Video games have often been used to parody or satirize social conventions. Whether it’s something as simple as recreating a shoe being thrown at George Bush or a satirical representation of how to operate a Fast Food chain, these games use the power of interaction to make their commentary more tangible. People have been making up games and playing this way for centuries. An excellent book by Mary Flanagan, Critical Play, explores the history of this practice and outlines several criteria for assessing games that are critically engaging an aspect of society. She writes, “Critical play means to create or occupy play environments and activities that represent one or more questions about aspects of human life . . . Criticality in play can be fostered in order to question an aspect of a game’s “content,” or an aspect of a play scenario’s function that might otherwise be considered a given or necessary” (6).
Something like the McDonald’s Game (cited above) is a good example of both content criticism and a questionable system. It takes a business sim and uses that system to outline the corruption of a corporation. The only way to “win” the game is to be corrupt, and all of the content uses modern examples and recognizable parodies to do so. That’s a unique example though, most games are either criticizing the content placed in their system or criticizing the system itself by inducing absurd behavior. Flanagan goes on to explain critical play through one of the original forms of critical play via doll houses, “The enactment of critical play exhibits at least three kinds of action: unplaying, re-dressing or reskinning, and rewriting” (32). “Unplaying” is acting out forbidden scenes with the doll. “Re-dressing” is changing the doll’s appearance or items for darker play, like making funeral items and caskets. “Rewriting” is fan fiction and the proliferation of people writing stories about the doll funerals.