Foodio Kart

Foodio Kart is an Interactive racing game that helps middle schoolers to learn about how they can make healthy food choices to fuel them and make them thrive in life. The game was built using Scratch.

Victoria Palacin, Rubez Chong, Wataru Doita, Sarah Von Anh

Audience: 21 kids at a local school in Boston, age 8-10


Selected datasets: We combined data from two datasets in order to create a list of food items that could be converted into game elements:

  1. Nutrition data. Scores of protein and carbs are based on standardized numbers among the choices
  2. Health score comes from the data of EWG, which are scored by the levels of concerns about nutrition, ingredient and processing

From data to game dynamics:

Racers: In the game different characters have different skills (stamina, speed and handling). These skills are intentionally made differently to help kids understand that everyone’s food needs can be different.

  • Light Weight: Yoshi, Toad, Peach
  • Heavy Weight: Bowser, DK, Wario

Courses/Routes: In the game, there are 3 courses/routes that the player can choose to play. Each one has a different theme (field day, mind & mood and a big test day ). The courses are grouped into themes to show that different activities can require different nutritional needs and to kids an opportunity to learn food can affect both physical and mental activities.

  • Test today: technical
  • Field day: fast
  • Mood related: sugar crashes

Foods: In the game, food items serve as a fuel with different properties on the game. Table 1 shows the these effects. Players pick their favorite 3 snacks from 9 choices. The snacks a player picked appear on their course. Some of the principles behind the choice of these effects are:

  • Max speed: affected by proteins
  • Handling / focus: affected by fruit/veggies, healthy fats
  • Acceleration / stamina: affected by grains
  • Power ups: Vitamins and whole grains

Table 1: Food and their effects on game dynamics

Food Value: Protein Value: Carbohydrate Value: Health Score* Game Mechanic: Effect
Apple 1 4 5 Boost speed 4 sec
Banana 1 5 5 Boost speed 5 sec
Orange 1 3 5 Make invisible / force field so can pass through cookie
Mixed Nuts 5 2 4 Make smaller so more agile 4 sec
String cheese 5 1 3 Turbo boost to end
Gogurt 2 2 4 Make slower 3 sec
Chocolate Chip Cookie 1 3 2 Boost speed 2 sec sleep 3 sec
Potato Chips 3 4 3 Make bigger 5 sec
Crackers 2 2 3 NOTHING
Bagel, plain 3 4 4 Boost speed a little but for 10 sec

*Median score in the category here:

Impact and Evaluation of Data Game

The key goal of Foodio Kart was to educate middle-schoolers on nutritional health and the impacts of different foods on their body. Nutritional data can seem dry and boring; Kids have also heard the same song sung many times. Thus, we wanted to find a new spin on nutritional data by building an interactive game to get kids to “experience” the tangible impacts of different foods on their body via their Mario Kart characters.

Semi-structured questionnaires:

Questions to audience pre-story:

  • Have you ever played Mario Kart?
    • What do you like about it?
  • What is your favorite game?
  • Explain why are we here today and our goals
    • Introduce ourselves
    • Raise your hand if you have questions

Questions to audience post-story:

  • How did you like the game?
    • Was it easy and fun?
  • What was this game about?
    • What do you conclude from this game?
  • What did you like from the game?
  • What would like to change in this game?
    • What other types of features you imagine on this game?

How the game works: Kids take on Mario Kart characters and aim to complete a race course. However, the course is littered with all kinds of treats i.e. cookies, chips, apples, oranges, bagels, string cheese. Kids are instructed to eat well as it is their big race day! As they race through the track and pick up these foods, they experience the immediate impacts of the food i.e. cookie – an initial sugar rush and speed boost followed by an energy crash where the characters are forced to take naps, as the other racers speed by. This is an example of how we tried to incorporate tangible impacts of food (via the food nutrition data we analysed) into the game.

Context for testing: We built the Foodio Kart game in Scratch and brought it for testing at East Somerville Middle School. We had an hour with 21 third-graders where they played the game and the session culminated with a conversation about nutritional health using their takeaways from the game. We also used this time for gathering their feedback on the game i.e. things they liked/didn’t liked/would like to see in the future.


Things that went well: 
The kids were really excited about the game and understood the importance of eating well and the impacts of different kinds of food on their bodies. The game provided strong context for diving into a meaningful conversation on food and health. We spent the last 20 mins discussing what it means to eat well and gathering feedback on the game.

Things that didn’t go as well:
We overlooked the logistical challenges that come with working with kids in a school. Firstly, we couldn’t get access to the school’s private wifi and secondly, we didn’t expect each kid to have their own chromebooks (!) We had intended to set up 2 play-stations with 4 kids playing at any one time, as the game was designed as a 2-player experience. This made close observation harder than expected – we were constantly shuttling between the 21 kids.

Further, the game was glitchy and buggy as all 21 kids were playing the game at once. This, in part, took away from the experience of the game. However, all of the kids managed to play the game once and learned about the impacts of different snacks on their “performance.”

