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The Fallacy of the Magic Circle

  1. The fallacy of the Magic Circle Games Convention Online Conference Leipzig, Germany - 1 August 2009 Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  2. About me • You might have noticed I’m not Richard Bartle. Sorry about that. • Currently affiliated to IT University of Copenhagen. • Working on research about the regulatory make-up of Virtual Worlds & other online environments Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  3. This presentation • Will give a different perspective on this than Richard would have - from an observer/researcher non-versed in MMO design. • Will identify where the magic circle is breached, and offer some predictions/ observations on the direction I see games going. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  4. The “Magic Circle” • I think the “magic circle” concept, as popularly defined, is irreparably flawed. • In short: taken from Huizinga’s work, and often supported by the work of Apter and Salen/Zimmerman. • But, this time, I’d like to avoid the semantics and interpretations of Huizinga. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  5. Reviewing the Circle • The chalk circle on the playground, demarcating the space for play. • But even here, it’s not truly ‘separate’ in the popular sense. Emotions carry forth both ways.
  6. Improving the concept • Castronova has proposed the ‘membrane’, and we had a seminar on revising the concept in Tampere 15 months ago. • But is it worth it? The concept doesn’t matter, it’s the underlying principles that will shape the future. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  7. Who supports it? • Game designers like it - games should be special, separate from the rest of the world, protected. • (Some) players like it - if it’s just a game, separate from the rest of the world, players aren’t taxed, aren’t ‘responsible’ for actions within the world. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  8. And they’re not (completely) wrong.. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  9. Some protection is good • Game companies want protection • Players want protection • Any argument that games are somehow ‘special’ is doomed to fail. • It can’t be a one-way street. Regulatory bodies, game developers and players need to work together. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  10. But games aren’t unique • Games are becoming as much part of the mainstream as TV and probably influence us more. • They impact on our private lives & finances. • They impact on our social lives. • They even impact on our performance at work (and not just for game researchers ;)) Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  11. Marking the breaches • The circle is breached in both directions: • The real world can influence the real world • The virtual world can influence the real world. • It’s not necessarily good or bad, it’s inevitable. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  12. Real Virtual • This area gets a lot of attention • Real money enters games and disrupts/ alters the virtual economy (sometimes designed, but often black market) • Emotions also enter the game world - does a good/bad day at work not alter the shape of your evening gaming session? Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  13. Real Virtual • Real world law (& moral standards) have the potential (and have begun) to interfere with games • Countries are considering banning environments (Australia/Second Life) • Games (or environments) are being forced to change their rules (USA / Second Life / UIGEA) Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  14. Virtual Real • The previous two points stand • Money can be generated in-game and transferred out. • Emotions carry from inside the game session to outside. If I get gate-camped in Eve, ruining my play session, I’m going to be mad afterwards... Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  15. Virtual Real • The impact of game worlds on the real world is generally seen as negative. • Classical argument - games are a waste of time - they lower productivity and create/ cause social isolation / seclusion. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  16. Virtual Real • But little attention is given to the positives • A means of expression - gives a voice to those who may be unable to communicate well in society - and can help overcome this. • Players obtain new skills and mindsets that aid them in the workplace. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  17. Virtual Real • Games become a medium for new societies to form that would otherwise be geographically implausible - understanding of other cultures. • Games potentially provide a platform for public policy to be tested and evaluated. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  18. Virtual Real • Gaming terminology becomes part of the popular lexicon. • Gamers become part of other media; Big Bang Theory, South Park among others demonstrate this to a degree you just didn’t see with Monkey Island & Myst. • And let’s not even talk about Big Brother.. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  19. Virtual Real • Games are no longer self-contained, discussion and strategizing takes place in common rooms, workplaces and living rooms worldwide. • In essence, almost everything we do, in game or not, has real world consequences upon ourselves and others. