Critical Play

Critical Play

Radical Game Design

By Mary Flanagan

An examination of subversive games—games designed for political, aesthetic, and social critique.
Hardcover $30.00 S £25.00
Paperback $24.95 T £20.00





An examination of subversive games—games designed for political, aesthetic, and social critique.

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.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262062688 362 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 116 figures


$24.95 T | £20.00 ISBN: 9780262518659 362 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 116 figures


  • …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