Mary Flanagan

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Mary Flanagan
Born Mary Flanagan
Nationality American
Known for Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities, Dartmouth College and Director of the Tiltfactor Lab.

Mary Flanagan is an artist, author, educator, and designer.[1][2]

Life and Academic Career[edit]

Flanagan graduated with a BA from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, earned MFA and MA degrees from the University of Iowa, and achieved her doctorate from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, UK. She studied film for her undergraduate and masters work while her PhD was in Computational Media focusing on game design.

She is the inaugural chair holder of the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professorship in Digital Humanities at Dartmouth College and the founding director of the research laboratory and design studio, Tiltfactor Lab. In 2016, she was awarded an Honoris Causa in Design from Illinois Tech. She is a recipient of the Vanguard award at Games for Change, and has been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Higher Education Video Game Alliance, the Bogliasco Foundation, and the Brown Foundation, and a distinguished scholar at The Getty Museum, Cornell University and the University of Toronto. Flanagan was also a Distinguished Visiting Artist at Georgia Institute of Technology. She served on the faculty of the Salzburg Global Seminar & the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy 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, and is Visiting Professor of Digital Culture in the Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies at the University of Bergen, Norway.[3] Flanagan has lectured at New York's Museum of Modern Art, Reina Sophia, the Getty, the Telfair Museum, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, USC, NYU, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, University of Toronto, Northwestern, Trinity College, and Oxford. 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.


Her art has been exhibited around the world and she was featured in the video game art documentary 8 BIT. Within the field of culture and technology, she is known for her theory of playculture.[4]

Flanagan's artwork deals primarily with how the design and use of technology can reveal insights into society. Other work is concerned with the representation of women in cyberculture. Her artwork has exhibited internationally at venues including The Whitney Museum of American Art, SIGGRAPH, Ars Electronica, The Guggenheim, and others.[5]

Selected Works[edit]


phage (2000) excavates the unique digital artifacts of an individual's hard drive including internet downloads, web sites visited, images and emails stored. The computer program acts as a synthetic organism, filtering through all available material and displaying the results as a floating-3D world of data.[6] video


collection uses downloadable software to scan users' hard drives, glean random files, and store the collected information on a shared server. The combined data is then displayed, creating what has been described as a virtual networked collective unconscious. It has been featured in Sydney, Barcelona, and in the 2002 Whitney Biennial.[7]


A (2003) modification of the first person shooter game Unreal Tournament 2003. Combining elements of digital narrative and video game play, Flanagan uses the games engine to create a home-like environment that conveys images relating to a significant childhood memory of hers. On her way home from church in her hometown in rural Wisconsin, she noticed smoke coming from her family's house. She frantically raced toward it knowing her father was inside. The work suggest internal turmoil rather than outward aggression by replacing physical battles with psychological ones.[8] The work is featured in the book New Media Art.[9] video


A 2009 video series documenting psychogeographic walks in virtual spaces around “virtual” historical sites. They are shown on monitors and projected in gallery space. [1] The work explores borders geographically, politically, and conceptually. The walks in [borders] are beautiful, and, as though we were transported directly into Thoreau's walking shoes, one can "glimpse Elysium,” but only as Thoreau might have: Whilst walking along, surveying the boundaries and divisions. In following virtual property lines, the walker becomes stuck in stones, sent underwater, and literally teeters at the edge of the world, thus exposing the algorithmic nature of the rendering of landscape and the invisible disruptions in a seamless world.


