Mary Flanagan is a writer and artist whose practice(s) extend into science, design, psychology, and futures studies. Her encompassing work in theory and criticism, with a wide range of essays and books on digital culture, is in constant dialogue with her use of digital and material platforms to create dynamic, constantly evolving systems that reflect cultural questions and trigger reflection.
She is the author of the book Critical Play: Radical Game Design, the poetry collection Ghost Sentence, co-author of Values at Play in Digital Games and Similitudini. Simboli. Simulacri, and co-editor of the collections Reload: Rethinking Women in Cyberculture and Re:Skin. Her essays and articles have appeared in Salon, USA Today, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Huffington Post.
Her internationally recognized artwork utilizes a wide range of media including software, electronics, sculpture, prints, games, and performance . Flanagan is best known for creating computer-based installations and long term performances across Europe, Asia and America. Using game systems, real-time computer graphics, computational linguistics, internet links, operating systems, emails, interfaces, scientific research, and videos, her work seeks to explore the anxious and profound relationship between technological systems and human experience and interrupt the accepted norms in computer-defined culture by providing “critical play” with the way we commonly read, think, and play. These result in game-inspired systems to computer viruses, embodied interfaces to interactive texts exhibited internationally at such venues as The Whitney Museum, The Guggenheim, Tate Britain, and museums in Spain, New Zealand, South Korea and Australia; the work and is featured in public and private collections, including The Whitney Museum and ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medien Germany. In 2018, Flanagan won the Award of Distinction at Prix Ars Electronica in the Interactive art+.
Flanagan is the recipient of the American Council of Learned Societies Digital Innovation Fellowship, the Thoma Foundation 2018 Arts Writing Award in Digital Art, and has been awarded residencies with the Brown Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, Bogliasco, and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in 2019. Flanagan has lectured widely including at Oxford, Cornell, Trinity College, Columbia, Harvard, and the Sorbonne. She was recently a John Paul Getty Museum Scholar, a Senior Scholar in Residence at Cornell Society for the Humanities, and Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Jackman Humanities Institute. In 2016 she was honored as a ‘Vanguard’ from Games for Change and received Honoris Causa in Design, Illinois Institute of Technology. Flanagan was one of the 2018 invited cultural leaders at the World Economic Forum at Davos for her leadership in crafting values-centered technologies. Flanagan has served on the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Academic Consortium on Games for Impact, and her work has been supported by commissions and grants including The British Arts Council, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Justice, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Flanagan’s engagement with science is a defining influence in her work. She consistently refers to her studio as a laboratory, and for 15 years has led an interventionist art project that follows the rigorous scientific methods of a psychological game research laboratory, Tiltfactor.org. She founded Resonym.com, publisher of board games and ephemera.
Mary Flanagan is the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of Digital Humanities at Dartmouth College.
She’s given keynotes to groups ranging from the Association of Professional Futurists to Computer Supported Cooperative Work, from Philosophy of Computer Games to Games Learning and Society, from the experimental STRP Festival to Women in Games. Flanagan holds a PhD from Central St Martins, University of the Arts in London. Find her: @criticalplay on twitter; @critical.play on instagram. www.tiltfactor.org; www.maryflanagan.com
Perspective on Flanagan’s work: Arts
Mary Flanagan’s studio work plays with the anxious and profound relationship between technological systems and human experience, exploring how our data, rule systems, and context of play represent human fears and desires and their impact. Flanagan’s approach to games and technological systems occupy both onscreen space as well as physical spaces and actions, moving away from the screen to push reflection regarding familiar relationships to play, politics, and the personal.
Mary Flanagan is the founding director of the research laboratory and design studio TILTFACTOR, the first game-focused research lab to take on the psychological underpinnings of social change. She is the founder of the publishing company Resonym. Flanagan is a cross-disciplinary designer, systems thinker, artist, writer, and maker of experimental and emerging forms, working to design for change in learning, public health, social challenges such as bias, and sustainability using community action, crowdsourcing, and play. Flanagan develops and utilizes novel creative methods to tackle problems from left field, showing how change emerges by shifting psychological mindsets. She helps groups ranging from physicians to theme park designers to arctic scientists encounter their impact potential and use what she calls ‘evidence based design’ to change minds about the worlds most pressing problems. By creating apps, physical games, tools, scenarios, essays, and large scale experiments, she works to transform old systems and imagine the new.
Perspective on Flanagan’s work: Writing
Mary Flanagan has written or edited six books and works across genres including academic writing, poetry, and fiction. Her book Critical Play is standard-issue reading for those interested in, or studying, computer games and establishes the link between art history and contemporary game design. Mary Flanagan, the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of Digital Humanities at Dartmouth College, is also a well-known game designer with over 30 games to her credit. Her fourth acclaimed book, Critical Play (MIT 2009) revealed the incredible art history of games; Values at Play in Digital Games (with philosopher Helen Nissenbaum, MIT 2014), demonstrates that thinking about values in games is key to innovation. She has written more than 50 critical essays and chapters, and her books in English include reload: rethinking women + cyberculture (2002), The Sims: Similitudini, Simboli & Simulacri (2003, with Matteo Bittanti), re:SKIN (2007), Critical Play (2009), Values at Play in Digital Games (2014) with philosopher Helen Nissenbaum, all with MIT Press. A book with Mikael Jakobsson with the working title Playing Oppression is currently in development.
In the field of creative writing, Flanagan is known as a writer of electronic literature, poetry, and fiction, with work in FENCE, The Iowa Review, The Pinch, Barrow Street, Heavy Feather Review, and other books & periodicals.Ghost Sentence, a volume of her poems, was released at the end of 2017 and uses constraint-based systems in its construction.
Flanagan’s work has been showcased in The Atlantic and repeatedly on National Public Radio, and she is widely known as an expert on matters related to games and digital culture.
Interview: Insert the poetic where we’d least expect it, about electronic writing and poetry by Eric Goddard-Scovel
A radio interview for FM4, as part of the 2011 Salzburg Global Seminar, “Health and Healthcare Series III, Innovating for Value in Health Care Delivery: Better Cross-Border Learning, Smarter Adaptation and Adoption”
My creative practice investigates human relationships with systems — technological, representational, linguistic, natural, social—as they relate to human desires. I explore the anxious and profound relationship among technology, play, authorship, and human experience. Intersections with mundane aspects of everyday life are particularly of interest; therefore, games, computer viruses, search engines, email — seemingly ordinary, unnoticed phenomena — become for me extraordinary revealing artifacts. Games are of particularly ripe type of system to explore and utilize in my work. In my studio I use methods that arbitrate control (chance operations, OULIPO style algorithms) to defamiliarize myself with my own experiences of these systems, to be able to see them anew, and confront their inherent world views. I see the computer as a deep collaborator, teaching me as much as I teach it. Computer game engines, play frameworks, and networked databases are materials by which to explore the cultural impact of systems as they permeate and mediate everyday life, while it in turn daily life is continually reshaped by the systems people make.
The process of creating the work feeds from ‘net culture’ and ‘computational customs’ where flippant trends become ongoing conceptual and physical ‘truths.’ Making these works is a way of creating alternate systems to negotiate a type of peace with both the fleeting nature of the medium and its forms: the invisible nature of bits and bytes and conversely, the way these ephemeral forms forge lasting conceptual systems. Relationships of power between systems artificial and natural interest me greatly.
My investigations manifest using a variety of forms: web-based media, installation, poetry, computer applications, games, and performance. These forms are governed by rule sets that render possible worlds under constraint. Most works involve aleatoric, experiential interventions including rule systems of the oulipo variety. My goal is for the work to be as experiential as it is imagistic, and that it abides by tenets of openness and testing of form. I want to craft a challenging type of sense-making—rich forms and media that challenge absoluteness. Each work invents its own grammar and executes through associative narratives in images and collisions. Like Duchamp, I call my work ‘laboratory experiments’: a blend of research, process, procedure, and performance.