be used in a semi-structured educational setting such as museum workshops, art classes, or after-school programs. Independent use of the Art Crayon Toolkit is a secondary use case.

photo 1

In order to evaluate the Art Crayon Toolkit, we tested it with three children: two children age 7 and one child age 4 (2 male, 1 female). The four-year-old was taken as a secondary use case, as he was outside the intended age range. We observed the children and ask them questions as they interacted with the Art Crayon Toolkit. We also asked them to talk through their reactions as they worked with the objects in order to get a better idea of their thought process. Finally, we asked a few semi-structured follow-up questions to get an overall idea of their experience. with Art Crayon Toolkit. Example questions include:
– What was your favorite part?
– What part of the workbook did you like?
– Was there anything you’d change to make it easier to play with?

During the testing session, we first asked kids to explore the workbook and crayons on their own for a few minutes. Then, we explained that the art-based crayons were made of many colors corresponding to the hues in a painting or a print. We asked them to match the four art-based crayons in their pack to the four works of art on the first page of their workbook. Kids then picked a particular crayon or artwork and went to the relevant page to learn more about the work of art, examine the bar graph, and do the drawing activity. The first tester was more interested in looking at the works of art and figuring out how the crayon corresponded to it; the second two testers were more excited about the drawing activities.

photo 3

We found that the art crayons were an interesting way to get children to look closely at the works of art, with special attention paid to how the artists use color. Every kid was able to match at least some crayons to bar graph picture, although they found crayons with similar hues difficult to match. The seven-year-old testers reported that they understood the bar graph diagrams in the workbook and how they related to the crayons; the four year old did not understand the correlation. One kid placed the crayon next to the bar graph to line up the colors. In certain cases, very similar colors, such as sepia and brown, were adjacent in the crayon, making it difficult to distinguish between the two (one kid believed that a color was “missing”). Some of the testers read the percentages of different colors in a crayon, showing a basic understanding of how the data in the crayon relates to the images.

While color served as an initial hook to looking at the works of art, some of the kids also noticed elements beyond color. One kid was familiar with Hokusai’s Great Wave print because he had studied Japan in class, but he noted, “I never realized there was a boat right there.” Another tester realized that there is a small skeleton, or calavera, in Kahlo’s painting. The crayons and the content of the workbook served to help kids look more closely at works of art and learn more about the art and artists. Some of the testers read the artist name and artwork titles on the crayon labels, as well as the information about the artworks in the workbook. The thematic groupings were an useful way to spark children’s interest, too; one of the kids reported liking the food theme. As one kid explained, he liked the crayons because it helps him to “know what the artist used to make it. Some art it’s hard to describe what the artist used to make it.”

photo 4

The Art Crayon Toolkit also encouraged kids to create and connect art to their own lives. Two of the kids were most interested in the drawing activities; they were rapidly pulled towards these activities and later reported these were their favorite part of the entire session. The other tester enjoyed reading the activity and talking about the prompt, but seemed reluctant to color. The kids also were interested in where the crayons came from, asking how we made them. In addition to prompting an interest in artmaking, the Toolkit was a great way for kids to connect art to their everyday lives. One kid has been studying Japan in school; when he saw the Hokusai artwork, he quickly identified Mount Fuji and Kanagawa, the island in the title of the print. The corresponding prompt asked them to think an of ocean scene they’ve experienced, which led him to recount a story about his own time at Martha’s Vineyard. Another kid was familiar with Frida Kahlo and told us about how she had dressed up like the artist for a school event.

While our testers were generally enthusiastic about the Art Crayon Toolkit, they also provided feedback that could help us improve the project in the future. We noticed that the wrappers for the art-based crayons came off almost immediately because the children had trouble seeing the different colors despite the translucent labels. Kids were also interested in using the five colors in each crayon individually. Some of the kids would rub the crayon sideways to reveal the different colors, but others found it frustrating when they couldn’t draw with a color in the middle of the crayon. We found that the structural integrity of the crayons generally held up, but could be improved—a few of the color bar crayons broke when kids drew with more force. The language of the information on works of art could also be simplified for younger audiences; a challenge is balancing art-related words like “pastel” and “depicts” with the reading level of our intended audience. We are also considering changing the supplementary colors in the crayon pack; the kids were not interested in white, and would benefit from having a broader color range.

