4-2 | Critical Play: Radical Game Design

Book Review

Critical Play: Radical Game Design

Mary Flanagan
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009. Preface, notes, images, bibliography, index. 353 pp. $29.95 cloth. ISBN: 9780262062688

by W. Michelle Harris

First Paragraph:

There have been some marvelous scholarly books on the history of games (conventional and digital) and on the psychology of play, but Mary Flanagan stakes out new ground by bringing an artist’s perspective to Critical Play: Radical Games. This ambitious book is a deep investigation of radical games—games designed not strictly for entertainment but “for artistic, political, and social critique or intervention” (p. 2). Flanagan is an accomplished radical-game artist, but this book is not about her work. Instead, this book investigates how the history of interactions between play, art, games, culture, and politics have set the stage for today’s radical games. In doing so, it covers a lot of ground (flipping through the notes, bibliography, and index is an education in itself ). Want a history of playfully subversive art movements? A critical analysis of Western doll play and board games? A manifesto for radical-game design with practical methods advice? Flanagan deftly integrates these topics and more in a progression from definitions to history to analysis to prescription.