“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“Mary Flanagan has written a marvelous book in Critical Play. As an artist and scholar, Flanagan examines play through sources that range from the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and Johan Huizinga to Marcel Duchamp and the often-overlooked Roger Caillois. Flanagan examines games and play from dollhouses to board games, from Alberto Giacometti to Fluxus, enabling us to see what it is that makes play critical. The core issue of the book is creating forms of play that ask important questions about human life. After a grand romp through the territory and history of play, Flanagan provides a crisp practical theory in her game design model. What a book! I’m ready to shake the dice and start again.”
—Ken Friedman, Professor, Dean, Faculty of Design Swinburne University of Technology, Australia



Cambridge: The  MIT Press 2009

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; her discussion of language play includes puns, palindromes, Yoko Ono’s Instruction Paintings, and Jenny Holzer’s messages in LED. Flanagan also looks at artists’ alternative computer-based games, examining projects from Persuasive Games and Gonazalo Frasca and other games created through the use of interventionist strategies in the design process. And she explores games for change, considering the way activist concerns—among them Darfur, 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.
Read the first chapter and see more at the MIT Press website.





Mary Flanagan and Austin Booth, eds.

Cambridge: The  MIT Press 2006

re:skin is a collection of fiction and theory engaging with issues that surround the technological manipulation of the body. From plastic surgery to fur implants, from illegal tattooing to skin grafts, the use of technology to alter the physical body is, for women writers, less a tool for empowerment than a means to construct alternative, multiple selves. Bodily boundaries are malleable, and bodily markers which distinguish bodies are reprogrammable. The pieces gathered reskin claim that the technologically mutable body is neither simply liberating nor limiting, but offers instead narratives of ways of living in, and adapting to, a technological culture.
Preview the table of contents, and see more at the MIT Press website.


reload: rethinking women + cyberculture.


Mary Flanagan and Austin Booth, eds.

Cambridge: The  MIT Press 2002

The co-edited collection reload is a volume which mixes
women’s cyberpunk fiction with theoretical investigations into
cybercultural aspects such as web communities, fan culture, subjectivity in computer games, cinematic representations of cyborgs, and artists’ technological projects. MIT Press website


Similitudini. Simboli. Simulacri:(SIMilarities, Symbols, Simulacra)


Matteo Bittanti and Mary Flanagan

Milan: Edizioni Unicopli, 2003

This co-authored book, in Italian, explores domestic space, player experience, and the fan culture of The Sims.

Values At Play

Values At Play


The book Values at Play in Digital Games, with philosopher Helen Nissenbaum, is in production with MIT Press!

The Book of Jing I: Withholding Agent

The Book of Jing I: Withholding Agent

The Book of Jing is the new graphic novel series created with Jonathan Jay Lee.


Two Essays Now Translated to Spanish! Download the e-book!
La novia desnudada hasta sus mismísimos datos: flujo de información + digicuerpos.
X0y1: #ensayos sobre género y ciberespacio__. Coordinadora Remedios Zafra, Traduce Natalia Pérez-Galdós. Madrid: Arte Género Ciberespacio, 2010, pp. 12-48.

Identidades móviles, estrellas digitales y yoes postcinemáticos.
X0y1: #ensayos sobre género y ciberespacio__.
Coordinadora Remedios Zafra, Traduce Natalia Pérez-Galdós. Madrid: Arte Género Ciberespacio, 2010, pp. 118 -136.

How games can help us access and understand cultural artifacts..
American Archivist 75(2), pp. 514-537, with Peter Carini, 2012.

Exploring the Creative Potential of Values Conscious Design: Students’ Experiences with the VAP Curriculum. Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture, with Jonathan Belman, 2010.

Designing Games to Foster Empathy.
Cognitive Technology 14(2) 2009, with Jonathan Belman

Instructional Methods and Curricula for Values Conscious Design.
Loading: The Official Journal of the Canadian Games Studies Association3(4), with Jonathan Belman and Helen Nissenbaum 2009.

Play, Participation, and Art: Blurring the Edges.
Context Providers.
Margot Lovejoy, Christiane Paul, Victoria Vesna, eds. Bristol, UK: Intellect Press, 2010

An Appreciation on the Impact of the work of Sonia Landy Sheridan.
The Art of Sonia Landy Sheridan.
Hanover, NH: Hood Museum of Art, 2009, 37-42.