Overall, our impact study shows that fundamentally the Art Crayon Toolkit is a viable path for increasing art engagement in children ages 7 to 12 and could be further improved by iterating on the design and content.

SnapSim Presentation

Danielle, Edwin, Harihar, Tami

We have created a Google slideshow

We have two variants of our SnapSim.

The first one takes the player through the grocery store experience.

The second one focuses on the difficulties of removing items from the grocery cart.

Both variants use a map.

SnapSim is designed as a guided experience. That is, the researcher (one of the four members on our team) takes the player through the narrative and talks to them as they make their way through.

SnapSim Methodology

Danielle, Edwin, Harihar, Tami

Our project goal was to make our audience feel empathy for families on SNAP who must make sacrifices when shopping. We implemented this goal by creating an interactive text-based narrative.

Our first prototype was a game that utilized food price data from the Market Basket circular over 10 weeks. The dataset presents the data as scanned images, so we manually transcribed the items and prices. It also used nutrition information from the National Nutrient Database and restaurant websites (ex. McDonalds). In the game, the player aimed to buy a healthy week of food while staying under budget. However, we found that the addition of nutrition data did not help foster empathy (based on responses to our post-game survey), so we omitted nutrition in our final project.

For our next iteration, we learned about other connections people have to food and used that to tell a story to evoke empathy. To understand the demographics of SNAP families, we studied the examined the income data and SNAP benefit data from the the Food Environment Atlas and read the “Characteristics of SNAP Households” report from the USDA. To understand people’s connection to food, we created a survey and received about 20 responses from friends. These responses illustrated some reasons that people eat the foods that they do.

With that, we moved from a game structure to an interactive narrative. Rather than using data to evoke empathy, we chose to use stories. We built a character fitting the demographic data and we created stories around food which captured some of the connections we observed in our survey responses. To determine the character’s budget, we used income and monthly SNAP benefit data from the USDA Food Environment Atlas. We supported our numbers by looking up salaries on the Bureau of Labor Statistics and using a SNAP benefit calculator.

We aimed to conclude the narrative by connecting it back to reality. To do this, we created a map indicating SNAP participation rates (hoping that a user’s connection to their state or country would help them identify with the data) and the locations of food banks around the country (as a call to action). Getting data on food bank locations was very time consuming. We fetched HTML from Feeding America and wrote a Python script to clean it. We then used Google’s geocoding service to convert the addresses to latitudes and longitudes.

We had four total iterations of our interactive narrative – each had a different user experience. The changes were guided by questionnaires given to our testers and feedback from games expert Prof. Sara Zaidan.

Our final product is an interactive text-based narrative. The player is a single mother grocery shopping for herself and her two children. Each food item has a story indicating its importance to the family. In order to stay within budget, the player must forgo buying some of the foods. At the end, we show the player a map of SNAP participation around the country to illustrate that for some families, this game may be a reality. The map also displays food banks (and links to their websites), encouraging the user to act on their empathy by donating or volunteering.

We created two variants of our project: one focusing on removing items to the grocery cart, and the other focusing on adding items to the grocery cart.

We have a number of repositories for our project:


first prototype

second prototype

final project (variant 1)

final project (variant 2)

Food Sec Sim

Team: Mary Delaney and Stephen Suen

What: we are interested in understanding and presenting the trade-offs that people receiving SNAP benefits face, in terms of their time, their budget, and their other resources. To do this, we want to create a game that combines datasets that include characteristics of SNAP participants, cost of food, nutrition, and the cost of other resources to simulate the choices faced by a SNAP participant. To ground this experience further, we are going to focus on local data and base everything else off that, though given more time we could make it a tailored experience based on what location you were playing from.

Who: Our audience is non-SNAP participants interested in learning more about the program and its participants. Our game could also be used by classes, allowing players to get a better understanding of the realities of food insecurity.

Why: Our primary goal is increase awareness and empathy around the issue of food security.