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  20. From a law perspective • Benjamin Duranske proposes that: “An activity that occurs in a virtual world is subject to real-world law if the user undertaking the activity reasonably understood, or should have reasonably understood, at the time of acting, that the act would have real world implications. • So what isn’t covered by real-world law? Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  21. So what does it all mean? • So if we accept that both have significant influences on the other, what can we expect? • As games become ever more a part of society, governments and lawyers will play an increasingly active role. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  22. So what does it all mean? • As players see new ways to generate an income from such games: • The objection from those who see it as ‘destroying the spirit’ will grow. • The game companies will see new profit in cutting out such players and selling advantages themselves. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  23. So what does it all mean? • Players will start to realize the real world value of their in-game actions, and become increasingly litigious when they lose ‘value’. • And the taxman will want his cut! Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  24. So what does it all mean? • And new public policy questions will enter the mainstream: • Should companies be able to shut down game worlds (= communities) at will? • What rights should the ‘player’ (community member) have in such environments? Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  25. So what does it all mean? • Public policies that are proven successful in dealing with in-world issues will enter the real world. • Corporations will realize the skills learnt in such games are transferable to the employment marketplace, if they utilize them correctly. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  26. So what does it all mean? • Industry will face (short-term) threats from • Governments • Upset and litigious players • Just look at gambling - yes the moral stakes are different, but as the WTO case showed, taxation and offshore money movement is a highly significant factor too. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  27. So what does it all mean? • Somewhere along the line, the three major players will realize that only by compromise can a status quo be reached that satisfy all three. • All groups need some rights, and all need some protections. That is the challenge facing all of us, whether academics, industry, players or government. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  28. To finish... • As we’ll shortly move into a panel session, I wanted to leave you with a thought experiment. • One that probably won’t be popular with the industry. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  29. To finish... • Prerequisites: • Time = Money, both are an economic resource. • The game allows RMT, or there is a sufficiently populated grey market. • I kill a monster in a MMORPG. It takes 8 minutes. Let’s say that time is worth $3. Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen
  30. To finish... • 30% of the time the monster drops nothing. 40% of the time it drops Item A, worth $3 on the market. 25% of the time it drops Item B, worth $4 on the market. 5% of the time it drops Item C, worth $15 on the market. • Why is this different than playing a slot machine in an online casino? Darryl Woodford IT University of Copenhagen

Editor's Notes

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  2. I must admit that German isn’t one of my languages so I won’t embarass myself or the german speakers here by trying a german greeting -- but I would like to thank the Hans-Bredow Institute for the invitation, and say that I’m very happy to be here at the Games Convention Online in Leipzig.\n\nAs you may have heard Richard suffered a death in his family, so is unable to be here today. It was 5...6 years ago that I was probably sitting in one of his classes at Essex, and now I’m here talking to you in his place. After Essex I spent a couple of years working all sides of the counter in the gambling industry -- from a syndicate of professional bettors, to discussions with online firms and also some work with regulatory bodies. That work was interesting, and combined with my background in Game Studies, I have moved on to write about various aspects of online games, though my work often harks back to that gambling experience for anecdotes and similarities, and today will be no different.\n
  3. I approach this topic from a slightly different perspective than Richard would have -- I’m not a game designer, merely an academic who studies them as artifacts, but none the less hope to give you an overview of the areas where the magic circle is breached, that is -- where the virtual and real (if you wish to use those terms) become interwined and the potential problems that could arise as a result of that breach.\n
