In the Pervasive Games reading from this week, Montola discusses how, in today’s stage of gaming, the magic circle is often hard and sometimes nearly impossible to perceive. In order to designate game-related actions from ordinary actions, pervasive games make use of a magic circle that consists of “a secret agreement” rather than “an isolating barrier”, which can lead to confusion for both players and bystanders, who may be unaware that a game is being played (21). Montola argues that the ludic and the ordinary can feed off of each other in pervasive games in order to create more engaging player experiences, as shown in the examples from Killer. However, should there be a limit to the permeability of the magic circle?
Initially, the way that Montola framed his argument was a little bit surprising to me. He states, “Pervasive games can take the thrill of immediacy and tangibility of ordinary life to the game.” (21). It seems counterintuitive to label ordinary life as “thrilling” here, especially since games, which are often associated with thrill or excitement, are often regarded as a reprieve from ordinary life. However, as discussed in class and in this week’s “Worlding through Play” reading, gamification is becoming more and more common and influential in aspects of daily life, including business, leisure, education, and social life (75). According to the reading, it seems that part of the fun of participating in pervasive is the suspense which results from the potential of incorporating any seemingly ordinary or formerly useless object into the game, because, as discussed by Montola, anything in the real physical world can be appropriated into the game (12). Montola includes an example from the game Killer, in which, as Montola states, an ordinary object such as a player’s favorite food could be employed in the game in order to “poison” the player (18). Another part of the appeal of pervasive games is their function of binding the players together because of their common knowledge of the rules of the game and the significance of their game-related actions, which would probably seem arbitrary and meaningless to bystanders who are not participating in or have no knowledge of the game. Interestingly, Montola includes a quote from John Huizinga which states that one of the main aspects of play in general is that it “promotes the formation of social groupings, which tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress their difference from the common world by disguise or other means. (Huizinga, 1938)” (7).
So, using examples and arguments about the pleasurable aspects of gameplay, the authors above seem to show that the blending of the ordinary and the ludic can indeed enhance a player’s experience. As Montola states, “The ludic and ordinary powerfully complement each other.” (22). However, might there be harm in making the separation between the world of the game and the ordinary world too thin? Is there a point at which the possibility of incorporating any mundane object into the game becomes tiresome or dangerous for players, who might become unreasonably suspicious or attempt to alter their routines in real life because they are trying to win the game? An example of the danger of this can be seen in I Love Bees, when a player attempted to engage in a payphone call during a hurricane, at which point a Puppetmaster broke character to tell the player to run to safety. Additionally, is there a danger that the relationships and communities formed within a game that is heavily tied to the ordinary world may adversely affect a player’s ordinary life after the completion of the game, either by continuing or ceasing to exist? It seems like this would harm the player’s experience instead of enhancing it, which calls into question how beneficial it is to thin the magic circle that separates the ludic and the ordinary.