We hope to educate the food secure about the challenges of food insecurity, including those that may not be immediately obvious. It is our hope that players, with their increased knowledge and empathy, will also be compelled to take action and help the food insecure.

How: We have discussed both single- and multi-player games and digital and physical games. We are currently undecided between a very immersive, narrative digital single-player game (likely to be made in Twine, a text-based choose-your-own-adventure game engine), which seeks to increase empathy and impel action, and a physical card-based multi-player game, which seeks to facilitate discussion of the issues faced by SNAP participants. We plan to build and playtest prototypes of both games to see which strategy will be most effective to pursue.

Playtesting Food Sec Sim: “It’s Like the Game of Life, But With Food”

In playtesting our game, we asked participants to budget their food expenditures before and after to see how their perspectives changed, as specified in our original design. Additionally, we asked the playtesters two questions to tie the game back to the real world:

  • What are some challenges that people facing food insecurity have to deal with?
  • What can we do — whether it’s as individuals or as a broader community/society/nation — to help with those challenges?

During this process, we saw the game was successful in getting people to think and talk about food security as an issue but the gameplay needs to be fleshed out significantly to better achieve its goals (i.e. building empathy). The overall design worked — among three playtesters, two under-budgeted on food by only using the SNAP money and ended up allocating more money to food at the end of the game. The third playtester didn’t change her budget (though she was already allocating more than the SNAP amount) because she thought it was livable. “I’ll just have to do it in real life,” she said, perhaps hinting that the game wasn’t effective in representing the challenge of subsisting on so little money per day.

The random events were pretty effective in illustrating some of the challenges faced by people on SNAP (though the “positive” events didn’t really do much). One playtester got injured and couldn’t work for a week, losing 1/4 of her income; as a result, she ended up losing too much money and couldn’t pay the amount originally allocated for food. Housing turned out to be far too expensive (since the dataset used was based on average rent prices, not the rents that SNAP participants are probably paying), so participants chose either to live in public housing/a homeless shelter or crammed their entire family into a one bedroom unit.

The responses to the post questions showed an increase in awareness (but not necessarily empathy — we might need to come up with a better metric to measure this) of the conditions surrounding food insecurity. One playtester noted that living on such a tight budget “would require a lot of planning, and if you’re on food stamps, you might not have the time to do that.” Another acknowledged the volatility of poverty: “The biggest challenge is emergencies — if someone gets injured or they don’t have a good health plan, they might have to take out a loan.” In terms of potential action items, playtesters proposed producing suggestions for food purchases with nutritional value (ironic, given that this is the methodology for actually figuring out SNAP benefits), organizing communal trips to the grocery store, and holding community meetings around the issue.

From an actual gameplay perspective, there needs to be more player agency and choice. One playtester said the game is “like one of those BuzzFeed quizzes — it’s like this, this, or this, and then here you go, the end — with the little description.” One way to solve this would be to add more detailed character biographies to increase the sense of role-playing, immersing players deeper in the experience and raising the stakes on an empathetic level. Another approach would be to change the granularity of the game — rather than running the game week by week, we could have it operate per day, with more decisions (meals, whether to go to the grocery store, etc).

Another issue was that — even though the game was designed as a multiplayer experience — there was little to no interaction between the players. Certainly, having multiple people made the conversations more fruitful, but actually having gameplay interactions between them would have probably made it more interesting. Finally, to address the issue raised by our second post-question, we could introduce other characters/events to the game perhaps to illustrate ways in which we can help the food insecure (e.g. maybe you could go to a food pantry/bank as a “lifeline”). This would give playtesters tangible action items to take away from the game.

SNAPSim: Game Testing

Our game was hosted at Game testers were given a random family size and weekly food budget, and were told to select food items within their budget that would allow them to eat healthy.



After playing, they were directed to a google form that recorded their food budget, family size, resulting score, and the amount of money they had leftover. They were also asked to answer the following questions:

  • Did your score surprise you? If so, why?
  • Did you have to make any sacrifices (ex. not getting a food you wanted) because of your budget?
  • How much money do you think a person needs per week in order to eat healthy?


