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Part-time overseas (based USA)

* Mary's SMARTLAB PhD thesis, PLAYCULTURE

Mary Flanagan was born in 1969 in Milwaukee.
She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and studied film studies and experimental filmmaking. Currently Flanagan's creative work focuses on networked/computer based art, installation, and game design. Flanagan's work has been shown internationally at venues including the Whitney Museum of American Art's Artport, the Moving Image Centre in Auckland, DataTerra: All Star Data Mappers, Sydney, Central Fine Arts Gallery, New York, the Guggenheim Gallery Online at Chapman University, University of Arizona, University of Colorado at Boulder, New York Hall of Science, and the Whitney Museum of American Art 2002 Biennial.
As a maker and a theorist, Flanagan's essays on digital art, cyberculture, and gaming have appeared in periodicals such as Art Journal, Wide Angle, Convergence, and Culture Machine, as well as several books. Her co-edited collection _reload: rethinking women + cyberculture_ with Austin Booth was published by MIT Press in 2002, and _reskinning_ is scheduled for 2004 from MIT. She is also the creator of “The Adventures of Josie True,” the first web-based adventure game for girls, and is collaborating on a new game to teach Java programming to girls. Her projects have been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Pacific Cultural Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Flanagan was also a producer/designer at Human Code, an Austin based software developer, garnering over 20 international awards for titles produced for The Discovery Channel, Creative Wonders/ABC, and Knowledge Adventure.
Flanagan has taught digital art and cybercultural studies at SUNY Buffalo, Concordia University (Montreal), and the University of Oregon. She currently teaches at Hunter College in Manhattan and lives and works in New York.

The research themes for /Playculture: developing a feminist game design/ grew out of an avid interest in computer games and networked culture, and also, a serious concern for the challenging assumptions embodied within such popular cultural constructions, especially in regard to normative behaviour and empowerment. Let me first define the term 'playculture', which was specifically created from this research endeavour. Playculture is a contested arena of ordinary, day-to-day computer-based activities that have passed as invisible and unimportant, even left out of, historical accounts of everyday life. It is, however, particularly important, given the proliferation of computers in both the work and home domains of the general public (in the 'developed world', at least), to note the migration of 'play' from the dollhouse to the virtual house, and the concurrent shift of the performance of public life from the 'stage' of the traditional town square or church, to the new performance space of the internet portal.

Online systems and computer games, by repeatedly constructing particular systems of meaning and symbolism and by facilitating social interaction, can be described as cultures both in and of themselves, as well as products that reflect the physical, psychological, ethical, and social realities of the cultures which construct them. Here I describe 'playculture' as a pervasive condition instead of a place, cultivated by the peculiar mix of work and play that technology has facilitated. This
mixture is strongly influenced by the presence of computer games.
The main goal of this major study of playculture is to create a feminist game design methodology. As I will demonstrate, computer games are part of a larger cultural phenomenon. Computers themselves have permeated almost every level of contemporary social life, and they influence mass media such as music and film.
The computer is a portal to digital culture, however, not just a tool. That portal is essential to women and girls, who are at an unequal position in terms of technological experience and ranking in technological fields.

In this thesis, I specifically explore the ways in which everyday computing tools and games in playculture are destabilised by female participants, particularly in the geographical context of the United States. Playculture, I will argue, is not only characterised by the blending of work and play, but in addition, by two key characteristics introduced by computer users themselves: first, the way in which participants engage in acts of subversion; and second, the way in which interactors perform in such sites rather than their actual location, space, or representation.

I utilise a feminist approach (detailed a bit further on) to look at ways in which female participants historically have worked against social systems by engaging in play practices, thereby helping to
formulate such a playculture. These practices take place in the space of the everyday and there are important historical precedents for this behaviour. For example, girls 'hacked' domestic norms through doll-play in the 19th Century. Women artists subverted the art world itself in the 20th Century in both the forms of the artwork and the delivery of such works. Female participants in online groups such as friendship networks or online work environments also practise the subversion of such systems by creating artificial identities and playful scenarios. Women digital
artists working at the margins of popular computer culture frequently use play as intervention in their work.

I responded to these themes by creating four practice-based projects, and, by using a feminist methodological approach along the way, I worked iteratively on various key points of subversion and play.
I ended the thesis work by postulating a feminist game design model, and articulate a checklist for the development of feminist games. I have proposed the use of this methodology as a tool for others to practice feminist intervention in digital culture.

The methods demonstrated in the thesis research are drawn from three overall approaches: feminism (historical, comparative, theoretical, practice), game design (drawing on work from conceptual artists as well as game designers), and intervention-disruption (with an emphasis on
social change). I have developed a feminist methodology for game design intervention based on these iterations.


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