To take play seriously is to define play as serious, which goes against common sense definitions of play. Johan Huizinga (1950), in Homo Ludens, his study of play and culture, offers a definition of play that is applicable to both gaming and writing. For Huizinga, play is "a free activity standing quite consciously outside the 'ordinary' life as being 'not serious,' but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner" (as qtd. in Bogost, 2006, p. 115). He extends his definition of play with the metaphor of the "magic circle" -- a safe space and place of play, "the arena, the card table, the magic circle...are all in form and function playgrounds, i.e. forbidden spots, isolated, hedged round, hallowed, within which special rules obtain. All are temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart" (as qtd. in Bogost, 2006, p. 134).

Play for Huizinga is about the ideal, the dream, the safe, and the separation between the real world and the game world. This escapist impulse is what most games are about and why most people play them. Much can be said about the pedagogical move in teaching writing where students are encouraged to play, to dream, to practice, to share their thoughts, feelings, opinions, and to risk exposing themselves to their readers be it peers, teacher, or general public. However, the magic circle of the writing process and by extension the writing classroom is not a perfectly safe place and is often infiltrated by and inflected with social, political, economic, and ideological differences and dangers. Like Mary Louise Pratt's (2005) notion of the classroom as a "contact zone," the magic circle of both gaming and playing are full of cracks, gaps, slippages, and stresses that can potentially be transported into and out of the space of play. In the classroom, these cracks and gaps are vital and important to identify and articulate because as Pratt argues, "Despite whatever conflicts or systemic social differences might be in play, it is assumed that all participants are engaged in the same game and that the game is the same for all players. Often it is. But of course it often is not, as, for example, when speakers are from different classes or cultures, or one party is exercising authority and another is submitting to it or questioning it" (pp. 593-594). To assume play is safe for all is to assume that everyone is playing along, playing nicely, and playing by the same rules.

For Ian Bogost (2006), "Instead of standing outside of the world in utter isolation, games provide a two-way street through which players and their ideas can enter and exit the game, taking and leaving their residue in both directions. There is a gap in the magic circle through which players carry subjectivity in and out of the game space. If the magic circle were really some kind of isolated antithesis to the world, it would never be possible to access it at all" (p.135). In other words, games must have stakes just like writing must have stakes. If all that is produced inside the magic circle of the classroom had no possibility of existing or relevance outside of the classroom, then the play with words, the experimentation with writing, has little stake in the lives of the teachers and the students. Bogost continues, "Games provide safe ways to experience reality, but that safety is not necessarily preserved once the game ends and the player slips through the gap in the magic circle, into the sincerity of his or her own mind. Games do provide a protected space, in which players are spared all the physical consequences of their actions. But for the magic circle to couple with the world, it must not be hermetic; it must have a breach through which the game world and the real world spill over into one another" (p. 136). To be safe is not about invulnerability. In many video games, there are magic pills, potions, or power-ups that grant the advantage of invulnerability, but that invincibility is only temporary for without risk there would be no challenge, no stake, no fun.

To take play seriously is also to take the risk in play seriously. Whether playing a video game or writing a personal essay or giving a public speech, the sense of safety, the space of safety, must be a contact zone, "social and intellectual spaces where groups can constitute themselves as horizontal, homogenous, sovereign communities with high degrees of trust, shared understandings, temporary protection from legacies of oppression" (Pratt, 2005, p. 596).

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