Magic Circle or Firewall: Phenomenology and Game Security

I wrote a last minute paper for the CHI workshop on Secrets and Lies in Computer-Mediated Interaction: Theory, Methods and Design . Here’s the abstract for the paper I submitted.

Deception in massively multiplayer online role playing
games is a complex and nuanced issue. Anonymity and
the deceptive behavior it enables are required to
facilitate the role play activities that develop and
support the game world. However, the same anonymity
and deception are key contributors to the cheating and
fraudulent behaviors that threaten the quality and
viability of online gaming.

In short, my paper briefly charts a completely untested theory that the anonymity that facilitates online role play also facilitates deception which can result in bad things and that players are largely not away of this.

Some (read: crazy people like me) might even say this is a problem of intersubjectivity. In games, there’s much discussion of the “magic circle” which is a sort of separate reality (“lifeworld”) that’s distinct from normal reality. Gamer players enter this magic place and semi-separate themselves from the outside.

However, bad guys are not entering the magic circle and partaking of the separate lifeworld. Their ability to do bad things is largely a result of the disconnect between the horizons of the magic circle and those outside of it. Bad guys prey on a lack of intersubjectivity.

I’ve probably stretched a few too many theories a bit too thin for one blog post, so I’ll stop now. Comments please! 🙂


  1. davidroyer

    So, you were one of the cool kids that submitted a paper to a workshop. Do you have any idea of how difficult they are to get in to?

    It seems like an interesting paper and your main premise seems like it makes sense.

  2. Tyler Pace

    I have no idea how difficult it is to get accepted, but I think it’s a workshop by workshop thing. Some are simply going to be popular topics and attract more submissions. Others may be organized by really important people and attract more submissions.

    What I can say is it doesn’t take much text to fill 4 pages of CHI extended abstracts format. References, Abstract, Keywords and Acknowledgments take up 1.5-2 pgs leaving 2-2.5 pages of that funky column format for your thoughts.

  3. jeffreybardzell

    Workshops vary quite a bit. Many actually have 100% acceptance rates. They are GREAT ways to get started with an idea, because they commit you to writing a position paper and doing some research, and you can get good feedback and participate in a high-powered setting, without your having to meet really high standards of peer review. Doctoral student do a lot of workshops, and it’s a brilliant strategy.

  4. jeffreybardzell

    Tyler: I like the idea of putting “lifeworld” and “magic circle” together. It seems like a lot of potential explanatory power comes out of that, not just for security. You should pursue this line of thinking!


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