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Hardcover | Out of Print | 368 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 116 figures | August 2009 | ISBN: 9780262062688
Paperback | $22.95 Trade | £18.95 | 368 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 116 figures | February 2013 | ISBN: 9780262518659
eBook | $16.95 Trade | August 2009 | ISBN: 9780262259569
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Critical Play

Radical Game Design


For many players, games are entertainment, diversion, relaxation, fantasy. But what if certain games were something more than this, providing not only outlets for entertainment but a means for creative expression, instruments for conceptual thinking, or tools for social change? In Critical Play, artist and game designer Mary Flanagan examines alternative games—games that challenge the accepted norms embedded within the gaming industry—and argues that games designed by artists and activists are reshaping everyday game culture.

Flanagan provides a lively historical context for critical play through twentieth-century art movements, connecting subversive game design to subversive art: her examples of “playing house” include Dadaist puppet shows and The Sims. She looks at artists’ alternative computer-based games and explores games for change, considering the way activist concerns—including worldwide poverty and AIDS—can be incorporated into game design.

Arguing that this kind of conscious practice—which now constitutes the avant-garde of the computer game medium—can inspire new working methods for designers, Flanagan offers a model for designing that will encourage the subversion of popular gaming tropes through new styles of game making, and proposes a theory of alternate game design that focuses on the reworking of contemporary popular game practices.

About the Author

Mary Flanagan is Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities, Director of the Tiltfactor game research laboratory, and Professor in the Department of Film and Media Studies at Dartmouth College. She is the author of Critical Play: Radical Game Design (MIT Press).


“…Flanagan has equipped students and practitioners of game design with a generous multi-functional tool, to instruct and inspire.”—Ragnhild Tronstad, Game Studies


“In Critical Play, Flanagan uncovers a secret history of games buried deep inside folk culture, experimental media, and the world of art. Critical Play should be required reading for anyone who cares about the cultural importance and future potential of games.”
Eric Zimmerman, game designer and co-author of Rules of Play