the Transmango Game Jam Tour

Designing games to explore the future of food in Europe – the Transmango Game Jam Tour

How can we ensure food and nutrition security for everyone while making sure our food needs don’t wreck the planet?  This question, one of the biggest of our time, was the key question of the EU-funded TRANSMANGO project.

Between February 2014 and January 2018 TRANSMANGO researchers delved deep into a wide range of present day and possible future European food practices, projects and ideas, with practitioners, businesses, citizens, policy makers and others on both the local and European level.

With this, they wanted to use games as an open exploration of the future of food – what completely new types of futures can we imagine, explore, experiment with?

This led to a unique and fruitful collaborative effort by TRANSMANGO and JamToday, another EU project led by the HKU:  the TRANSMANGO Game Jam Tour.




Steven Lord (University of Oxford), Joost Vervoort (University of Oxford)

TRANSMANGO aims to obtain a comprehensive picture of the effects of drivers on the European food system. The research focuses on the vulnerability and resilience of European food systems in a context of socio-economic, behavioural, technological, institutional and agro-ecological and climate change and aims to enhance understanding of the new challenges and opportunities that the food sector might face in the future. It seeks also to identify diverse high-potential practices that could contribute to transformation.

To aid this, TRANSMANGO sought to promote food system thinking and use or develop food system modelling techniques that could synthesise the many complex drivers into an understanding of the dynamics and change in current and future food systems. Researchers in the Food Systems Programme in the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford led this research.

Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping (FCM) was initially suggested for TRANSMANGO as a food systems modelling tool. The Oxford team began by reviewing FCM. The FCM technique was found to be highly flawed. Simpler but sound methods of casual mapping were used in TRANSMANGO workshops to indicate participant’s knowledge about theories of change, especially change through feedback cycles. Feedback cycles can identify change of concern where desirable properties such as food and nutrition security may rapidly and non-linearly spiral downward. Feedback cycles can also be identified or constructed as opportunities for rapid and self-reinforcing beneficial change.

However, causal mapping is unable to measure or project, even roughly, overall magnitudes or directions of change. It provides useful but, ultimately, limited understanding of the dynamics and change in current and future food systems.

The Food Systems Programme, within its general mission in the Environmental Change Institute and the Future of Food network at the University of Oxford, organised a workshop titled “Modelling food systems for resilient and sustainable nutrition and health on a changing planet”. The workshop was conducted in July 2016. It was, in part, designed to pursue TRANSMANGO research aims to advance and develop food system modelling techniques.

The workshop involved one introductory day and then three days of group discussions amongst 56 experts from over 20 disciplines that spanned food systems and quantitative and qualitative research.

Two particular aims were to identify and develop a sound participatory modelling technique that could do what FCM was originally put forward for, and improve the methodology connecting participatory generated qualitative scenarios with quantitative projections by computer models such as GLOBIOM.

As an outcome Bayes nets were identified as achieving, in a well-founded way, the food system modelling outcomes that FCM was originally intended to provide. Several new methods were developed for designing Bayes nets in participatory formats. Bayes nets have an emphasis on states and participatory designation of states and transitions. Combined with new ideas in food system semantics they could be used to create semi-standardised couplings with computer models of food systems. One particular method will be explored post-workshop within research work for WP4 of TRANSMANGO. The wider concept of a general food system language, inspired in part by the participatory methods and lessons learnt in TRANSMANGO workshops, was discussed at the workshop but has requirements for further development that are beyond the scope of the TRANSMANGO project.


The TRANSMANGO European game jam tour

Building games together to help imagine and experiment with the many futures of food

How can we ensure food and nutrition security for everyone while making sure our food needs don’t wreck the planet?  This question, one of the biggest challenges of our time, was the key question of the EU-funded TRANSMANGO project. To investigate this question from a European perspective, TRANSMANGO researchers have delved deep into a wide range of present day and possible future food practices, projects and ideas, with practitioners, businesses, citizens, policy makers and others. They have been particularly interested in finding new ways for people to experiment with and imagine what the future of food might look like. It is because of this interest that they have tapped into the unique potential that games offer.

