Mary Flanagan lectures at Berkeley
Mary Flanagan lectures at Berkeley

What is “Critical Play”?

Mary Flanagan studies and creates games as researcher and director of the TiltFactor game lab at Dartmouth College. Chris Bennett was fortunate to be in attendance as she spoke at the Theory and History of New Media Studies Lecture Series at University of Berkeley.

But Mary doesn’t just look at games for entertainment sake. She studies embedded design for social innovation, and her last two academic books have shown the path she is helping to create.

Her book, Critical Play: Radical Game Design (The MIT Press, 2009), provided a historic context for critical play through twentieth-century art movements. Uncovering the “secret history” of games buried deep in experimental media.

Her more recent work, Values at Play in Digital Games (The MIT Press, 2014) was co-written with philosopher Helen Nissenbaum, and demonstrates that thinking about values is a key to innovation.

This may be a new concept for people, and even many game designers. But it’s an important one. Not only that we could be thinking about values in our games. But that perhaps we should be proactive about this. Game designers can use books like this as a valuable tool to think about their designs. And game players and interested academics can learn how to analyze and make critical decisions about what games they spend their valuable time playing.

Mary’s talk was both wide-ranging and thought provoking, and you can learn more about her work here.