on February 24, 2010
"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. Whether you're into art history, social change, media theory, or a range of other topics, "Critical Play" offers a unique lens through which you can view historical events and trends and imagine future possibilities. It provides a plethora of ideas to play with, and the understanding that play can be quite serious. I can't recommend it enough.
on August 16, 2011
There are two things the book does exceptionally well. First, it provides an extraordinarily thorough and very entertaining history of how play has been used throughout history to critique, subvert, explore alternatives to dominant paradigms, etc. My favorite example of this is Flanagan's discussion of girls' play with dolls in the Victorian era. I had read before that doll play functions to socialize girls into the domestic roles they are expected to occupy as adults. What was entirely new to me is that girls would often use these dolls to play in ways that challenged conventions. On this topic and on others, Flanagan's research is excellent and her insights are revelatory.
Flanagan also provides practical guidelines for designing play experiences that encourage critique and subversion. Without going into to detail, I will say that I found this part of the book particularly useful re: the practice of designing "serious" or issues-focused games.
Highly recommended for game designers who are interested in working beyond the entertainment-focused mainstream, and also highly recommended for anyone with interest in the history of play.
on August 10, 2014
A quite inspired book about “critical play”, showing connections between play and art, and stressing the eternal belief on disrupting routine and repetition in life. Reality isn’t enough for people who wish something more interesting and compelling, or alternative. Flanagan masters history of art profoundly, so she can select exemplars of disrupting projects, where play and art go together. She analyses videogames and similar simulations with great expertise, our most recent incursion in art and play. Very informative, analytically very well elaborated, epistemologically provocative.