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Dissolving the Magic Circle of Play: Lessons from Situationist Gaming


There was an interesting post on the nettime list the other day, which I thought I’d include some excerpts from and a link to here,

In recent years, commentators on game culture and ludology have undertaken the task of analyzing and structuring play. Such work has been strongly influenced by the Dutch researcher Johan Huizinga’s 1938 study of play, Homo Ludens and Roger Callois’s later structuralist elaborations of Huizinga’s research. In this article I want to draw upon a different stream of thought from the mid twentieth century, also informed by Huizinga but not exclusively, that of the Paris Situationist artists and architects [...] A number of important engagements with play and games by the Situationists are newly relevant today. Rather than offer a historical assessment of Situationism’s theories, I will take cues from their writings to reconsider the potential of games in art. I find useful their critique of play within but nevertheless resistant to capitalism (and by extension imperialism and militarism), their architectural proposals for “player” navigation and transformation of urban “psychogeographic” zones (what we might call “ludic architecture”), their analysis of leisure and non-leisure activities, and their repurposing of Dadaist negativity.

It’s by Anne-Marie, and it’s called Dissolving the Magic Circle of Play: Lessons from Situationist Gaming. It moves away from a psychogeographical and Homo Ludens inspired idea of role of play. I don’t see how far it moves away from psychogeography, but it is clear how it moves away from Homo Ludens — it proposes that every place is a play space, and that play can have external messages; thus, breaking ‘the magic circle.’ The magic circle is the space where play is legitimized.

In transgressing the “magic circle,” a Situationist gaming tactic attempts to give transformative potential not just to play but to “normal” life.

It’s very interesting, and I think these sort of ideas will be more useful in the future. One of the things that is missing from people’s lives these days is ritual and wonder. Too many people are bowling alone, not enough are caught up in the tide of community.

By bringing the space that people play games into the every day reality of other people, we can increase people’s sense of ritual and wonder at the world, and increase our audience. By breaking down the circle of play and making it happen everywhere, we can create large scale zones of entertainment where life, play, and ‘reality’ intertwine. I don’t think that BM, for example, is the only zone for that sort of thing, but it’s been interesting to witness it’s evolution.

We are bored with the suburbs, the stale imperialist sexist engineering biased corporate game industry, and with new academic ludology that reifies existing superstructures. We are ready to play reality TV off camera. [...] If big players are intervening in gamespace, then it
is time for Situationist gaming.

I think this is a good thing. I really advise reading this article. Expect the future to contain more play in public spheres. I think as the cost of random things continues to go up and as Hollywood entertainment continues to suck and get progressively more innocuous and violent, the future may be people carrying out entertainment by other means.

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