Average given family size: 3.5

Average given food budget: $185

Average final score: 48.98

Average money leftover:  $59.97

Many people found that our game was fairly easy, though people who ended up with bigger families and smaller budgets tended to find the game more difficult. There were many testers who were surprised at their final score at the end, since they purchased food they would normally eat.

Responses to how much money a person needs per week were across the board, though more people tended to think that less was best.

The estimates didn’t seem particularly correlated with their given family sizes. So we decided to look if there was any correlation between the tester’s given budget per person in the family, vs their final response:

Given vs Estimated Budget pp

Some responses to sacrifices focused on food items that were not a part of the game, such as rice, wheats, condiments, and beverages like coffee or tea. Other testers mentioned that they had to cut out fast food or junk food and snacks for the sake of their budget. One tester mentioned that while they would have loved to buy more fruits and vegetables, because they don’t provide a lot of calories, they would be a bad choice with a very limited budget.

For the testers that received a lot of money, they felt that the game was so easy that they didn’t have to make any sacrifices.


If we had more time to work on this, we would play around with different ways of displaying the game to make it more engaging, as well as adding more food items that people have mentioned that weren’t there. We would also make the game more difficult, since the goal is to start a conversation with how hard it is for some SNAP users to eat healthy. Other changes include not allowing people to enter negative amounts to gain money, and adding discussion about how the score is calculated. Something else to include is more familial context — grocery shopping is very different with children or expectant mothers in the midst, and these situations can make the experience more realistic and thought-provoking.


Color Scavenger Hunt: Playtesting Edition!

Our major goals in designing this game is to make the museum visit a more active experience and to engage visitors who may otherwise not be invested in art. To that effect, we had two main questions we wanted to find out during our playtesting session:
1. How does the color matching game engage you in looking at works of art?
2. How might color data (and other kinds of art data!) enhance the experience of visiting art museums, especially for people who find art intimidating or uninteresting?

As we described in our last post, we intended for our game to be played in a museum gallery. Visitors receive colorful objects that match with one of the top five colors in the paintings on view. They are asked to match the objects to the colors in the paintings, using a scanner to verify their matches.

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 12.03.23 PM

Since we didn’t have time to build out the infrastructure for this game, I prototyped the game in HTML page, which included images of four artworks. I gave playtesters four colors that are found in each work of art; they were asked to match these colors to the paintings. They could then click the “get results” hyperlink to be directed to a website that reveals the top five Crayola colors in the work, including the name of the colors and the percentages of each color in the painting.

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 12.03.00 PM

One of the major challenges in designing the game was balancing the difficulty level. We had initially included seven works of art, several of which had repeat colors (“Eggplant,” for example, showed up in three paintings). For the purposes of the playtest, we decided to simplify the game so that each color a player was given would correspond to one painting. I also tried to avoid including really ambiguous or similar colors, so one person wouldn’t feel frustrated trying to differentiate between “brown” and “raw sienna.”

photo (6)

Playtesters enjoyed the game, and reported that it made them look closely at the paintings and had them think about art in new ways. One tester said that the color matching element made them think about how a work of art is made; he would have liked to have matched multiple colors to a work of art in order to think about color in combination with others. He could imagine seeing the bar graph representing the breakdown of colors underneath a painting in a museum. Another tester enjoyed seeing the percentages of colors in each painting.

photo (7)

If we were to continue building out this game, we recommend testing out different difficulty levels with different audience groups. A next step would be to think about how to engage visitors in learning about the art beyond just matching colors. How might this game serve as a gateway into learning about art and artists?

SNAP at the Grocery Store : Game Testing

Our game takes place at a grocery store. We ask a participant to do their normal grocery shopping, and at the end, ask them to put items back until they reach the USDA Thrifty Food Plan budget. Our goal is to create empathy for SNAP recipients and the constraints they face while shopping for food.

After the participants finished choosing their items, we told them that 13% of people in Massachusetts used SNAP, that the USDA assumes you will spend 30% of your monthly income on food, and that SNAP is meant as a supplement to get you to the 30% number. We had a conversation around this information, and asked them:

How did it feel to put things back/how did you choose?
Do you think you could do this if you were on SNAP?

