Mary Flanagan

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Mary Flanagan


Mary Flanagan works as an artist, scientist, and humanist. Her groundbreaking explorations in these arenas represent an innovative use of methods, tools, and technologies to bind research with cultural production. Known for her theories on playculture, activist design, and critical play, Flanagan has achieved international acclaim for her novel interdisciplinary work, her commitment to a theory/practice dialogue, and contributions to social justice design arenas. Her research examines the boundaries between the personal and the public, perception, power, and what technology can teach people about themselves.

Using the formal language of the computer program or game to create systems which interrogate seemingly mundane experiences such as writing email, using search engines, playing video games, or saving data to the hard drive, Flanagan reworks these activities to blur the line between the social uses of technology, and what these activities tell us about the technology user themselves. Her artwork ranges from game based systems to computer viruses, embodied interfaces to interactive texts; these works are exhibited internationally at venues including the Laboral Art Center, Whitney, SIGGRAPH, Beall Center, The Banff Centre, The Moving Image Center, Steirischer Herbst, Ars Electronica, Artist’s Space, Guggenheim, Incheon Digital Arts Festival, and and venues in Brazil, France, UK, Canada, Taiwan, New Zealand, and Australia.

As a researcher, she focuses on popular culture, digital studies, and computer games to look at issues of representation, behavior, equity, and process. In the field of creative writing, Flanagan is known as a writer of electronic literature, and she is also a poet, with work in The Iowa Review, Barrow Street, Saranac Review, and other books & periodicals. She has written more than 20 critical essays on digital art, cyberculture, and gaming in periodicals such as Art Journal, Wide Angle, Intelligent Agent, Convergence, and Culture Machine, as well as several books. Her books in English include reload: rethinking women + cyberculture (2002), re:SKIN (2007), and the most recent, Critical Play (2009), all with MIT Press. She writes about popular culture and digital media such as computer games, virtual agents, and online spaces in order to understand how they affect and reflect culture. She is also co-author with Matteo Bittanti of Similitudini. Simboli. Simulacri ( SIMilarities, Symbols, Simulacra ) on The Sims game (in Italian, Unicopli 2003).

In her design practice, Flanagan is the creator of “The Adventures of Josie True,” the first web-based adventure game for girls, and researches and creates socially conscious games, urban games, and software in the theory/practice laboratory she founded in 2003, Tiltfactor, focused on the design of activist and socially-conscious software.

Mary Flanagan holds MFA and MA degrees from the University of Iowa, a BA in Film from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a Ph.D. in Computational Media focusing on game design from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London. Flanagan’s work has been supported by commissions, the NEH, the ACLS, and she has been PI or co-PI on six National Science Foundation research grants. She is the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities at Dartmouth College.

Flanagan is the founder of techARTS, a not-for-profit program in Buffalo to encourage girls’ use of technology by exploring the arts with computers.


See: Critical Play: Radical Game Design