Games are an extremely significant part of today’s media landscape – arguably bigger than films. More and more people and companies are developing games, big and small, and it is easier than ever for people all around the world to access them. Games also offer unique possibilities for people to engage with the big issues of our time. Games of all types – from board games to virtual reality experiences – allow players to directly interact with stories, settings, and systems of play that explore the present and future challenges that humanity faces. Moreover, games can allow people to engage with and learn from each other in new ways, too.  

TRANSMANGO wanted to go further than just work with one game development company to build one game where players would only be able to engage with the future of food in one set of prescripted interactions. The project is all about an open exploration of the future of food – what completely new types of futures can we imagine, explore, experiment with, even (or especially!) if that means that each imagined future is completely different from the others?

Because of this appreciation for the need for diversity in engaging with the future of food, TRANSMANGO has been looking for ways to not just build one game, but to let game designers and developers work with practitioners and researchers to build many imaginative, experimental games, each representing different perspectives and experiences on food. Closely related to this interest in building many games about food futures was an understanding that building games together, as opposed to only playing them, can allow people from different backgrounds to come to new and exciting insights.

To make this desire for the collaborative development of many games on the future of food a reality, TRANSMANGO found the perfect partner – the JamToday project, also funded by the EU, and led by the Utrecht School of Arts (HKU). This led to a unique and very fruitful collaborative effort by the two projects and to a blossoming of many wonderful and inventive game prototypes during the ensuing TRANSMANGO game jam tour. During this entire process, the JamToday way of running game jams was used – namely, the game jam processes were themselves gamified – turned into friendly contests with game elements such as original ways for the team to win points by promoting their projects or helping other teams.

The tour: from Glasgow to Leuven

In 2016 and 2017, a number of game jams and game storms were organized throughout Europe to let game designers, practitioners and others use game design to experiment with food futures together.

Glasgow: weekend crunch time

The first game jam, in Glasgow, was organized together with our excellent JamToday partners from Glasgow Caledonian University. During three intense days, three teams and 20 participants worked on diverse game prototypes. The winner of this process was a game called Rhea – where the player is tasked with feeding the world population, racing against time. What the game doesn’t tell you is that you should not only increase agricultural production, but also deal with waste and consumption. The players have to figure that out for themselves. This subversive game is at once an educational game and a reflection on dominant narratives about the future of food that forget about waste and consumption when they discuss how to feed the planet. Further information on and photos of the TRANSMANGO Game Jam Glasgow 2016 can be found on its Facebook page.

Florence: in the business of game development

The second event, the 2016 TRANSMANGO game storm in Florence, was a shorter game jam that included 25 researchers and game designers from all over the JamToday network, as well as Italian TRANSMANGO participants. Five board games were developed in a morning session – and the game that won combined board game urban farming in schools with actual school farming practices. What made this game storm so special is that the participants then went on to develop a business model about their games. Further information on and photos of the TRANSMANGO Game Jam Glasgow 2016 can be found on its Facebook page.

Participants mulling over their designs at 2016 Florence game storm

Utrecht: from days to months of game design

The most elaborate event in the TRANSMANGO game jam tour was organized at the Utrecht School of Arts: the Living Lab Applied Game Jam in February 2017. For five days, 14 teams composed of 50 game designers, programmers and artists worked together with teachers from HKU and with researchers and students from TRANSMANGO, the University of Oxford, Utrecht University and Wageningen University and Research to develop game prototypes exploring the future of food. Photos of the event are available on the Living Lab’s Facebook page. After this game jam, something unique happened – the students worked on their games for two more months during a special course at HKU!

A number of games and concepts stood out for different reasons:

An Onion’s Journey is a dynamic and in-your-face experience of the journey of an onion through the food system. After physically crawling into an onion box, the player is taken from the point of production through the various stages and locations in the food system, learning about the emissions associated with each leg of the journey. Here they experience the incredible amount of energy that is used and wasted during this process in a thrilling combination of image, vibration,sound and light. For an insight into a player’s experience, a video of An Onion’s Journey can be viewed here.  