Overall, our game had mixed results. Here are some of the issues we encountered:

Participant “won” the game

One participant, who was shopping at Whole Foods for 2 weeks worth of food for himself, was very close to USDA Thrifty Food budget of $90 – he clocked in at $83. When challenged to get down to $60, he took out the wine (which he wouldn’t have been able to buy with SNAP anyway), some passion fruits, oatmeal and a few yogurts, which to him, did not represent a particularly large sacrifice. His reaction to removing these items, and the larger game was, “I feel neutral.” The participant, who works as a lab tech at MIT, is already on a tight budget and already considers himself budget savvy, so the fact that the came in under the SNAP budget was more an affirmation of his own budgeting skills.

Similar reaction was received by another participant who is an undergraduate in MIT and had a particularly tight budget for the coming week. In her reflection, she said “it was hard to focus on other people’s situations because I was already on a tight budget”. We realized our game made this participant (on a tight budget) focus on her own situations rather than the difficulties of people on SNAP. This took the focus away from feeling empathy for the SNAP recipients.

In the future, we should have a better debrief in the case that the participant doesn’t have to put a lot of items back. This also raises the question – how does this game make people who are on a tight budget, but not SNAP, feel? It needs to be super clear that the participant should focus on the SNAP recipient’s difficulties, rather than compare their own situation – it’s about putting themselves in different shoes.

Game took too long to run

Participants also commented that the game took a long time to run (tallying up the cart, debrief) – they felt that it slowed down the shopping process considerably. For example, participants were concerned about frozen food melting during the debrief. In general, participants might not have time after finding all their groceries to participate in this game, so we should try to speed up the process as much as possible.

We also noticed that it was a pain to follow someone around and log everything they put in their cart (“Wait, what did you just put in?”). For example, one participant doesn’t typically weigh his produce, but we asked him to for our game.

Shaw's - Before
Shaw’s – Before
Shaw’s After

Participants don’t do all their shopping in one place

Another participant (Male, 45 shopping for 3) has habits in terms of grocery shopping. Splitting his budget in different locations like Costco (for the bulk and longer term products) and Market Basket (cheap fresh produce and smaller quantities). This makes it harder to assess what amount of money they should be aiming to meet for the game.


Market Basket – Before
Market Basket – After

Other notes

We realized this game doesn’t take into account whether someone eats out or not during the week. One participant came in under the SNAP budget, but would have easily gone over if we counted what they spent eating out during the week. To make the game more realistic, we’d want to subtract the amount spent eating out from the SNAP budget at the grocery store.


Rain Storm Game Testing

Val Healy, Nolan Essigmann, and Ceri Riley


  • Could you hear a difference in sound levels/did it make you think anything different about US drought?
  • Where/what have you heard about drought in the news? (leading into the idea that this data was averaged/nationwide)
  • What questions do you have after playing the game? (about the game or about your role in representing drought)


  • It would be nice if each person/notecard represented a region of the US instead of just a percentage of the whole, so everyone could understand how their region was contributing to the whole country (they were confused by what each notecard meant individually)
  • Why no “no drought” level?
  • Made them ask questions about what factors — human or environmental — impacted the US drought after 2011, and they started talking about climate change vs. industrial water use vs farming (they had read news articles about almonds in CA and remembered stuff about the ice bucket challenge being controversial)
  • One of them was from Arizona and was like they’ve been in drought for years, but California is getting all the attention because of the crops, so they weren’t surprised that more of the US was in drought than they expected
  • People thought 15 rounds of one action might get tiring, and the people who did stomp for 15 rounds got tired
  • They’d be interested to see what it sounds like with more people because even 14 didn’t sound like enough to have a huge audible effect


If we had more time to work on this game, we would ideally play with a large group of people and incorporate more specific data into each notecard so that each person is telling their own story (drought across a region or even a single state) in addition to contributing their sounds to the larger game (and story of drought across 15 years in the United States). Moreover, it might be interesting to try and adjust the drought levels/actions to incorporate “no drought” as stomping and D4 as silence. Maybe we could also adjust the frequency of the actions (fast stomping, slow snapping) to try and vary the sound even more between years, like the feedback in class suggested.

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.