Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Getting into the gamer's mind Part II - The Magic Circle

Last night I spent an hour playing with my husband while the fireflies danced outside the window. We were playing Marvel Dice Masters, and I lost because I misread his defense, and I didn't have enough strong characters in my bag.

I've been called a gamer*, because I play games as an adult. I often play with groups of other gamers at events (such as “game day at the library”) or at conventions (Ubercon, GenCon, etc.). By going to these events I get to try new games, play old ones and generally just have a good time.

I find it interesting that no matter how often I go to these events, that I meet new people, spend hours and hours of time, and I don’t make friends. Well, actually I have made friends at these things but it’s rare; it only comes from extraordinary effort. Thinking back to my days in college, when I played games with a group for years and years, I hardly got to know anything about them. When I finally moved and stopped going, I never contacted any of them again.

I see here a dichotomy. On the one side I've seen groups of gamers who are the most welcoming and inclusive people I've ever met. At the gaming groups there are no judgments; it doesn't matter what I look like, no matter how I speak or how I act, pretty much everyone and anyone is welcome at the gaming table. On the other side; there’s not a lot of actual communication going on outside of the games, and it can be nearly impossible to make a connection with another person. I think this dichotomy relates to an idea that a friend told me about, the 'Magic Circle'.

When we play a game, we create a Magic Circle around the game. Actions are taken in the Circle, and there are no consequences outside of the Circle, as long as we follow the game rules. It’s called the Magic Circle because no matter how hard I ‘hit’ you and how many times you ‘kill’ me in the game, when we stop playing all of that hitting and killing is magically gone.

Also, when in the Magic Circle we are not ourselves. You and I cease to be the people we are, and instead become 'player 1' and 'player 2'. I can be mean, or I can be silly, or nice; I can pretend to be a queen or a vampire. Everything stays within the game.

Although I spend tons of time with these people, I'm not doing it as myself, and neither are the other players. Putting myself into the other gamer's shoes; if I'm sitting at the game table and a new person arrives (who I might make friends with) firstly, I have to remove all expectations of who they are based on how they look. This is because I want to get to know their ‘in game’ person, which could be completely different from the exterior person I see before me. I believe that's why we gamers can be so open; it's a necessary part of the gaming environment.

However, this also means that I'm not making efforts to get to know people outside of the game, outside of the Magic Circle.


I also know that the Magic Circle isn't always solid, because I see that we sometimes let our true selves show. Rivalries and grudges can and do carry from one game to the next. I've seen people flirt within the game, and I've seen people break up over games. Especially harsh behavior can be punished, as I once saw the host of an event kick out a girl who was counting cards and teasing others about their moves. This type of rejection was rare but it did happen. 

As I said I have made friends at these gaming events. Usually, though, the friendships are formed in-between the gameplay, at the snack table or near the coat rack. 

Do you play games? Have you ever wanted to go to a gaming group or play games with a group online? I definitely recommend it.

Happy Gaming,


*See part I, here.

tldr: Gamers are open and welcoming, but the limits of the gaming environment mean very little social interaction happens there.

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