b-activists: Mary Flanagan explores how radical game design can teach human values

9780262062688-f30In Videogames of the Oppressed, Gonzalo Frasca, poses some useful questions: Is it possible to design videogames that deal with social and political issues?  Could videogames be used as a tool for encouraging critical thinking? Do videogames offer an alternative way of understanding reality?

A new book from MIT Press seeks to address these very questions.  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 culture in positive ways.

Flanagan provides a lively historical context for critical play through the twentieth-century art movements, connecting emerging subversive game design to earlier subversive art practice, like the Dadaists, and she highlights a number of games for change that tackle activist concerns such as Darfur, worldwide poverty, AIDS, and immigration.

As the Founder & Director of Tiltfactor Laboratory, the first academic game lab, Flanagan, pushes young game designers to think about how “play culture” permeates our daily actions and routines, and asks students to consider how they can re-invest these simple interactions with human values through game-based systems.  The Lab has developed a wide array of initiatives, including The Adventures of Josie True, a web-based game to help middle school girls in science & math, RAPUNSEL/Peeps funded by NSF to teach young girls computer programming, and Values at Play, a team project that evaluates socially consciousness design processes and creates and tests games through these methods.  Their recent game Layoff, an online digital game about the economic crisis had over 1 million players and Vexata, a board game, that helps middle school students develop game literacy with values in mind continues to push play as a critical 21st c. tool for social change.

Keep your eyes open for their forthcoming urban game PHOTOPOLIS!

September 1, 2009 by heidi
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