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The Race CardFrom Gaming Technologies to Model Minorities$
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Tara Fickle

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781479868551

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479868551.001.0001

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West of the Magic Circle

West of the Magic Circle

The Orientalist Origins of Game Studies

(p.113) 4 West of the Magic Circle
The Race Card

Tara Fickle

NYU Press

This chapter radically revises our understanding of game studies’ conceptual foundations by revealing the Orientalist assumptions embedded in Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens (1938) and Roger Caillois’s Man, Play, and Games (1958). These founding fathers’ discussions of play as a liberating “magic circle” have been endlessly cited, excerpted, and romanticized, most recently by popular and academic rhetoric extolling video games as the cure for a “broken” and alienating twenty-first-century reality. Unsurprisingly, contemporary scholars have regarded the patronizing and exotifying references to Japan and China which crop up nearly from the very first pages of these tomes as embarrassing but irrelevant signs of the times. Recontextualizing these early chapters within the longer and rarely read remainders of both monographs, however, reveals that those initial ludic schemas were in fact the raison d’être for an elaborate ethnocentric sociology that rationalized the cognitive and cultural inferiority of nonwhites by ranking them according to the “primitivity” of their play. Showing how these theorists legitimized their taxonomies by naturalizing fantasies of a ritualized, stagnant East and an innovative, rational West, this chapter demonstrates that Orientalist discourse was not tangential but essential to the seemingly global theories of play that form the basis of modern game studies.

Keywords:   Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens, Roger Caillois, Man Play and Games, Orientalism, game studies, Jacques Ehrmann, Jacques Derrida, structuralism

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