Gabrielle Trépanier-Jobin

Gabrielle Trépanier-Jobin is a Professor in Game Studies at the School of Media of Université du Québec à Montréal and the co-director of Homo Ludens research group on gaming practices and online communication. She holds a Ph.D. in Communication Studies from Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT Comparative Media Studies | Writting. She is currently conducting research on player immersion as well as on diversity and inclusion in the gaming industry.

The Survival of Huizinga’s “Magic Circle”

FROG 2021 – Talk

Many game scholars rejected the idea of a spatiotemporal division between games and daily life suggested by Huizinga’s (1938) “magic circle” metaphor. It has been argued, for instance, that this separation ignores how everyday rules, norms and values apply in game environments and compete with rules that are specific to a game, a player community or a gaming context; that relationships between players can be as genuine as face-to-face relationships; that the avatar and the player identities are intertwined, etc. (Lehdonvirta, 2010; Consalvo, 2010). For all these reasons, several game scholars suggested replacing the expression “magic circle” with more accurate metaphors. Lehdonvirta (2010) proposes Strauss’ concept of “social world.” Consalvo (2010), for her part, suggests Turner’s concept of “liminal space” and Goffman’s concepts of “frames” and “modes.” Apter (in Salen and Zimmerman, 2003) talks about a “protective [psychological] frame” and Juul (2008) proposes the puzzle metaphor. Despite all these criticisms and suggestions, the concept of “magic circle” has survived and remained widely discussed in game studies. It has kept inspiring game scolars such as Arsenault and Perron (2009) with their concept of “magic cycle.” In our talk, we will try to understand why an expression that was used only once by Huizinga in his seminal book Homo Ludens has left such a mark on people’s minds. To do so, we will turn to the French philosopher Henriot (1989) who perceives play as a subjective experience that involves a playful attitude characterized by three moments. The first moment implies a “magical transmutation” of the objects which take a new significance. The second moment involves “lucidity” as the player knows that it is a game and not a hallucination. The third moment entails an “illusion”; the player allows herself to be enchanted without losing contact with reality (Perron, 2013). This conception of the player’s attitude as similar to the attitude one adopts in front of a magician might help us to understand why the “magic circle” metaphor sticks around despite the outdated idea it initially conveyed.


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