  4. I personally don’t like the Magic Circle concept -- I think is mis-used at best in contemporary work. But we’re not here to discuss the intricacies of what Huizinga meant, or how subsequent authors have utilized his concepts. Instead the focus today will be on areas where the virtual and real are becoming intertwined. That said however, this speech references the concept, and it’s in the title of the panel that follows, so I thought it prudent to give a brief overview of the concept.\n
  5. The concept starts in the playground, where a chalk circle on the ground demarcates the place where play is to happen. This can be expanded to consider all games, where the circle demonstrates the border of the game -- when you are in this ‘magic’ you live and play by the rules of the game, when you step outside normal life returns and the mindset of the game is forgotten.\n\nThat sounds like it’s binary... a 1 or a 0, you’re in or you’re out... but of course that’s not the case. Even when playing on the playground our emotions (resentment, delight etc) carry into ‘real life’\n
  6. So as people started to notice that the real world was more and more interacting with the virtual, they attempted to modify the magic circle concept. Castranova, in Synthetic Worlds, came up with the idea of a membrane... so you still have the circle where the ‘specialness’ of the game applies, but now it’s permeable, some things go back and forth... to me that’s not the same concept, and it’s not really a concept that tells us anything -- Why does the membrane let money through, as Castronova argued from the economic perspective, but not (for example) rule modification?\n\nUltimately though, I don’t think it is worth trying to modify the concept -- we are better to put it aside and to concentrate on the principles behind it -- what it hopes to achieve and protect, and what it’s fallibility tells us about the future of online games.\n
  7. The concept isn’t however without its benefits -- there are logical arguments why games should have some sort of protection -- and that protection IS different to that we extend to other forms of media -- because players are participatory. No I shouldn’t be arrested if I rob somebody in a MMO like Eve, for which such behavior is part of the game world. But how about if I rob somebody using a game bug (i.e. against the game’s TOS) and cash out the profits via RMT -- who is responsible then? Should my opponent absorb the loss? The game company?\n
  8. I don’t even want to think about what health and safety breaches the NHL is committing -- if Ice Hockey wasn’t viewed as separate from the rest of the world then clearly this player would be arrested and brought before the courts. It would clearly be assault if it happened on the street.\nYet, in certain cases the police do get involved, even in sporting events - for example the case Bertuzzi/Moore - Assault causing bodily harm, plea, conditional discharge & probation (probably less sentence than if in a bar) -- What was the difference in this case? The severity of it, it went beyond what was reasonable within the context of the game/sport.. could the same apply to games? Where should we draw such a boundary...\n
  9. It has been argued that game developers should be able to regulate themselves... but I’ve heard this one before. Just look at the LGA in Malta, a group of bookmakers banded together to make a licensing agency for bookmakers based in Malta, who are offering their services to the rest of the world via the WWW. The amount of money these bookmakers have stolen from players now is probably well into the millions of pounds-- normally as a result of the bookmaker claiming bankruptcy, though the owners always seem to resurface a week or two later with a new venture and plenty of money.\n\nGame companies SHOULD have some protection, but so SHOULD players. Does this require government intervention? Not neccesarily, and of course that’s increasingly difficult in a multinational marketplace, but it does require some form of (reasonably) independant body... IBAS - who arbitrate bookmaker disputes in the UK -- often get a bad rep in the UK press, but they are made up of representatives from player bodies, bookmakers and lawyers, and in my opinion do a good job in the face of often hostile coverage. That of course is just one option for the game industry, but any argument that games are special and developers should be trusted to regulate themselves is, in my opinion, doomed to fail.\n
  10. Games clearly aren’t unique -- they are becoming as much part of mainstream culture as television, and in my opinion probably have more influence on their participants than does watching a television show. They pretty much impact every facet of our life, from our private lives including the way that we spend our time, to our finances -- both in paying for the games, and in buying services or assets related to the game, but also potentially career players who earn their living from in-game acts (this of course is the case in the gambling industry, most players are recreational and lose their entertainment budget a little at a time, whilst others are professionals, creaming off the bets -- nowhere is this more evident than exchanges such as Betfair).\nAnd of course they also impact on our social lives -- both in taking real-world relationships into the game as an additional medium of communication, and forming new relationships with players in the games.\n
