On a conference in 2017, Uri Mishol of Games for Peace shared his experience with the project ‘Play2talk’. In and of itself, the project was successful in bringing closer Arab and Jewish children in the online environment of Minecraft. Originally the project was conceived as an attempt to slowly introduce factions to each other. However, as the Minecraft server was hacked, symbols of fascism were installed throughout the virtual world. The two groups begun cooperating on the removal of the symbols in a fashion that is well-nigh unthinkable in most parts of Israel still. Play spaces appear to be fertile grounds for fostering cooperation that goes beyond societal norms and ideologies. This short essay posits that the magic circle can have a positive impact on the interaction of otherwise secluded groups under the right circumstances.
The term magic circle was originally introduced by Johan Huizinga to describe how play is separated from everyday life, spatially and temporally (1949, 9-10). Adaptions of the term that apply to video games more closely, have been made by Salen and Zimmerman, considering it to be the space where “the game takes place” (2004, 95). Criticism abound of the term suggest modifications (Juul 2008) or attempt to rethink its boundaries and applicability to games (Consalvo 2009; Stenros 2014). Despite the necessity to denote games as somewhat separated, it is the context within which play happens that must, in addition, be taken into consideration.
The issue at hand begs the question whether morality, as a society’s code of conduct, takes on subordinate role within virtual worlds. Conducted as a program that attempts to “counteract the negative stereotypes players from different national, religious and ethnic backgrounds often have of each other” (Games for Peace n.d.a), ‘Play2talk’ offers a safe hub for Arab and Jewish children to get in contact. Here, Minecraft truly shines in providing an environment free of values prevalent in Israel. It does away with prejudice by creating a common ground for children to address each other as equals and collaborate in virtual projects devoid of the usual conflicts of everyday life.
Thanks to its sandbox-like nature, Minecraft provides a playground that is conducive of producing emergent narratives that are shared between both factions. The experiences generated during play generate connections that are not governed by the prevalent code of conduct in Israel’s society. Moreover, online collaboration takes the pressure away from the children and, as Games for Peace puts it, “make[s] breaking the ice … much easier at the real-life meeting” (Games for Peace n.d.b). Play, it seems, is the dominant mode in operation, even in the face stark societal differences.
Whereas sandbox games can certainly have a positive effect, their very makeup equally is at risk of subverting ethical and moral standards considered as good or right. It is rather the culmination of contextual factors at play that made ‘Play2talk’ a success: a controlled and moderated environment, an agenda fostering cooperation. Without these factors, the external force may have similarly sprung from inside.
In conclusion, external moral values may take on a secondary role. However, other, external frameworks of ethics need to be employed for the magic circle and games, such as Minecraft, to facilitate cooperation and harmonisation of segregated groups to work well.
Consalvo, Mia. 2009. “There is No Magic Circle.” Games and Culture 4, no. 4: 408-17. https://doi.org/10.1177/1555412009343575
Games for Peace. n.d.a. “Games for Peace.” Accessed March 15, 2019.http://gamesforpeace.org/
—. n.d.b. “Play2talk School Program.” Accessed March 15, 2019. http://gamesforpeace.org/projects/play2talk/
Huizinga, Johan. 1949. Homo Ludens. A Study of the Play-Element. Translated by n.A. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Juul, Jesper. 2008. “The Magic Circle and the Puzzle Piece.” In Conference Proceedings of the Philosophy of Computer Games 2008, edited by Stephan Günzel, Michael Liebe and Dieter Mersch, 56-67. Potsdam: Potsdam University Press, https://publishup.uni- potsdam.de/opus4-ubp/frontdoor/deliver/index/docId/2550/file/digarec01.pdf
Mojang. 2011. Minecraft. Mojang.
Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman. 2004. Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
Stenros, Jaakko. 2014. “In Defence of a Magic Circle: The Social, Mental and Cultural Boundaries of Play.” ToDIGRA 1, no.2: 147-185. http://todigra.org/index.php/todigra/article/view/10/27