The Magic Circle: Principles of Gaming and Simulation

by Jan H.G. Klabbers

Huizinga pointed out in his book “Homo Ludens” that the arena, the card-table, the stage, the screen, the tribunal, the court of justice, and we would add, the board room, are all in form and function playgrounds:  forbidden spots, isolated, hedged around, hallowed, within which special rules obtain. All are particular worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of special acts. They all shape magic circles.

Learning to read and understand what happens in those magic circles is not straightforward. Playing a game is a total event of being involved in a temporary, provisional, and integrated world. For thousands of years playing games was considered a nice way to pass the time, to relax and unwind, to drive away boredom, and offer solace. Mainly since the 1950s gaming started drawing attention as a viable approach for studying and handling the complex social issues of that time.  During the 1960s gaming broadened its scope.  Scholars from various disciplines such as, management science, policy science, sociology, social psychology, international relations, urban management, geography, ecology, health care, and demographics, started adopting gaming and simulation methods in their research and practice.

Inviting players to enter the magic circle, games shape challenging conditions. While assuming roles, players engage in collaborative actions, competing and/or cooperating with each other. They conquer obstacles, fight odds, negotiate, and try to achieve goals. Through reflection-in, and reflection-on action, games enhance competencies in handling complex and dynamic situations that easily surpass individual comprehension. While dealing with complex systems, games aim to improve individual and collective perception and action repertoires.

KMPC designs tailor-made games, uses these to make an organization visible to itself, to handle varying perceptions and positions of key players, to jointly sort out strategies for coping with the issues at stake, to arrange proper working relationships among the actors, to set up and implement action and communication plans: in general to facilitate change and renewal.

Working definitions
A game is a form of play.  It is an activity involving one or more players who assume roles while trying to achieve a goal. Rules determine what the players are permitted to do, or define constraints on allowable actions, which impact on the available resources, and therefore influence the state of the game space.  Games deal with well-defined subject matter (content and context).
Play is a voluntary activity or occupation, executed according to rules freely accepted but absolutely binding, having its aim in itself and accompanied by a feeling of tension, joy, and the awareness that it is different from ordinary life.

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The Magic Circle: Principles of Gaming & Simulation

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