HTNM Lecture — Mary Flanagan, “Critical Play”

Christopher Sean Bennett from Stanford’s Game Design Research Group attended Mary Flanagan’s HTNM lecture – Critical Play – on Thursday March 17th.


“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.”


For his post, and more from Stanford’s Game Design Group here.

Check out photos from the event below!

2016:  HTNM Flanagan
bannerGames are older than most contemporary media forms, and artists have been using them for centuries as a form of criticality and reflection. In this talk, Flanagan will explore this rich history and point to the theoretical concerns that arise when playing critically. As both an artist and a award winning software and game designer, Flanagan has created social disruptions, artwork, and games to trigger relational conversations. Flanagan will discuss the productive parallels between spheres of design and art, gesturing toward playful new media as the foundation for a new generation of both art and social innovation.

thumbnailMary Flanagan is a well-known Ivy-league game researcher and director of the Tiltfactor game lab at Dartmouth College ( to invent “humanist” games and take on social issues through games. Her work has included everything from game-inspired art, to commercial games that shift people’s thinking about biases and stereotypes. Flanagan’s acclaimed book, Critical Play (MIT 2009) revealed the incredible art history of games, and Values at Play in Digital Games (with philosopher Helen Nissenbaum, MIT 2014), demonstrates that thinking about values is a key to innovation.

Flanagan’s research was recently showcased The Atlantic, Fast Company, and NPR, and her work is regularly featured in popular game blogs such as Kotaku and Polygon. She is widely known as an expert on matters related to digital culture, publishing in venues such as USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, Inside Higher Education, The Daily Beast, and more.
Flanagan has served on the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Academic Consortium on Games for Impact, and has been an American Council of Learned Societies fellow, a Brown Foundation Fellow, and a MacDowell Colony Fellow. Her work has been supported by commissions and grants including The British Arts Council, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Justice, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Flanagan has a PhD from Central St Martins, University of the Arts in London and is the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities at Dartmouth College. @criticalplay;
The History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series brings to campus leading humanities scholars working on issues of media transition and technological emergence. The series promotes new, interdisciplinary approaches to questions about the uses, meanings, causes, and effects of rapid or dramatic shifts in techno-infrastructure, information management, and forms of mediated expression. Presented by the Berkeley Center for New Media, these events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit: