Mary Flanagan

Professor of Film and Media Studies
Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities

Mary Flanagan, the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities at Dartmouth College, is a leading innovator, artist, educator and designer, whose works have included everything from game-inspired art, to commercial games that shift people’s thinking about biases and stereotypes. Her interest in play and culture led to her acclaimed book, Critical Play, with MIT Press (2009). Her fifth academic book, Values at Play in Digital Games (with philosopher Helen Nissenbaum, MIT 2014), demonstrates that thinking about values is a key to innovation. Flanagan established the internationally recognized game research laboratory Tiltfactor ( in 2003 to invent "humanist" games and take on social through games. At Tiltfactor, designers create and research catchy games that teach or transform “under the radar” using psychological principles.

[show more]

Flanagan has been an American Council of Learned Societies fellow, a Brown Foundation Fellow, and a MacDowell Colony Fellow. Flanagan's digitally driven artworks and installations have been shown internationally at venues including the Laboral Art Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art, SIGGRAPH, Beall Center, Steirischer Herbst, Ars Electronica, Artist's Space, The Guggenheim New York, Gigantic Art Space, and others. Her many essays and articles on digital culture have appeared in periodicals and books ranging in fields from game studies to cultural studies to computer science. 

In 2016 Flanagan was awarded the Vanguard award from Games for Change. Flanagan holds an honorary doctorate in design from the Illinois Institute of Technology. In 2015 Flanagan was awarded the Higher Education Video Games Alliance award for "advancing theory & research" in the field of game studies. Flanagan has a PhD from Central St Martins, University of the Arts in London and in 2016 was awarded an honorary doctorate in design from The Illinois Institute of Technology.  She 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, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (with Digital Mill), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and more.


Flanagan is known as a lively public speaker who gives several keynote talks a year and travels for many invited lectures at events such as TEDx; Business Innovation Factory; Games, Learning and Society; IndieCade, Vienna Games Conference; Women in Games; and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She has given invited talks at MIT, the Game Developer’s Conference, Microsoft Research, USC, NYU, Georgia Tech, University of Toronto, Games for Change, SIGGRAPH, the Smithsonian, and many international venues.

Follow Flanagan @criticalplay; visit the Tiltactor laboratory:; and visit her personal home page:


[show less]
Twitter Instagram
205 Black Family Visual Arts Center
HB 6194
Film and Media Studies
The John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding
B.A. University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee
M.A. University of Iowa
M.F.A. University of Iowa
Ph.D. Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, University of the Arts, London

Selected Publications


Mary Flanagan and Helen Nissenbaum, Values at Play in Digital Games (MIT 2014)

Mary Flanagan, Critical Play: Radical Game Design (MIT 2009)

Mary Flanagan and Austin Booth, eds. re:Skin (MIT 2007)

Mary Flanagan and Austin Booth, eds. Reload: Rethinking Women in Cyberculture (MIT 2002)


Kaufman, Geoff and Flanagan, Mary. “Playing the System: Comparing the Efficacy and Impact of Digital and Non-digital Versions of a Collaborative Strategy Game.” Proceedings of the Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) 2016.

Kaufman, Geoff, Mary Flanagan, & Sukdith Punjasthitkul, “Investigating the Impact of ‘Emphasis Frames’ and Social Loafing on Player Motivation and Performance in a Crowdsourcing Game,” Proceedings of CHI 2016.

Kaufman, Geoff, and Flanagan, Mary. “High-Low Split: Divergent Cognitive Construal Levels Triggered by Digital and Non-digital Platforms,” Proceedings of CHI 2016.

Kaufman, G., Flanagan, M.  "A Psychologically “Embedded” Approach to Designing Games for Prosocial Causes." Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, Special Issue on Videogames, 9(3), article 5. doi: 10.5817/CP2015-3-5

Kaufman, G., Flanagan, M., Seidman, M., & Wien, S. “RePlay Health: An experiential role-playing sport for modeling health care decisions, policies, and outcomes.”  Games for Health Journal.  (2015).

Manzo, C., Kaufman, G., Punjasthitkul, S., and Flanagan, M. “Folksonomies to Libraries and Back Again: Assessing the Value of Crowdsourced, User-Generated Metadata,” Digital Humanities Quarterly (2015).

Kaufman, G. and Flanagan, M. “Lost in Translation:  Comparing the Impact of an Analog and Digital Version of a Public Health Game on Players’ Perceptions, Attitudes, and Cognitions.” Intnl Journal of Games & Computer Mediated Simulations 5(3) 2013, 1-9.

Flanagan, M. & Carini, P. (2012). “How games can help us access and understand cultural artifacts.” American Archivist 75(2), 514-37. 

Belman, J., Flanagan, M., and Nissenbaum, H. “Exploring the Creative Potential of Values Conscious Design: Students’ Experiences with the VAP Curriculum.” Eludamos: The Journal for Computer Game Culture 4(1) 2010.

Belman, J. & Flanagan, M. “Designing Games to Foster Empathy.” Cognitive Technology 14(2) 2010, 5-15.





[Help Me Know The Truth] (software and installation)
“Monsters in the Machine” exhibition, LABORAL arts center, Asturias Spain in November 2016

[mapscotch] (bombscotch) (Installation) Free Play exhibition, Touring: Museum London in London, ON, Canada from January 30, 2016 - May 8, 2016; The Rooms, Provincial Art Gallery Division in St. John's, NL, Canada from May 27, 2016 - August 28, 2016; Parsons' Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at The New School in New York City, NY



[borders] series PLAYGROUNDS, Redline Collective Denver CO  July

[mapscotch] (bombscotch) (Installation) Free Play exhibition, Touring:  College of Wooster Art Museum Curated by Melissa E. Feldman January 18, 2015 - March 6; Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in Victoria, BC, Canada from April 25, 2015 - August 3, 2015; Handwerker Gallery, Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY from Oct 1, 2015 - Nov 6, 2015



Play Your Place: Play South Westminster (Public Art Video Game in collaboration with Ruth Catlow as Local Play UK) Tate Britain, British Folk Art Exhibition July 2014

[borders] (Video Installation) FILE Machinima in FILE 2014 - Electronic Language International Festival, FIESP Cultural Center, São Paulo Aug 25 to Oct 05, 2014

[map-puzzle 1: treasure island] (Puzzle) Dime Bag 4: exhibition at The End is Near, Brooklyn July

[mapscotch] (Installation) Free Play exhibition at Arcadia University Art Gallery, Glenside PA Curated by Melissa E. Feldman

[borders] (Video Installation) Digital Zoo exhibition UK (Touring 5 cities) Feb – July including London, Sunderland, Leeds

[buffalo] (Board Game) Doing it on the Table: An Exhibition of Board Games by Digital Designers, Game Developers Conference, San Francisco March



[pile of secrets] (Video Installation) ZKM_Gameplay Mobile, Representing of the State of Baden-Württemberg, Berlin Nov- Dec

[borders] Series (video installation) Media Arts Dortmund, Cologne November

[borders] Series (video installation) Machinigglitch, ARCADE, Festival Gamerz 9, Aix on Provence France

Layoff (Computer Game) The Games of Art, Block Gallery Queensland Australia 23 July -2 August

Play Your Place: Play Southend (Public Art Video Game in collaboration with Ruth Catlow as Local Play UK) Launching at the METAL Village Green Festival, UK July 2013

[mapscotch] (Public Street Game) Free Play, ICI, Henry Gallery Seattle June




Flanagan, Mary. “An Alternate History of Wargaming.” Zones of Control. Pat Harrigan and Matthew Kirschenbaum, eds. (MIT Press 2016), pp 703-707.

Flanagan, Mary. “Critical Play: The Productive Paradox.” Blackwell Companion to Digital Art, ed. Christiane Paul New York: Blackwell, 2016, pp. 445-460.

Flanagan, Mary. “The Ludification of Culture  & Playful Aesthetics.” Gameful World, Ed. S. Walz and Sebastian Deterding. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2015.

