Theory: Critical Game Design & Critical Play

Readings by Critical Game Design by Mary Flanagan & Lindsay Grace

Learning through Game Design

Anxiety, Openness & Activist Games: A Case Study for Critical Play

Mary Flanagan

ABSTRACT: This paper explores the boundaries of social issues or ‘activist’ games with a case study on a popular game released in 2009 which fosters a critical type of play among the audience. We assess the game’s public reception to better understand how contradictory play elements led to an anxiety of ambiguity during open play. Borrowing from the “poetics of open work,” we will demonstrate how the most powerful play experience in activist games result from a new relationship formed between the audience and the player through mechanics, subject position, representation, and content.

Critical Games: Critical Design in Independent Games

Lindsay Grace

ABSTRACT: As a sign of the maturing game medium, critical games have grown to provide meaningful critique. Where once a critic might write an article, some have taken to making critical games. These games critique the conventions of digital experience to provide social commentary, examination of gameplay assumptions or simply create playful design. This paper provides a simple topographical view of critical games, proposing formal attributes for analyzing games made through critical design practices. The result is a formal two axes description. The first spectrum is the dichotomy between social critique and game mechanics critique, described as reflective and recursive respectively. The mechanics of these play experiences are further explained as either continuous or discontinuous, as executed through the rhythmic structure of the game. From this perspective, any critical game can be described by the apex between mechanic and social critique, continuous and discontinuous delivery. The result is a useful framing for game designers and game researchers.

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