Series: MIT Press
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: The MIT Press (February 8, 2013)
Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.8 x 9 inches
Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
Best Sellers Rank: #126,886 in Books (See Top 100 in Books) #18 in Books > Computers & Technology > Games & Strategy Guides > Game Design #62 in Books > Computers & Technology > Games & Strategy Guides > Game Programming #429 in Books > Humor & Entertainment > Puzzles & Games > Video & Computer Games
"Critical Play" is one of those rare books that uncovers a world you never knew existed yet has always lain right before your eyes. I'm a pretty avid gamer, but despite my years spent with mainstream commercial games, it's only recently that I've discovered the serious games movement and designers trying to use games to express big ideas. What I thought was a recent trend, however, Flanagan shows is actually a longstanding, vital tradition. Artists and activists have been using games to communicate social commentary and subvert accepted norms for hundreds of years in an amazing number of ways. "Critical Play" does this incredible job of weaving together games, game theory, art, and activism to show how play can be a vital tool for cultural development.The book is broken into eight chapters starting with a look at domestic play ranging from subversive dollhouses to players modding the Sims. Other chapters examine board games (apparently artists love chess, I had no idea) language games, and what I was most interested in, computer games. Because I'm somewhat familiar with serious games now, I recognized a number of the examples from the video games chapter. What I didn't know was that there are a number of contemporary artists working with games or making game-inspired pieces. The book concludes with a brief chapter that I wish were longer exploring methods of designing for critical play. While I won't be making a game any time soon, the final chapter helped me understand the game design process better, and I think has allowed me to better read the games I play now.I picked up this book because I wanted to deepen my understanding of serious games, but I think it can be appreciated by people from all different backgrounds.
At first glance, games and video games are seen merely as entertainment and/or distraction. Mary Flanagan takes a cultural-historical as well as artistically-tinted look behind the scenes of an otherwise largely one-sided exploration of games and the increasingly popular virtual, electronic forms.The author approaches the idea of games in a remarkably unconventional manner; in her eyes, games - from the board games, dolls to electronic virtual games of the 20th and 21st centuries - are an expression of cultural norms as well as a reflection of societal unrest. Flanagan even goes so far as to suggest that games can also be interpreted as narrative tools in the sense of social "reflectors". Consequently, games also serve as a means to process social problems, based on the restructuring of the games culture through new games and game styles.First of all, the book tries to capture the socio-cultural significance of games by means of a well-founded contextualisation exemplified by a few historical milestones of different types and forms of games. There is also an attempt to record the cultural ambivalence of games. For the most part, Flanagan here follows anthropologist Brian Sutton-Smith, who has interpreted games as a narrative form with a catalyst function. According to this, players are able to channel real-world risks, and observe and evaluate these at a safe distance. Games may therefore highlight real problems in their "downplayed" form and can almost be held up as a mirror to the willing "players" showing their own cultural involvement and participation.Flanagan provides plausible evidence for her theories, from the Dadaist-influenced puppet show of the 20th century to the popular PC series The Sims.
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