Dr Joost Vervoort having fun with An Onion’s Journey during the Living Lab Applied Game Jam in February 2017

CowPow is a highly engaging and exciting virtual reality shooting game. Players shoot (shoort) a huge corn gun to both fend off and feed oncoming cows. If you’re not quick enough you’ll be surrounded and killed! This game provides the player with a strong, fast-paced visual experience of the extraordinary and shocking amount of feed and energy that goes towards the production of meat. The team has more about the game on their Facebook page.

CowPow was enjoyed by festival goers at Pukkelpop in August 2017

SSookssook is a game where you get to raise your own little monster, Tamagotchi-style, but you have to feed him (or her) with real food by holding it in front of the camera. Feed it too little or too much and it gets ill, but it also needs a healthy and diverse diet! The team has more about the game on their Facebook page.

Impressions of an early SSookssook prototype

Finally, two games were developed for the FEAST project in Japan, a sister project to TRANSMANGO, as part UU researcher Astrid Mangnus’ work. The most fully developed game, Let’s Kyoto, is a unique digitized board game experience where players pass a game controller around. Each player plays a different actor in the Kyoto food system – producers, distributors, and consumers – and each takes certain actions in a round, after which the group makes decisions together about food policies that affect everyone. You can view more on game jam team that developed Let’s Kyoto on their Facebook page. A second game, Kyoto Tama-Tama GO, about running a cooperative food store in Kyoto, is being further developed with the help of FEAST researchers. You can view more on game jam team that developed Kyoto Tama-Tama Go on their Facebook page.

TRANSMANGO final conference: a game storm to close the project

In December 2017 TRANSMANGO came to a close with a two day final conference in Leuven, Belgium. With this event was the final game storm, where the winners of the Glasgow and HKU game jams came together with TRANSMANGO researchers and stakeholders to design a European food systems game. With this end goal in mind, the day started with participants warming up with a Europe-focused TRANSMANGO adaptation of the Kyoto Food Policy Council game, a live roleplaying which was used in Kyoto for Astrid Mangnus’ Master thesis work with FEAST, a sister project to TRANSMANGO. This game was, in turn, adapted from games developed by the global Seeds of Good Anthropocenes project, a global-level counterpart to TRANSMANGO, and featured food Seed initiatives from that project from all over the world. Each player assumed the role of a different stakeholder, with the team as a whole tasked with coming up with new and innovative initiatives for nascent Leuven Food Council. Players had to ensure that needs and priorities of each stakeholder were taken into account while also sticking to a reasonable budget, not such an easy task apparently! After a few practice rounds, participants were then asked to experimentally modify/hack the game, giving them further insight into its mechanics and what does and doesn’t work in game.

Two cards from the TRANSMANGO Food Policy Council game, adapted from FEAST’s Kyoto Food Policy Council game

Fresh with ideas and inspiration from the previous two rounds, five teams composed of a total of 30 game design students and TRANSMANGO researchers and stakeholders began designing their very own food systems game. Prototypes ranged from simple card-based games to encourage a balanced diet, to an elaborate game aimed at helping players understand the complexity behind food bank use.

The winning game, FAHST FOOD FACTORY, is a card game where players use current and future foods to assemble sustainable, healthy and tasty (and sometimes not so tasty – corn syrup, vegedog jelly sandwich!) meals. The judges were particularly impressed with how the game fostered awareness of the trade-off in the food system between health, environment and demand. A true TRANSMANGO-themed game! FAHST FOOD FACTORY, along with the HKU and Glasgow game jam winners, was tested and enjoyed by all during the conference break moments the next day. Photos of the day’s activities can be viewed here, and the announcement of the on the HKU website here.

Emerging from the brainstorm: games reaching new audiences

Game jams always generate more ideas and prototypes than can be used, and some are more developed than others – and these prototype ideas offer a lot to analyse by themselves. The best games from all the game jams were played by policy makers and other stakeholders at the final TRANSMANGO conference. Significantly, however, a number of games coming out of the most involved process in Utrecht have been exposed to wider audiences and stakeholder groups.

