Books  |  ,   |  July 1, 2014

Values at Play in Digital Games

By Mary Flanagan and Helen Nissenbaum.
Published by MIT Press.
224 pages.

All games express and embody human values, providing a compelling arena in which we play out beliefs and ideas. “Big ideas” such as justice, equity, honesty, and cooperation—as well as other kinds of ideas, including violence, exploitation, and greed—may emerge in games whether designers intend them or not. In this book, Mary Flanagan and Helen Nissenbaum present Values at Play, a theoretical and practical framework for identifying socially recognized moral and political values in digital games. Values at Play can also serve as a guide to designers who seek to implement values in the conception and design of their games.

After developing a theoretical foundation for their proposal, Flanagan and Nissenbaum provide detailed examinations of selected games, demonstrating the many ways in which values are embedded in them. They introduce the Values at Play heuristic, a systematic approach for incorporating values into the game design process. Interspersed among the book’s chapters are texts by designers who have put Values at Play into practice by accepting values as a design constraint like any other, offering a real-world perspective on the design challenges involved.

Table of Contents

Part I. Understanding values at play

  • Groundwork for values in games
  • Uncovering values at play
  • Game elements: the language of values — with Jonathan Belman

Part II. The values at play heuristic

  • Overview of the heuristic
  • Discovery: the power of values — Frank Lantz
  • Implementation: values of game hardware — Kyle Rentschler
  • Verification

Part III. Values at play at work.

  • Inspiring designers: developing a reflective design process — Tracy Fullerton
  • Playing (and designing) with values through board game modification — Celia Pearce
  • A brief participatory intervention for understanding values at play — Karen Schrier
  • Reflections on values at play.

About the Authors

  • Mary Flanagan is Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities, Director of the Tiltfactor game research laboratory, and Professor in the Department of Film and Media Studies at Dartmouth College. She is the author of Critical Play: Radical Game Design (MIT Press).
  • Helen Nissenbaum is Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication and Computer Science at New York University, where she is Director of the Information Law Institute.