  11. So with the rant over, I’ll move onto the meat of this talk, a look at some of the breaches that are evident in contemporary online games. It is important to note that this breach isn’t one-way, it’s not just that the real world impacts upon the virtual one, but also that the virtual world is starting to influence the real world.\n
  12. Let’s start though with how the real world influences the virtual one, because that is an area that gets a lot of attention from game designers and players. The obvious example of course is real money trading -- real money enters games and impacts upon the virtual economy. It effects the balance of the economy, the motivation of players acts, and also the way players think about their assets in-game (differently than, for example, a sword in Monkey Island). Sometimes this interaction with the real world is designed, and indeed in such cases it works better, but companies are increasingly taking a tough-line on this; I would suspect as much for regulatory reasons as for design ones.\n\nAnd of course there are emotions, what happens in the real world may well shape your evening play session? Have a bad day, boss on your back, go into some beginner areas and kill some newbs, let them feel your frustration. Had a good day, feeling serene, wander around the countryside and enjoy the scenery before you head to bed...\n
  13. So real world law, and governments attempting to protect moral standards..\n\nFirstly, I should say I pondered whether to leave this slide out, because it inevitably leads to an argument on whether second life is a game. It is an aspect of my research, and I’ve included it here because it is an example I am familiar with -- I suspect from reading a few articles that it is the case with other games also. Let’s put the Second Life debate in it’s own compartment and ignore it..\n\nMuch attention lately has been focussed on Second Life and the Australian Government as they have proposed banning it, it appears in large part due to adult and sexual content being found in the game. Obviously that is a problem for both the developers (who lose money) and the players (who will lose both a ‘playground’ and a social network). That of course is an extreme case, just a few years ago Second Life was forced to change its rules (or terms of service) and ban casinos, sports-related betting and other such ventures for fear of falling foul of US Gambling Legislation... the gambling legislation as applied to games is an interesting situation, and one I will return to at the very end...\n
  14. So how about the other way around, how does the virtual world impact on the real one? Well, our first two points from Real-> Virtual apply here too... having real money in-game can lead to professional players, and this is job production -- providing a job to a person who might otherwise be unemployed. Regardless of the morals, somebody is extending their labour to potentially allow others to skip tedious tasks.\n\nAnd of course as much as your real world emotions carry into the virtual world, your virtual world emotions carry into the real one. If I was playing Eve, and spent the entire night unable to get out of a small area of land, that’s not going to put me in a good mood!\n
  15. If you believe the media, and even a subset of academics, the impact (or even the existence) of game worlds has a negative effect on the real world... and perhaps that is not entirely false, at least if you look at the classic economic argument - time spent playing games isn’t time spent manufacturing (but same is true of all entertainment). And of course there is the argument that they create and promote social isolation, addiction and negative behavioral traits, though that is not an argument that I necessarily buy into.\n
  16. But remarkably little attention is given to the positives that virtual worlds potentially have to bring to the real one. The opposite of the social isolation/addiction argument is of course that it provides a means of expression to those who are naturally socially isolating... at ITU last semester we had a study of how players in Star Wars Galaxies players used the game as a means to overcome social anxiety, and helped them integrate in the real world, and last week I read a masters thesis from a guy who has been working with autistic children, and noted how much more comfortable they felt doing things in-world vs the real world.\nBut it’s not just those with special needs or other problems who can benefit from online environments. Surely all the time spent in them, time spent managing players, time spent being managed in guild raids and so forth is developing new skills and mindsets that can be used in the workplace. I remember reading a blog post from a guy who argued that he had management ability because he was running a high-powered WOW Guild, and he reported he was laughed out of the interview. I wonder whether, in 10 years time, he would get the same reaction?\n
  17. Games of course can also create and promote new societies that otherwise would not have a chance to form, whether that be because of geographical distance, social position, cultural clashes and so forth. As we move ever more into a worldwide marketplace, having such connections and capabilities can only be a positive -- and of course they are already a huge positive to the player themselves, who has a whole new range of information, friends to talk to and visit and so forth.\nA common argument a few years ago, that I’m actually hearing a bit less now, is that games can provide a testing ground for public and economic policies. Such an argument is not without it’s detractors, and of course the feasibility of conducting such experiments may well prove too difficult, but I think it worth acknowledging that the potential is there.\n