CowPow was taken to the Belgian music festival Pukkelpop, where over 250 young and old festival goers had the opportunity to fend off murderous cows and experience the sheer amount of corn that goes into producing a rather meagre amount of beef. After their go, each player was required to fill out an extensive questionnaire that dove deep into their perceptions of meat consumption, and how the game may have influenced this. Researchers at Utrecht University, the Utrecht School of Art (HKU) and University College Leuven Limburg (UCLL) are currently analysing these results, and hope to publish them in 2018.

SSookssook was exhibited to dieticians and other dietary practitioners at the European Federation of the Associations of Dietitians (EFAD) Conference in September 2017 to explore the potential of the game as a tool for educating children about healthy and sustainable dietary choices. The game received an enthusiastic response and other avenues further development are currently being explored.

Let’s Kyoto was used in Astrid Mangnus’ research project with TRANSMANGO’s sister project FEAST in Kyoto – to let urban food system stakeholders in Kyoto experiment with different roles (producers, consumers, distributors) and make decisions about policies together. The game was used together with the Kyoto Food Policy Council game and other foresight methods related to TRANSMANGO research. You can read all about it here in her excellent thesis.

How are we researching all of this?

An important goal of the TRANSMANGO game jam process throughout Europe was to have the entire collection of game prototypes together represent a big and diverse set of different ways to engage with the future of food in Europe. So how can we analyse all of these games together? Researchers from TRANSMANGO and JAMTODAY are collaborating to investigate how the games represent different futures, how the core mechanics of the games allow players to experiment with them, what games are complementary to each other, and what key differences are. We understand each game as both the result of a collaborative investigative process, and as a future scenario in itself. The research conducted on this rich collection of games and their functions will provide important insights into the use of games as a tool for exploring the future.

The next steps & implications

Next to the exciting research insights emerging from this process, a number of next steps are being taken to capture the work and move it forward. Possible actions to develop the best games further are being discussed with partners like FEAST. A filmmaker, Jonas Klinkenbijl, has captured the entire game jam tour and is creating a short documentary about the process. The collaboration between TRANSMANGO colleagues at the University of Oxford, Utrecht University and the Utrecht School of Arts (HKU)/JamToday has continued in a very fruitful manner as well. UU and HKU worked together to organize a Summer School game jam on food and climate for international students, where nine teams and a total of 50 participants took part. Photos from this summer school can be viewed here, and a UU news article here. We are also organizing next year’s game jam and game design course in a process with students from both institutes to develop a sustainability game for students. Lessons from this great collaborative process will be spread far and wide among game developers, researchers, policy makers, educators and others working on sustainability challenges.

Reference for the game jam format used in Glasgow and Utrecht:

Hrehovcsik, M., Warmelink, H. and Valente, M., 2016. The Game Jam as a Format for Formal Applied Game Design and Development Education. In Games and Learning Alliance (pp. 257-267). Springer International Publishing.

Reference for using games to model complex systems and future scenarios:

Richard D. Duke, 1974. Gaming: the Future’s Language. Wiley.


Charlotte Ballard (UU)
Micah Hrehovcsik (HKU)
Joost Vervoort (UU)

TRANSMANGO Policy Recommendations

Read the entire report here

Food is no longer produced and eaten in one place. Instead, it has become transformed into a commodity which is bought, processed and sold (and often bought, processed and sold, again and again) in an industrialised and globally embedded system. This system is facing a number of crises—for the environment, for producers and for consumers—resulting in and from vulnerabilities to shocks and stresses at numerous points in this complex system. However, not only do these crises arise from dysfunctions within the food system, they are attributable to wider determinants. At the micro level, issues such as household resources, the health status of householders and level of education will impact on access to food and individuals’ abilities to fully utilize that food. At a macro level, drivers such as environmental change, biofuel demand, trade and market structures, emergent technologies, urbanisation and social protection policies all have an impact on food and nutrition security (FNS) (Pieters et al., 2013). Consequently, the current situation is one in which FNS cannot be guaranteed for all and food and nutrition insecurity has, in recent years, increased even in development countries. This is exemplified by the fact that almost 11% of people in the EU are living in food insecurity (Loopstra et al., 2015).

