The magic rectangle of Twitch and the rear windows to what goes beyond the act of gaming

In the last post I launched an hypothesis on the magic circle theory, an important issue within games studies. I basically said that what makes possible the magic circle as a bounded experience is the same thing that traverses it and, up to certain extent, breaks it. This entry will approach that subject using an emerging phenomenon: Twitch

If you happen not to know anything about Twitch, just visit the site and wander around its several channels. Basically, it's just people broadcasting their gameplay while they're speaking about what's happening on the screen or any other issue that might be, or not, completely unrelated to it. There's a chat where viewers are able to speak their minds to the broadcaster or other people on the chat. These players can be followed by thousands, hundreds or just a few guys. Some of the most popular gamers (and that doesn't mean to be necessarily followed by too many) have set up ways in which people can make donations to their 'cause' or subscribe to their channels for a monthly amount of money. On this kind of 'professional gaming', see my former entry on how video gaming is becoming a serious thing. 

Somehow Twitch manages to confirm the existence of the magic circle in the most unexpected way: using a rectangle. How is that? On the screen, we can watch the actual gameplay of the player in the shape of a big rectangle. We can even go fullscreen. It's marvellous, the self-content reality of the video game accessible from all around the world. You can see and feel it as a finite experience. You are able to focus exclusively on the gameplay. An open window that perfectly frames the magic circle. But, wait, that's not the only window on the screen. There are more. The rear ones.

What can we see through those rear windows? Precisely what happens during the act of playing. Or at least a tiny but significant part of it. We are invited to peep at the gamer's face and context of play. We are able to see how they look like, hearing the tone of their voices, how they express themselves, how they are dressed, what their room's colour is, if there are other people or animals next to them and so on. We even are in the position to start judging them: Are they tidy and clean people? Do they care about their appearance? Are they ugly, handsome, attractive, disgusting...? Do they have an exciting life or is it more likely to be sad and dull? No matter what our assumptions are, the important thing is the fact that we have the possibility of witnessing what is beyond the magic rectangle of the gameplay thanks to another 'magic rectangle' (or square, depending on the gamer's cam configuration). If the bigger rectangle may be described as the main window to the magic circle of gaming, the smaller one can be regarded as the rear window to what happens around and beyond the very act of gaming. I could have said that is a window to what happens off the screen, but in fact we are watching it on our own screens, so it would have not been completely correct. And what happens when you sneak a glance at that rear window? You observe the mundane ordinariness of everyday life. Let's have a look.

In this case, while she is playing and broadcasting her gameplay through Twitch, she's also having a casual conversation with the people on the chat and with unknown (for us) people using her mobile phone. The chat is another rear window opened to those who are watching the broadcast. That obviously goes beyond what is just happening in the game itself. Who knows what else they are doing at their homes while watching her on Twitch (watching TV, browsing the Internet, reading a book, speaking with their friends or family, having a drink...). At times, or maybe often, the gameplay is the less important thing in the process. It's amazing how frequently they 'speak' about topics completely alien to the games played. Windows to everyday life issues. There's nothing extraordinary in it. No magnificent worlds of fantasy and promising adventures. The magic of the circle (or rectangle, it doesn't matter) is broken.

Therefore, this is an example of part of the different things that might happen beyond the act of playing a video game. An example of the limited scope of the magic circle theory and its drawbacks. Nevertheless, and according to the other part of my hypothesis, the superimposed collage of different windows in and out the gameplay are making more evident and explicit the boundaries of the magic circle-rectangle. It is highlighting the weirdness among the ordinary of everyday life. Gaming is odd and mundane at the same time. Again, what is breaking the experience of the isolated magic circle, is helping to make it possible at the same time. Of course this must be confirmed by more empirical evidence but I will keep this line of thought for a while.


Post a Comment