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Critical Play

Mary Flanagan’s Critical Play explores how play and games are a powerful tool for building social values and norms, and how they can be augmented and redirected to display and actuate new social change. 

 If you look at games in through her perception and break them down, they give clues to how a society structures itself and the roles that existed for the society’s people to follow. An example she gives of play or games as constructers of social values is a 17th century doll house, a huge 9ft mini mansion, built for a rich merchants daughter. It dictates in its very fabrication the quality of life to be expected by the daughter and simulates the material nature and her roles in their society. For instance this model forms a complete house including servants quarters and apparently came with a full set of servant dolls. This allows the player to perform a certain set of narratives of class, gender and privilege, which they are to play out later in life.  

“In this book, I choose not to follow such strict definitions. Games can be thought of more productively as situations with guidelines and procedures. Perhaps games are themselves a technology.” Critical Play, pg. 9, M. Flanagan, 2009 

With new mean of analysis comes a means to augment the design process itself. With Critical Play Flanagan opens up a world of games which can refract or restructure our understandings of societal structures and our functions/perceptions within them. She starts to build up a system that can bring political and social issues into the narratives and formations of games.  One early example she found inspiration from is the landlord game, made in 1904 by Elizabeth Magie. It critiques the capitalist system of land ownership and tries to play out new rules and means for societal growth through a georgism perspective of sharing the land and mineral wealth. Ironically this game became the inspiration of Monopoly, a popular game that imitates and encourages a competitive capitalist approach to land ownership. But with the Landlord game you see how you can simulate and play out your own interactions. 

Landlord game by Elizabeth Magie

With this in mind I returned to the Soundscape I am developing at the moment, thinking about what mechanisms I am imitating or what perspectives and approaches I am encouraging. The interactions themselves are fairly natural, or that is what I am aiming, and they imitate quite simple movements, or imaginations of those movements in space, bringing new abilities but in cohesive and intuitive way.  For me this is a way of abstractly simulating movements of the everyday life, the ways we move around, investigate and fulfill our goals as we go from place to place, idealistically led on by our curiosity or desire. Taking away a competitive nature of play by just having exploration as the main driver, in this way simulating and playing out structures of desire which do not rely on competition and hierarchies.  

 I have formed a music apparatus that is based around these interactions, In a way to augment music making, taking it from something encrypted through complicated interfaces and documentation, and trying to form it into an intuitive and playful experience. This restructuring balances the agency of the users, limiting those with greater understanding of music whilst increasing that of the naive user, still allowing lots of room for creativity and freedom no mater their place on this spectrum.  It also allows us to imagine sound making in a more explorative way, instead of restrained by its physical constraints or evolutionary structure.  

I am still breaking down/building up this narrative to help develop the game. I think it has been helpful to my understanding and perception of the game, thinking about it in a wider scenario and its possible implications to a wider audience socially and politically. I think there is still more to develop and some of the mechanisms that I was breaking down may be a bit too abstract to be relatable, but I can work on that. 


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