Although the European Union (EU) officially supports a systemic sustainable production and consumption approach, actual EU policies appear to have been immune to this principle. This is arguably due to a conflation of ‘agricultural policy’ with ‘food policy’.  This is problematic because while the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) forms a corner stone of all EU policies it has been criticised as inadequate for tackling food system sustainability. This is primarily due to its neglect of other aspects of the food system such as environmental and climate change concerns, as well as perspectives on healthy diets. In reality, the food we eat is derived from a system which is shaped by a range of distinct policies—including those on agriculture, food safety, public health, trade, environmental protection and employment—developed in silos, in isolation from each other. These policies have emerged incrementally in parallel with CAP but to date, there has yet to be a single, integrated systems-wide food policy in Europe to tackle FNS as a systems-wide challenge.

It is for this reason that TRANSMANGO sought to develop recommendations for policy to foster food and nutrition security in Europe and our main recommendation is for the design of an EU-wide food policy. TRANSMANGO findings point out that in order to achieve this there is clear need for:

  • more integrated and systemic thinking about our food systems across the environmental, community, economy, social and health policy fields;
  • the addressing of a range of interconnected vulnerabilities which have led to widening gaps between food sustainability and food security at all levels (individual, household, social class, local, regional, national);
  • expansion of the range of interested stakeholders and ‘policy community’ players who regard the food question as central to their mission.

These findings translate into five strategic recommendations detailed in the following sections. The first recommendation is the most general in its message and those which follow are more specific. In addition, the first recommendation (the need to recognise food and nutrition security as a systems-wide challenge) is inherently embedded in Recommendations 2-5. Although these policy recommendations address primarily European policy actors and certainly require further concretisation at national, regional and local scale, it is believed that as a whole these represent a set of critical ingredients for moving towards a more comprehensive and consistent food policy in Europe.

The TRANSMANGO consortium formulates 5 policy recommendations:

  • Recommendation 1: Address the multi-faceted nature of contemporary food and nutrition security vulnerabilities by developing a comprehensive and integrated food policy for Europe which recognises these challenges as systems-wide
  • Recommendation 2: Incorporate broad social justice aims into food policy-making
  • Recommendation 3: Alleviate and mitigate persistent policy fragmentation
  • Recommendation 4: Stimulate and substantiate integrated capacity-building
  • Recommendation 5: Recognise and embrace Europe’s diverse food contexts

Future food security cartoon

The University College Leuven-Limburg developed, within the framework of TRANSMANGO, a cartoon-video to stimulate people to think about their own behaviour and about all the other actors within the food (chain) system (government, agriculture, industry, distribution sector, etc.) and how they have an impact on food security and sustainability.

The general message of the video focuses on an gaining insight in the own behaviour concerning food security and the future consequences for society. The target group of the video is pupils of earlier years of secondary education. The video itself is seen as a short film based on cartoons and a voice-over.

The video is also available in Dutch here.

Imagining transformative food futures: starting with people on the front lines   

By: Joost Vervoort

When the future of food in Europe is discussed by policy makers, conversations traditionally focus on large-scale economics and on agricultural production. At the same time, however, people in initiatives and organizations all throughout Europe are actively experimenting with new ways to organize European food, often at local and national levels. The people involved in these initiatives have diverse and transformative ideas about what food in Europe’s future could be, and these ideas drive them to work hard to achieve their desired futures. But this lively and diverse world of food system experimentation fails to connect, for the most part, to national and European policy dialogues.

