By Sam Rosenthal

Blasting in to the Magic Circle

“Play begins, and at a certain moment, it is “over.”  It plays itself to an end.  While it is in progress all is movement, change, alteration, succession, association, separation.”

In describing the nature of play, Dutch historian Johan Huizinga used the term “magic circle” to describe the space in which play takes place.  During play, the magic circle contains the actual setting (i.e. the tennis court in a game of tennis), in addition to the associated actions and vocabulary (i.e. a double fault).  The magic circle is the boundary between the real and the imaginary, and is a defining element of games as a whole.

I believe that our traditional methods of playing video games do a poor job of allowing entry into the magic circle.  When playing a game on a console, the player must set aside the time and space for play.  After the initial decision to play a video game, the player must turn on their television, turn on their console, turn on their controller, switch to the proper input, grab the game from their shelf, place the disc in the console, navigate the main menus, wait for the game to load, wait for the splash screens to fade away, navigate the game’s menus, and finally begin to play.  To an experienced player, the entire process usually takes less than a few minutes, yet it is always unavoidable.

Every time I decide against sitting down and playing a game, this process is the single greatest contributor.  I always tell my friends and my classmates that I try to set aside time to play games, and this process only reinforces the notion that I am sacrificing my time and my ability to be productive elsewhere.  There is simply no way to make the decision and just play…on consoles.

Recently I have been enamored with the iPhone as a video game platform, and the amount of time I spend playing games on my iPhone has come quite close to the amount of time I spend playing games on my consoles.  The main reason I have been drawn to iPhone games is because they allow instant entry into the magic circle.  My iPhone is always with me, and with one tap I can begin any of my games right where I left off.  I never think to myself, “I should really play an iPhone game now,” rather, I am usually just messing around on my iPhone and I naturally end up playing a game.

I am not alone.  Over 12 million people, many of whom never considered themselves “gamers,” have become addicted to Angry Birds, the best selling iPhone game.  Facebook has become a more popular game platform than all of the dedicated game platforms combined seemingly overnight.  There are many reasons for this occurrence, but one of the most overlooked is the simple fact that these platforms make it easy for their users to quickly engage in games.  Neither platform has seen the maturity in content that the traditional platforms have gained over the years, but in due time that will come.

By far the most common excuse given for not playing games is a lack of time, but by removing the annoyances of beginning a game, we can better integrate games into our everyday lives.  As a kid, whenever my sister and I came home from school she would immediately go into the living room and turn on the television.  I never watched much TV, so when I pressed her on this habit she simply replied, “it’s the quickest way to be entertained.”  Looking back, she was absolutely right.  With the push of a single button, the TV provided entertainment.  My sister did not believe she was putting aside time for entertainment.  Rather, her intrinsic human need for entertainment made watching television habitual.

Games do not need to consume every hour of our daily lives, but there is no reason that they should not be as accessible as your average television station.  Facebook, iPhone, and iPad have all placed games at our fingertips.  Recent developments such as OnLive have attempted to bring instantaneous play to more traditional games, but the traditional console market has yet to show any sign of change.  Over the past few decades we have accessed our games through a box connected to a television set, but the developments over the past few years have forever changed the means necessary to blast into the magic circle.  Everyone that owns some kind of screen more than likely plays video games on a daily basis.  Rather than denounce the majority as inferior types of players, let’s make the games that we love just a click, a tap, or a button press away.