Between the Lines: A Conversation with Kevin Schut – Part 2 – plus a video and a giveaway


We recently had the chance to talk with Kevin Schut about his new Brazos book, Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games.

Kevin Schut (PhD, University of Iowa) is associate professor and chair of the department of media and communication at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. His research uses video games to investigate the intersection of communication, technology, and culture. He has published articles and chapters on video games and history, games and mythology, and evangelical involvement with video games.

Last week, Kevin spoke about common misconceptions about video games.

In today’s post, Kevin explains the importance of the “magic circle.”


In your book you refer to the “magic circle.” What is this? And what are its ramifications for how we play video games?

The “magic circle” is, in a nutshell, the idea that what happens in a game, stays in a game.

Dutch sociologist Johan Huizinga wrote an important book about games in the mid-twentieth century called Homo Ludens (“Man the Player”). One of his key concepts that today’s game theorists have seized upon is this idea that when we play a game, we suspend the normal rules of society—we step into a “magic circle.”

Of Games and God

So, for example, we would normally think of killing someone else as bad. Yet in chess, that’s the whole point of the game. Players enter into a kind of special contract where they agree that what normally applies doesn’t now.

The implications are that games don’t really affect real life. If a game is in a magic circle, then what we do in a game is separate from what I do at work, with my family, and in my church—separate from how I think and talk in general. There’s certainly something to this. I have no trouble distinguishing between the buccaneers I was just battling in Sid Meier’s Pirates and the people walking down my street—I don’t start swordfights in my local mall. Humans have a great capacity for imagination and are quite able to keep that separate from everyday life… in a sense.

There’s the problem, however: A lot of scholars and commentators are starting to point out that video games are never really, truly, completely separate. Yes, a game is a different sort of social place than the mall. But the only reason we understand the game at all is because we have society and culture outside the game. A “knight” means nothing if we’ve never heard of the guy in shining armor, and rules governing the pawn don’t work if we can’t speak a language.

Likewise, some game stories and characters ring true to us in ways that stay with us after we’re finished playing, which is partly why many of us play the games in the first place.

I don’t think Huizinga meant it this way, but if we use the concept of the magic circle to pretend that we can do whatever we want in a game and that it will have no impact on the rest of our life, I think that’s probably a bad way of looking at it.


In this video, Kevin Schut introduces Of Games and God.


For more information on Of Games and God, click here.
To read an excerpt, click here.


Enter to win one of five copies of Of Games and God:

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