Flanagan, Mary. “The Bride Stripped Bare.” Reprinted in: Feminist and Queer Information Studies Reader, edited by Patrick Keilty and Rebecca Dean. Sacramento, CA: Litwin Books, 2013.

Flanagan, Mary. “Play, Participation, and Art: Blurring the Edges.” Context Providers. Eds. Margot Lovejoy, Christiane Paul, Victoria Vesna. Chicago: U. of Chicago Press (Intellect Press), 2011.

Belman, Jonathan, Flanagan, Mary, Nissenbaum, Helen, & Diamond, James. “Grow-A-Game: A Tool for Values Conscious Design & Analysis of Digital Games.” Ethics in Computer Games & Cinema, ed. Jose Zagal. San Diego: Cognella, 2011.

Flanagan, Mary. “Creating Critical Play” Artists Re:Thinking Games. Eds Ruth Catlow, Marc Garrett, and Corrado Morgana. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010, 49-53.

Speaking engagements

Selected Talks


“Connected Play,” Oxford Internet Institute's Connected Life conference Oxford UK 21 June

“Critical Games,” Berkeley Center for New Media's History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series March 

“Critical Play and Embedded Design,” Carnegie Mellon February

“Identity in Gaming,” Teacher’s College at Columbia University, Sexuality Women and Gender project and the Office of Diversity Affairs at Teachers College February


 “Games that Change the World:  What’s Possible?” Bergen Norway Public Library, September

“Ludics Seminar,” Department of the Classics, Harvard University September

“Embedded Design for Social Innovation,” Segal Design Institute on December 2nd to give a talk in the Segal Seminar Series, December

“Creating a #CrowdCON,” Engaging the Public: Best Practices for Crowdsourcing Across the Disciplines. University of Maryland 6-8 May

“The Psychology of Interventionist Design,” School of Visual Arts, March

“Humanist Games: Playful Systems for Critical Thinking,” Fordham Univ. Inaugural Digital Media Lecture Series March 2015

“Diversity in Audience, Diversity in Creators,” IndieCade East Keynote Talk, American Museum of the Moving Image 15 Feb 2015


"Values at Play in Smart Technologies,” University of Toronto September2014

“Games as a Medium,” Games and Gambits in Contemporary Art Panel, College Art Association NYC February 2014    

“Freedom at Play in Digital Games,” Keynote Talk at the Philosophy of Computer Games 2014 Istanbul 13-15 November 2014

“Who Plays?” RE:Humanities’14: Play, Power, Production Keynote Talk Haverford College April 2014

“How to Think,” Panel, Game Developer’s Conference: Education Summit, San Francisco March

“Teaching Games with Games: Eight Exercises in Play,” Panel, Game Developer’s Conference: Education Summit, San Francisco March

“Games and Gender-Based Violence,” Games for Change Conference NYC April 2014

“Games for Social Change 2.0,” Games for Change Conference NYC April 2014

“Playing with your Metadata,” WebWise, Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Innovation Conference, Baltimore February 2014

“Making a Difference in and through Playful Design,” Computer Supported Cooperative Work Annual Conference (ACM) Baltimore February 2014

"Humanist Inquiry through Critical Play: Designing and Enacting our Enduring Questions, MIT Comparative Media Studies January 2014



“Designing and Researching Games to Reduce Stereotypes and Biases: A Psychological Approach,” Workshop at Games, Learning and Society Madison WI 13 June 2013

“The Psychology of Games For Change,” Association of Professional Futurists Orlando April 2014

“Game Design Curriculum Deathmatch,” Game Developer’s Conference, Education Summit, March 2013

“Playful Aesthetics,” Video Games Panel, Modern Language Assn Annual Convention Boston January 2013

Works in progress

Expert in games for creative expression and social impact using psychological methods. Exhibits at museums and festivals worldwide. Research includes novel ways to address public health, equity, and knowledge creation using games and related systems design. Developed the Values at Play design methodology featured in Values at Play in Digital Games (MIT 2014) with phlosopher Helen Nissenbaum.