The Book

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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.

Comments on Values at Play

“Values at Play in Digital Games gives the reader a powerful set of tools for examining the cultural, ethical, and political meanings of video games, and reminds us that a consideration of the values embodied in digital play is an integral part of the game design process.”
Richard Lemarchand, Associate Professor, University of Southern California; Lead Designer, Uncharted

“Values at Play in Digital Games is an invaluable toolbox for understanding the values embedded in existing games and for making new games that express the values we believe in.”
Jesper Juul, video game theorist; author of Half-Real and The Art of Failure

“Flanagan and Nissenbaum boldly step into the deep and turbulent waters of aesthetics and values in games. An essential read for designers who believe in the power of games to change minds.”
Asi Burak, President, Games for Change; Faculty at the School of Visual Arts


ACM Computing Review