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How The Magic Circle Protects Video Games
Posted on Tuesday, July 3 2007 @ 03:23:17 Eastern

"Video games are different because they are interactive."
"Movies are passive; video games are active."
"Video games are dangerous because people are actually performing violent acts, not just watching as an observer."

How many times have we heard these statements, these casually spoken sentences, from those who seek to severely restrict video games. Yet all of them ignore one crucial component: the magic circle. One core feature of playing - video games or otherwise - is that it occurs in a separate and self-contained sphere that encloses players in a spatiotemporal frame; that is, a frame that is either bounded by space or time, or both. This magic circle effectively isolates the game from the more "serious" tasks of daily living. For a sports game, this is usually the actual playing field: the baseball diamond, the Olympic stadium, the chessboard. There are sharp temporal boundaries as well, a beginning and an end that marks gameplay as a temporary interruption from daily life. It is within this closed world that games are primarily played.

The magic circle is far from being a phenomenon. When two puppies play, it is mutually understood between the two animals that though they are biting and tackling each other, in an actively aggressive mode, that they are not going for the kill. Even the temple or church is a sacred area in which religious ceremonies occur within that confined space, where worshippers practice some forms of behavior that is only appropriate for the duration of the ceremony. For video games, this space is confined by the actual ruleset governing them. That the rules are meant to be balanced and fair to all players - an idealistic and special world - separates the video game from the hardly fair and idealistic world that we all live in.

In fact, this element of fair play within the magic circle presents a serious issue of morals in players, especially online players who frequently deal with cheap tactics or immoral behavior. When certain players step out of bounds, or hack into the system to give themselves an advantage, it disrupts the agreed-upon conventions and rules by which the entire gaming community is held. Usually, moderators have to come in and resolve such abuse, but more often than not, this develops from the reactions of many more numerous players, taken as a whole, who desire justice against these "lawbreakers."

Thus, it is only under the rare occurence when people are unaware of the magic circle that problems occur. The magic circle is meant to serve as a hidden protective shield that supplies a safe and reliable gratification of human drives, but it breaks down when the players themselves are unaware of it. Believing that the reality of Doom extends to the reality of regular life is as dangerous as biting someone's ear off during a boxing match. This is the primary reason why children, many of whom have undeveloped lines of what is acceptable in a game as opposed to real life, are restricted to buying games.

However, interactive, violent, and active video games - like nearly all (if not all) forms of media - naturally exist in a bubble. Games naturally presuppose that players are consciously aware of the game's objectives and rules, and play, even in its most primitive sense, imply this intuitive understanding. Indeed, video games are pleasurable on the fundamental basis that they are make-believe. Thus, no matter how engrossing video games become, they are bound by the force that makes them engrossing in the first place.

Hey, the magic circle ain't magical for nothing.

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