Anxiety, Openness, and Activist Games: A Case Study for Critical Play.
Proceedings of the Digital Games Research Association
with Anna Lotko, Uxbridge UK, 2009

Creating Critical Play
Artists Rethinking Games.
Eds Ruth Catlow, Marc Garrett, and Corrado Morgana. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010, 49-53.

A private correspondence to David Theurer: Written by H. P. Lovecraft, 12th January 1919, released by Mary D. Flanagan.
Well Played.
Ed. Drew Davidson. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon/ ETC Press, 2009

The Sims: Suburban Utopias.
Space Time Play. Synergies Between Computer Games, Architecture and Urbanism
Eds. Friedrich von Borries, Walz, Steffen P. Walz, Mattias Böttger. Birkhauser Publishing, Basel Boston Berlin, 2007, 150-152.

RAPUNSEL: How a computer game designed based on educational theory can improve girls’ self-efficacy and self-esteem.
Proceedings of the American Educational Research Association
Plass, J. L, Goldman, R., Flanagan, M., Diamond, J., Dong, C., Looui, S., Hyuksoon Song, H., Rosalia, C. & Perlin, K. Chicago, April 2007

Locating Play and Politics: Real World Games and Political Action
Proceedings of the Digital Arts and Culture Conference
Perth Australia Dec 2007

A Game Design Methodology to Incorporate Social Activist Themes.
Proceedings of CHI 2007
with Helen Nissenbaum; New York, NY: ACM Press, 181 – 190

Rethinking the F Word: A Review of Activist Art on the Internet
National Women’s Studies Association Journal (Special Issue: Feminist Activist Art) Volume 19, Number 1 with Suyin Looui, Spring 2007, 181-200

Feminist Art Activist Roundtable
National Women’s Studies Association Journal (Special Issue: Feminist Activist Art)
Volume 19, Number 1, Spring 2007.

My Profile, Myself in Playculture
Exploring Digital Artefacts
Johan Bornebusch and Patrik Hernwall, Editors. M3 Publication, 2006, 20-29

Making Games for Social Change
AI & Society: The Journal of Human-Centered Systems
Springer London: Springer, 20(1), January 2006

The ‘Nature’ of Networks: Space and Place in the Silicon Forest
Nature et progrès : interactions, exclusions, mutations
Ed. Pierre Lagayette. Paris : Presses de l’Université. Paris-Sorbonne, 2006

New Design Methods for Activist Gaming
Proceedings from DiGRA 2005
Mary Flanagan, D.C. Howe, Helen Nissenbaum
16-20 June, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Troubling ‘Games for Girls’: Notes from the Edge of Game Design
Proceedings from DiGRA 2005
16-20 June, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Values at Play: Design Tradeoffs in Socially-Oriented Game Design
Proceedings of the CHI 2005 conference on Human factors in computing systems
with Howe and Nissenbaum, CHI 2005, 2-7 April, Portland, Oregon

Une Maison de Poupee Virtuelle Capitaliste? The Sims: Domesticite, Consommation, et Feminite
Consommations & Sociétés: Cahiers pluridisciplinaire sur la consommation et l’interculturel
Ed. Mélanie Roustan et Dominique Desjeux

The bride stripped bare to her Data: information flow and digibodies
Data Made Flesh
Thurtle et al. 2003

Next Level: Women’s Digital Activism through Gaming
Digital Media Revisited
Edited by Andrew Morrison, Gunnar Liestøl & Terje Rasmussen, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003, 359 – 388

Developing Virtual Performance Spaces
American Puppetry
Ed. Phyllis T. Dircks. New York: Theatre Library Association, 2004

Hyperbodies, Hyperknowledge: Women in Games, Women in Cyberpunk, and Strategies of Resistance
reload: rethinking women + cyberculture
Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002, 425-454

navigable narratives: gender +narrative spatiality in virtual worlds
Art Journal
Vol 59 no. 3, Fall 2000, 74 – 85

Response to Celia Pearce: About Computer Gaming
First Person
Ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan. Cambridge: MIT Press

Mobile Identities, Digital Stars, & Post-Cinematic Selves
Wide Angle: Issue on Digitality & the Memory of Cinema
21:3, 1999

Digital Stars Are Here to Stay
convergence: the journal of research into new media technologies
Eds. Julia Knight + Alexis Weedon, University of Luton, Summer 1999. Print and Internet

Spatialized MagnoMemories
Culture Machine 3 – Virologies: Culture and Contamination
Eds. David Boothroyd and Gary Hall. 2001