In the FP7 TRANSMANGO project, we aimed to explore the future hopes and worries of people working in such highly innovative and transformative projects and networks. This exploration of different futures was done in close collaboration with the people involved in such initiatives. TRANSMANGO researchers aimed to offer different futuring tools – visioning, back-casting (planning backward from the future) and the use of challenging scenarios – to transformative food initiatives. These approaches were offered in the first place to help such initiatives think more strategically about their own goals and how they could be reached in the face of the pressures that a changing future might offer. By focusing on using different approaches for engaging with the future on the specific plans and strategies of food initiatives, we aimed to make sure that future explorations were concretely useful to all involved.   Continue reading “Imagining transformative food futures: starting with people on the front lines   “

Urban Food Governance and Translocal Assemblages in the UK

By: Helen Coulson

Collaborative food partnerships have proliferated throughout the United Kingdom (UK) over the past decade in an attempt to strategically ‘scale-up’ civil society activities to create spaces of deliberation in the form of cross-sector participatory food system governance coalitions (Moragues-Faus and Morgan 2015). In the absence of an integrated and comprehensive UK-wide national food policy, cities, towns, counties and boroughs are developing various partnerships orientated around participatory and holistic place-based food policy, contextualised by multi-scalar, however, always locally embedded and experienced socio-ecological inequities and injustices.

In this sense, urban areas are positioning themselves as key food policy actors, and strategic sites to reimagine and enact innovative governance configurations as a way to inspire a more participatory, inclusive and emancipatory politics around food (Moragues-Faus et al. 2013). Continue reading “Urban Food Governance and Translocal Assemblages in the UK”

Alternative food networks & food security

by Pedro Cerrada Serra

Our food system has become increasingly global. The industrialised mainstream model dominates in in the Global North and its high productivity often comes with a well-known heavy burden in terms of environmental and socio-economic negative externalities (biodiversity loss, resource depletion, large-scale exodus of farmers, price volatility…). This “corporate food regime” (in McMichael (2004) terms), has led to a privatization of food security, a “shift in the ‘site’ of food security from the nation-state to the world market” that has proved unable to ensure food and nutrition security (FNS) for all (undernurished people accounts for 11% of total population while overweight and obesity are on the rise everywhere, according to the last State of Food Security and Nutrition report).

Food insecurity is not a distant issue. It also affects fully developed economies as we have witnessed in Europe, particularly associated with the rising unemployment and falling wages hitting hard during the recent economic crisis (some TRANSMANGO case studies go deeper with the issue: food assistance in Tuscany, Dutch food banks, BIA food initiative in Ireland or new-agricultural initiatives in peri-urban Valencia). Continue reading “Alternative food networks & food security”

Harnessing the power of public money for FNS

By Brídín Carroll

As the project TRANSMANGO is coming to an end, we now focus on lessons learned. Public procurement had been selected as one of five key areas of concern and for a deeper analysis in work package 5. As public procurement relates to all goods and services purchased with public money, it is a subject particularly important for food governance (for a detailed look at this analysis see D5.2).

Public procurement accounts for a significant proportion of GDP (17% in the EU) and this has led to the recognition of public procurement’s power to affect changes towards greater sustainability. In addition, it inhabits a unique position whereby it can affect demand-side and supply-side change. It addresses the former by targeting groups which are most vulnerable to food poverty by providing nutritious food. It impacts the latter by creating new markets for smaller and often more sustainable producers Continue reading “Harnessing the power of public money for FNS”

Public catering as an effective food policy measure in Finland

By: Ville Tikka & Tiina Silvasti, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

It is surprising, how small and occasional attention public catering as a modern food policy practice ensuring food and nutrition security in Finland has attracted. After all, it is estimated that one in three Finns of working age belongs to the clientele of public or subsidized catering and, when explored from the life course perspective, everyone in Finland enjoys public meals in some phase of her/his life.

It is estimated that a third of the Finnish population use public catering services on a daily basis: Coverage of free school lunch is 100 per cent in the age group of 7-16 years and approximately half of the children below the age of seven eat for free – or to be precise, at taxpayers’ expense – in day care, kindergarten or preschool. Also upper secondary schools and vocational institutions serve free school lunches. Continue reading “Public catering as an effective food policy measure in Finland”