[xyz] (2009) combined her interests in virtual environments and interactive writing, [2] allows participants to build poetry in 2 dimensional game worlds. Player-writers navigate three different worlds, each representing one axis and containing 1/3 of a larger text. As the players construct stanzas they are projected onto a central screen combining the three disparate texts into one new work. video

[][edit] is a 2-channel video installation with a large double-sided projection screen. It explores the Utopian global city Songdo in South Korea and was created using the popular computer game The Sims 2. The work represents the beauty of the mundane including the programming side and everyday life.[10]


[giantJoystick] giantJoystick (2006) a ten-foot-tall working joystick designed for collaborative play of Atari 2600 games. Among other exhibitions, it has appeared in the 2007 Feedback show at the Laboral Art Center, Spain[11] and at the Beall Center in Los Angeles. video

[pile of secrets][edit]

A video series exploring the question of “what makes a game a game?” The work premiered at the Next Level Festival in Köln, Germany on 4 November 2011. Four works premiered at the festival: "Jump", "Ascend", "Corridor", and "Treasure". For "What is a Game but a Pile of Secrets," she captured several terabytes of video imagery from computer games published from 1980 to the present, in order to answer the question she had posed.


Based on her PhD dissertation, the book Critical Play: Radical Game Design (MIT Press, 2009) examines how artists and activists throughout history have used games as instruments for social critique.[12] re:skin (MIT Press, 2007), a book Flanagan edited With Austin Booth, is collection of fiction and theory exploring technology, interfaces, and the body. Similitudini. Simboli. Simulacri (SIMilarities, Symbols, Simulacra) (Edizioni Unicopli, 2003), a book she co-authored with Matteo Bittanti, investigates the fan culture of The Sims. Finally, Reload: Rethinking Women and Cyberculture (MIT Press, 2002) was also co-edited with Austin Booth and addresses gender issues in both fictional and real-life cyber-culture.][13] Flanagan has also contributed to a number of academic journals, anthologies, and conference proceedings. Values at Play in Digital Games (MIT Press, 2014) with Helen Nissenbaum features a collection of guest writers including Frank Lantz, Celia Pearce, Tracy Fullerton, and more. Recent research explores the psychology of change in games.

Flanagan is also a poet, with poems published in journals such as The Pinch, Barrow Street, The Iowa Review.


When Flanagan founded Tiltfactor at Hunter College in 2003, it was the only game research lab in New York City. Focusing on socially conscious and innovative game design, Tiltfactor develops games for social issues such as changing biases and stereotypes, addressing public health, and using the power of games to transform institutions. The research lab is based at Dartmouth College and continues its mission to design, understand, and promote transformative games in all of their myriad forms: sports, car/board games, apps, locative media, and more.


  1. ^ "Biography of Mary Flanagan." Cyborg Anthropology. Cyborg Anthropology, 5 Nov. 2011. Web.
  2. ^ "Mary Flanagan." Board Game Geek. BoardGameGeek, LLC, n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2015.
  3. ^ [Faculty page for Mary Flanagan at the University of Bergen website.[permanent dead link]]
  4. ^ "Mary Flanagan and Her Thesis, 'Play Culture.'" DocSMARTs: PhD in the SMARTlab Digital Media Institute. University of East London, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
  5. ^ "Mary Flanagan & Andrew Gerngross". FILE. Retrieved 2016-02-27. 
  6. ^ "Virtual Exhibitors - Mary Flanagan." Through the Looking Glass. Voyd, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
  7. ^ "[collection] | MARY FLANAGAN". Retrieved 2016-02-26. 
  8. ^ Tribe, Mark; Jana, Reena. New Media Art. Taschen. ISBN 3822830410. 
  9. ^ "Mary Flanagan, 'domestic.'" The Brown University Wiki Service. Brown University, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.
  10. ^ Flanagan, Mary. "Perfect City". Retrieved 7 April 2015. 
  11. ^ "Feedback in Spain." The Thing, Inc., n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
  12. ^ Mosher, Michael R. "Review of 'Critical Play: Radical Game Design.'" Archived 2015-04-19 at the Wayback Machine. Leonardo Reviews Online. Leonardo, 4 Jan. 2010. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
  13. ^ Mosher, Michael R. "Review of 'Reload: Rethinking Women + Cyberculture.'" Leonardo Reviews Online. Leonardo, 4 Jan. 2010. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.

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