Things we would’ve wanted to change:
Whilst we had a meaningful conversation with the kids on nutritional health, it would’ve been better if we could’ve gone beyond the general nutritional discourse on healthy vs. unhealthy food to a more nuanced breakdown of the kinds of nutrition in food, their impacts on health, and a hierarchy of foods – i.e. not all foods are equal – banana vs. apple; though both fruits, affects the body in different ways. We could’ve backed this up with the nutritional data we analysed.

Further, our conversation with the kids helped us realise that it would’ve been helpful to include nutritional/food data as pop-ups in the game to further explain the impacts of food on their character i.e. why the sugar rush and energy crash after eating the cookie.

Feedback and Interview with Kids:

We opened the conversations by getting the kids to tell us their likes/dislikes of the game. To our surprise, the kids were honest and gave us valuable feedback. Many found the graphics and the characters too small. Some expressed that it was different to navigate through the course and some buttons didn’t work for the kids. Some also shared that it would’ve been more impactful if the game was designed from the 1st person viewing angle rather than the 3rd. Finally, the soundtrack was a big hit amongst the kids!

Fueling Frenzy: Impact

Fueling Frenzy is a specialized card deck designed for use in a suite of games related to meal planning and nutrition on campus. After hearing about some of the politics around meal plans and food insecurity for undergraduates on campus, we started to think about how reliant students might be on free food and how much of that free food isn’t particularly healthy. Based on a combination of the USDA nutritional database, campus free food listservs, and campus dining hall menus, we identified a set of foods commonly found on campus (both for free and at dining halls), and assessed their healthiness based on different metrics. We found that many of the most frequently available foods on campus are not particularly healthy, which made us want to encourage healthy eating and thoughtfulness around meals through a set of games. One is a game of chance meant to simulate unthoughtful eating habits and one is a strategy game meant to encourage a more thoughtful approach to nutrition on campus.

Our game is meant as an orientation activity for incoming college freshmen (“prefrosh” at MIT). In general, these are young people who previously lived at home where their eating habits were externally determined and who rarely prepared their own meals. They have fast metabolisms, but only about a quarter of them will join sports teams. When combined, these factors suggest that the average freshman at MIT has probably not given much thought to his or her eating habits and might not see a need to do so. Prefrosh are also probably unprepared for the diversity of foods available on campus, and the sheer volume of free foods especially.  As such, we want to intervene at the first possible moment–during orientation–to encourage healthy eating habits, play out MIT scenarios that might affect one’s nutrition, and ultimately make the connection between eating healthy foods and high cognitive functioning.

Because of finals-related constraints, we were not able to pilot with college freshmen. Instead, we ran two pilot games with former and future orientation leaders in MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning. This audience is useful to work out the kinks of facilitation, and were also all college freshman at one point in time. After each pilot, we conducted focus groups with the players to assess strengths and weaknesses of the games (this was in addition to the semi-structured conversations that happened at the mid- and end-points of each game).

Questions included:

  • How clear were the game’s goals?
  • How well did you think the importance of healthy eating was conveyed to students? How would you sharpen this message?
  • How helpful did you find the mid and end facilitated discussions? Were there directions you’d like to take these conversations that weren’t explored this time?
  • To what extent did you think the design of the game aided in its purpose? DId you think the “takeaway card” would be appealing/useful to your students?
  • How empathetic do you think the game was, in terms of meeting students where they’re at as prefrosh and orienting them towards MIT dining? Are there potential areas of stigma that we should be aware of?

Feedback was largely positive. Players universally agreed that the game was “actually fun” and that the data associated with the cards yielded some surprising insights. For example, one player exclaimed “I always thought dumplings were a meal in themselves! …seeing them categorized as a starch, and not even that healthy of one… that will stick with me.” In terms of our logic model, the realizations about the relative nutrition of common foods available at MIT achieved the goal of providing helpful heuristics for judging the nutritional qualities of familiar foods. Players also agreed that the need in both games to recognize “balanced meals” was a good exercise; one player remarked that “the idea of pairing free foods with healthy ones should be obvious, except it’s really not!” Comments like this suggest that the goal of encouraging the enhancement of free foods with healthy additions, while recognizing that free food is enticing, was met through the second game.

The conversations were well received, especially for the first game that is meant to be played at a faster pace. A player in the second pilot explained “the discussions really helped to reframe the game– I tend to get caught up with winning, so the prompts were a necessary redirection.” Most of the constructive feedback concerned design and game logistics. For example, players found the different colors of the suits to be helpful, but thought that junk food should have been a “junky” color “like neon or black” to really distinguish their lack of utility as compared to the other suits. Another helpful suggestion was directed at the “takeaway” cards, that serve as a takeaway recipe card for game participants. While the aesthetics of these cards was appreciated, players raised the helpful point that the recipes should be pitched to what freshman can reasonably make in a dorm kitchen; instead of “how to cook fish,” toaster oven and microwave recipes would be more immediately useful to the audience.

The spreadsheet with our logic model with our short-term goals, and questions for freshman and orientation leaders can be found here.