Thursday, 8 March 2007

The Magic Circle and Lusory Attitude

Johann Huizinga is a Dutch anthropologist and historian, in addition to this he has taken great interest into analysing games and creating theories to support his beliefs. As a theorist he has 'masterfully analysed several of the fundamental characteristics of play and has demonstrated the importance of its role in the very development of civilisation' (Caillios 2001, page 3.)

In his book Homo Ludens (1938) he creates the notion of the 'magic circle.' This is the concept that Huizinga uses to understand play. With this he is strongly suggesting that when you engage in playing games you enter a different state of mind (the magic circle) which guides you away from reality. The "magic circle' can in fact be considered as the games special context or frame; this can be either physical or psychological. Huizinga believes that although the 'magic circle' takes you away from reality, for the gamer it does in fact feel extremely real. We get lost in the game that we are playing.

The Lusory Attitude is another notion that Huizinga suggests that we as gamers adopt. He believes that this is the attitude that the player adopts before they are able to enter the 'magic circle'. Salen and Zimmerman (2004) believe that " the lusory attitude is an extremely useful concept; as it describes the attitude that is required of game players for them to enter into a game". It is fair to say that if we do not except these rules or the 'lusory attitude' then we will find it difficult to engage in the game and gain any enjoyment from it.

After discovering Huizinga's theory i consciously thought about whether this was true for me when i played games and in fact it was. When i started playing Gran Turismo i wasn't that aware of how much concentration i was putting in; however as the game progressed i realised that i was in my own little world - a 'magic circle'. And although deep down i knew that it was only a game, i became so engrossed and focused on designing my cars and winning my races that i started to believe it was reality. I also felt this when i played Mario Kart i became so involved that i was very unaware of what was happening around me.

I can now clearly see that we do in fact adopt a different attitude before we play games but i think the main reason for this is to increase the levels of enjoyment we get out of it. For example if we did not adopt a "lusory attitude" we would not start playing the game in the first place as we would not be gaining any personal benefit from it; and after all games are meant to be entertaining.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007



Rutter, J and Bryce, J (2006) Understanding Digital Games, London: Sage Publications

Branston, G and Stafford, R (2003) The Media Students Book, 3rd edition, London: Routledge

Caillois, R (2001), Man, Play and Games, United States of America: First Illinois Paperback

Salen, K and Zimmerman, E (2004) Rules of Play: Game Designs Fundamentals, Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The free dictionary website (no date). Retrieved on March 2nd 2007 from the world wide web:

Virtual Philosopher Website (12th sept 2006). Retrieved on March 4th 2007 from the world wide web: virtualphilosopher


Games can be defined as 'an activity providing entertainment or amusement; a pastime ' (the free dictionary website, 2007). Although, this is a definition of game it is in fact very vague. Consequently, it has been very hard for people to create a very precise definition as there are so many types of game being made available to us.

Wittgenstein has created the notion that although all games are very different and entail different skills there is in fact 'a complex pattern of overlapping resemblances between games' (virtual philosopher website, 2007). Wittgenstein related his theory of games being similar to each other to that of the similarities of family members. This is how the theory got its name of 'Family Resemblance'. The easiest way to get your head round Wittgenstein's complex theory is too think about family members and how although every member is completely individual, there is in fact a few underlying similarities between the members. For example; i may in fact have the same hair and eye colour as my sister but in fact we are very different people.

I have decided to look at two very different digital games and see whether in fact there are the resemblances between them that Wittgenstein suggests. The first game i looked at was Theme Park by Bullfrog productions. It is a simulation computer game that you play on the PC. It allows you to create your own theme park and with the revenue that you make from virtual customers you can expand your park, purchase new rides and add more merchandise and refreshment stalls. The main aim of this game is to gain wealth and material possession and become a successful person.

The second game that i looked at was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. This game entitles the player to gain status and wealth by killing people and using illegal behaviour such as stealing and selling drugs. One of the games that i played has a very positive attitude on the player and the other could be seen to be as negative with the illegal behaviour that takes place. However, although they seem extremely different on the surface there is in fact a big similarity between them. Both games have the underlying message of to make money and create an empire.

Wittgenstein is not assuming that all games that become available to us are about making money and material possessions, he is just creating the notion that all games have a similarity with another. The similarities could be as simple as having a winner or could even be that the player has fun whilst playing. This is why the definition of game is becoming so blurred.


As a girl, i don't have a huge interest in games as i believe the majority of them on the market are aimed at boys. However, one aspect of digital games that i can relate to are the rewards that you gain. We as the players of the games are constantly looking for rewards; however it has been noted that the actual reward that the gamer receives is irrelevant, it is in fact the feeling that the gamer gets that keeps them playing.

Hallford and Hallford (2002) have established four types of rewards that someone might achieve from playing a video game:
  1. Rewards of Glory
  2. Rewards of Sustenance - armour and weapons
  3. Rewards of Access - new locations and resources
  4. Rewards of Facility - new abilities
I strongly feel that the game Mario Kart reflects the theory of rewards. This is because although there were not any actual real life rewards, just the sense of winning a race was enough for me to continue playing. This surprised me as i never thought i would be interested in playing digital games but the sense of reward and the fact that the game is not predominately aimed at males helped me to enjoy myself playing it. Applying Hallford and Hallford's theory to the game i played showed that the reward that i gained was the reward of glory.

Whilst testing the reward theory i also played Fifa 2007. I thought i would gain a lot of reward from this, as the aim is to win a game and make your way up leagues. Saying this though i was surprised as thought i would be really pleased with winning, but in fact i wasn't. I felt personally that the biggest reward that i gained from playing Fifa was learning the skills and enhancing my abilities. This is the reward of facility. I was surprised how quickly i was able to pick it up but, i did lose interest quicker in this game than i did in the other.

I think the concept of playing digital games for reward is one that the majority of people can relate to. This is likely to be the main reason as to why large numbers of people spend a lot of their spare time playing video games.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007


Crawford and Rutter (2006, page 149) suggest that 'digital games can be understood not only as texts but also as cultural artefacts, which are given value, meaning and position through their production and use."" This statement links with the idea of Rhetoric. Rhetoric in its simplest form can be defined as persuasive language. Rhetoric is often used within the media, as the media has such a wide influence over society it can promote the speakers values and beliefs to the rest of society.

In relation to video games rhetoric is often used, we are just often unaware of it. A game that i played that i thought was a good representation of rhetoric was Scarface: The World is Yours. This is because the game focuses on promoting the values of the American Dream. Scarfaces aim is to become wealthy and powerful, this is a strong value held within a capitalist society, and he is allowed to go about this in any way he wants for example killing people and stealing off them. The use of rhetoric in this game allows the gamer to think that the only way to be successful in their lives is to be wealthy. However, we in reality would not go about in achieving this in this way.

The Scarface game is not the only game that is available to us that promotes capitalism, games such as Grand Theft Auto do this. I played Grand Theft Auto: Vice city and realised that in fact it is not unlike Scarface, especially in the way that you have to create an empire and make lots of money to be successful and gain rewards. The values and beliefs that are expressed through these games reflect those that are installed in our society today, and the media is often the main way in which they are presented to us. Theorists such as Marx and Gramsci have suggested that the Media is an 'ïdeological conditioning device' that tricks te majority of people into believing in and not rebelling against the dominant ideology which is Capitalism.

Marx has suggested that "those who own the means of production, thereby, also ,control the means of producing and circulating the most important ideas in any social order" (Branston and Stafford 2003, page 118). This is strongly suggesting that it is only people with power and money that can influence us as a society. This is shown in the video games that i have played as the values within them are there to reinforce the dominant ideology.