  18. Looking wider afield, gaming terminology is becoming part of the popular lexicon. I’m hearing it more and more, not just in environments like ITU where everybody is exposed to it, but also in family conversations with people in the UK and it is almost an ever-present in any form of online communication such as facebook, twitter or even MSN.\nAnd Games are becoming a significant part of other media... the World of Warcraft South Park Episode is of course an obvious example, but you can almost pick an episode of Big Bang Theory at random and find many gaming references within. To me, this is a result of the real and game worlds becoming intertwined... I don’t recall Ross and Chandler discussing how they defeated LeChuck in an episode of Friends...\nAnd that’s of course without even starting on the new trend for Reality TV. Reality TV is another project I’m working on currently, focussing on the US series of “Big Brother” (which, for those unaware, contains far more gameplay than the UK or German versions because the public do not vote, the game is (at least semi-) contained within the house. Of course Reality TV brings game to television, but also speaks to the current trend for pervasive media.\n
  19. And of course game sessions now extend well beyond the game itself. A lot of strategising amongst WOW Guilds or Eve Corporations takes place outside the game -- be that on forums, IRC, Ventrillo or in common rooms, workplaces and living rooms around the world. \nI would indeed argue that the worlds are almost completely intertwined, the border between the real and virtual is perhaps still there, but it’s being broken down at an incredible rate...\n
  20. On the plane over I was reading Benjamin Duranske’s book on Virtual Law, for another project I’m working on, and he offered the following on the magic circle concept <read quote>... Given what we’ve said previously about everything done in (online) games having a real-world implication, I wonder the validity of such an approach.\n
  21. So this is the bit of the talk where I get to push my agenda... what I think is likely to happen if this barrier continues to be broken down.\nFirstly - governments and lawyers will play more of a role -- the governments under the guise of looking out for the morals of society, and protecting the public from negative endeavors... and the lawyers... well, there’s money in it! Players will probably find other players or game companies that they want to sue, and lawyers will see unexplored areas of law which offer the potential for long, complicated cases and lots of appeals.\n
  22. We’ll see more and more players looking for either loopholes or strategies (arbitrage etc) that allow them to generate an income utilizing the game. As they do this, amateur players will complain and want rules changed to prevent these strategies, and game companies will see the way these players generate income and look to cut in on the market themselves (as we’ve already seen to some extent with RMT)\n
  23. The other side of this monetization is that players will realize more that the things they possess have a monetary value, and will become increasingly upset when game behavior, game company changes or other players cause them to lose that value. And the taxman will want his share of all of this money of course!\n
  24. And new issues will be raised where hereto game companies have ruled supreme. If these games are becoming significant online communities, should companies really be able to shut down or even expel members at will? What rights can the player expect to have in such environments? Are game companies obligated to provide the provisions of those who enjoy the greatest freedoms in real life? \n
  25. Both public policy and economic policies will be noticed by real-world governments, even if not conducted strictly as tests, and corporations will adapt to utilize skills players bring from such games in the workplace.\n
  26. In the shorter term, I believe the online games industry will face a couple of significant threats -- from governments as we’ve seen with second life, and from players who want to test the boundaries of the legal system as it applies to games. And of course our old friend taxation; tax authorities won’t like money continually leaving the country to RMT dealers in far flung places, and as game companies themselves become bigger purveyors of currency, this may well apply to them too.\n
  27. All that might sound pretty gloomy, but I do ultimately think it will work out. What is required is for the three stakeholders -- players, game developers and governments -- to work together to build a regulatory framework that offers all the rights and protections that they need, identifying where games need to be treated separately and where they are the same as anything else. And that is what I see as the challenge set out for all of us here today -- be they academics, industry, government or players.\n
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