Fostering mutual understanding through playful interventions

The enjoyment of food is a universal cultural practice and a powerful tool for nonverbal understanding. “Food For Thought” is a game created at the height of the European refugee crisis. It leverages food to combat rising resentments.




TU Delft


Semester Project


Exploring Interactions


Anna Pohlmeyer,
Rudolf Wormgoor



The influx of a large number of refugees during the European Migrant Crisis in 2015, especially from the Middle East, brought public attention to integration issues and polarized society. But while some people reacted with contempt and rejection, many chose compassion over fear. Helping those individuals to reach out to one another and share personal moments is the goal of this project. By drawing on the cultural relevance of food, it creates a social interaction that breaks the ice and fosters common ground through gameplay.


for locals and refugees to exchange cultural knowledge respectfully


that arise from having to adapt to new environments


Many organizations emerged across Europe, trying to provide a framework for locals and refugees to reach out to and support one another. In designing this game, I wanted to understand the challenges these organizations and the individuals they work with are facing. To that end, I reached out to several “buddy programs” bringing locals and refugees together across Germany and The Netherlands. By regularly accompanying buddy groups (consisting of one local and one immigrant) and frequently visiting integration events, I was able to gain a working understanding of their needs.


by establishing common ground


On top of existing language barriers, one of the preeminent issues was the vast difference in cultural backgrounds. Locals often struggled to understand the needs and perspectives of the people they tried to engage with and often decided to resort to mundane, non-verbal activities, such as playing children’s games. At the same time, refugees were more interested in partaking in activities that would help them learn more about the local language and customs. To offer a solution, I decided to rely on universally valid cultural heritage: The experience of food.


I explored a variety of concepts to solve this dilemma, two of which showed great promise in addressing the described issues:
A board game similar to Monopoly facilitated non-verbal cultural learnings by creating a friendly competition over who gets to cook their “opponent” a dish. A card game based on Quartets Cards supported players in teaching and learning basic vocabulary related to everyday situations.


After some additional testing, I decided to integrate both concepts into one, facilitating a multimodal experience. I created a wooden game board reminiscent of Backgammon boards, a game popular in many cultures. A set of cards provides information on dishes typical of Central Europe, as well as familiar dishes in the Middle East and central Africa. In a cooperative effort, buddy groups need to effectively communicate the necessary ingredients for a recipe familiar to them. Those ingredients then need to be collected from the game board by pairing off two identical wooden game pieces, without betraying the locations of the required ingredients to the opposing buddy groups.


The game provides a secure, casual opportunity to start an interaction. This allows locals to make the first step towards their refugee buddies. At the same time, it acknowledges the desire of many refugees to engage in activities that help them acclimate to the local culture. The game proved successful with most participating individuals and organizations. I provided a copy of the game to all organizations that kindly allowed me to meet and work with their members.


in new experiences