Mary Flanagan – Group 1

By in Discussion on October 7, 2014

A Discussion on Mary Flanagan’s Presentation on Games, Design and Values.

With Amanda Kok and Nicholas Turner


Games have evolved with technology – from the traditional dice and card games, to the classic board games, to computer and television console games. The growth and accessibility of games, especially with the rise of smartphones, have led to games playing a significant role in our lives. What I found interesting in Mary Flanagan’s talk was her focus on how gameplay can be a platform to convey values and the power it has to shape people’s beliefs.

I took away the same emphasis on values and what games can do within communities. Though I do not spend much time in my everyday life playing games (save for the subway escape into Candy Crush), Mary Flanagan’s talk generated many questions in my mind such as: How might we think of games as a tool in building a better global society? How can we newly embarked grad students take this concept of personal and societal values within gaming and game design and apply the philosophy of personal responsibility towards improving the conditions of peoples’ lives in our own communities and around the world?

Before attending the lecture by Flanagan, I have never associated games with values. Games, for me, were merely for entertainment or a way to kill spare time. While I may not be a game designer, as a media studies student, I can look at the values at play, be it in a game or other form of media, and be able to think critically about how we create media and what underlying messages there may be.

In her work, Flanagan seeks to build on the idea that games express human values, from notions of fairness to justice, and that by creating awareness of the impact they have, game designers can better incorporate positive values that will lead to a just society. She also believes that game design is not just art, but a medium for learning and communication as they can be a prominent way to deal with cultural values. Therefore, the role of the game designer is called into question as they have the power to shape our engagement with these values.

I was thinking about that very concept last March while I was traveling in the West Bank, Palestine. I was spending the night with a family living in the Jenin Refugee Camp. I was in the back room of a small, humble home, sitting with a small group of young men in blue plastic chairs that surrounded a single desktop computer. We sipped on strong coffee and smoked hand rolled cigarettes while each of the boys would take turns scrolling their Facebook pages and searching YouTube videos for news surrounding the recent murder of their friends within the camp. Soon, joints were produced and the thick haze of weed smoke filled the room as they began to play a modern warfare game.

For the first time in my life, a moment surrounding the use of games became a critical question in my mind. Here are young men who must choose how they participate in active resistance. On one hand, this moment reminded me of my youth – getting high and playing video games. On the other hand, this war game is a direct reflection of these young men’s lives, as some have sat on rooftops with an old Kalashnikov slung across their arms, nervously waiting the moment when they are told to use it.

Also, in the case of a successful online poker game designer, who felt conflicted when he found out a player had spent 48 hours and $700 playing the game in order to achieve level 100. Flanagan proposed that the game designer might question the value of such time investment and integrate into his or her designs time-out features that will help limit their time spent, and in the long term, reduce the temptation to gamble.

I’ve never been much of a gamer, but games do play a role in my life – from the Candy Crush distraction I mentioned before to hours spent around a Parcheesi board with my good friends. I believe in the conscious process of allowing values to help shape design.

Mary also raised some of the challenges designers face when implementing values in the design process. How do you make a game meaningful and also keep it enticing for players? She believes that with the awareness of how powerful a tool gameplay is in applying ethical and political values, designers can do more when they begin to have conversations in which they can find ways to implement these values while designing their games. (

I may never design a game, but I can look at the games I engage with critically. There are new models waiting to be created and this search for improved ways of using media is the beating heart to The New School’s Media Studies Masters Program. I encourage each student to remind him or herself of the need for critical thinking and take a global mind while engaged with the process of learning as they shape their professional, artistic and personal goals.

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