Games provide insight into society, culture, Flanagan says

Most mainstream video games do not involve shooting memories with “coping mechanisms” such as beer bottles and romance novels. But Mary Flanagan, an associate professor of film and media studies at Hunter College, discussed this game and others she has created in her lecture, “The Video Game as an Expressive Medium,” on Monday in the Haldeman Center.

Flanagan’s visit to Dartmouth was part of the College’s search for someone to fill a new faculty chair position, according to Mark Williams, chair of Film and Television Studies at Dartmouth. Williams did not specify the position in question.

Flanagan focused her lecture on the evolution of video games and the medium’s changing impact on society. Games are a medium for self-expression and can be open to interpretation, she said.

According to Flanagan, games are a reflection of popular culture. Monopoly, for example, represents consumerism, she said, as the players are temporarily turned into real estate moguls, managing assets in order to defeat their opponents.

Flanagan said the gaming process, which includes characters, settings and modes of gameplay, can be analyzed in terms of their role in society.

“I think a lot about how to use games as a method, not an outcome,” she said.

Games are not just an experience but can also be used as a narrative, Flanigan said. From chess to The Sims, games are a form of expression, she said.

To understand how games influence patterns of thought, Flanagan created two derivatives of the playground game hopscotch. In “Foodscotch,” a player is given a food stamp and must navigate a hopscotch board in which each square has a food and a corresponding price. The player must choose a path that allows him to stay in budget. In “Bombscotch,” traditional hopscotch squares are replaced with circles whose radii relate to the number of deaths a particular bomb produced.

“One small tweak in a game can change what it means,” Flanagan said.

Flanagan added that games enable players to learn actively and help them better understand the material.

Flanagan described another game she has created as a cross between Chutes and Ladders and Operation. Instead of internal human organs, players must extract items from consumer culture, such as laptops and sports cars, from the gameboard. If a player’s tool touches the sensitive edges of the board, the voice of a female leadership counselor shouts phrases like, “Stand straight when you talk to your superiors.” The ladders represent an employment scale where each player begins as a waitress and works her way around the board to higher-paying occupations.

In contrast to traditional games, this game has no determinate ending. Instead, players must decide upon a suitable end. Flanagan said adults generally choose to assume the CEO position, while children feel the player with the most items is the winner.

“People can do their own kind of authorship,” Flanagan said.

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