People generally think of a game as a thing separate from life, as a bounded space within which the rules of the real world cease to apply. Salen and Zimmerman borrow the term “magic circle” from Huizinga to describe this space:

Within the magic circle, special meanings accrue and cluster around objects and behaviors. In effect, a new reality is created, defined by the rules of the game and inhabited by its players. Before a game of Chutes and Ladders starts, it’s just a board, some plastic pieces and a die. But once the game begins, everything changes. Suddenly, the materials represent something quite specific. This plastic token is you. These rules tell you how to roll the die and move. Suddenly, it matters very much which plastic token reaches the end first. (96)

Sometimes, though, the magic circle proves to be awfully porous, especially in MMOGs, which aren’t so much games in a traditional sense as they are virtual spaces that encompass styles of play both restrictive (hard-coded battle systems, scripted quests) and free-form (role playing, exploration, trade). When a player recently promoted her “GLBT-friendly” guild on a public chat channel in World of Warcraft, she got a warning e-mail from a GM with the inexplicable label “harassment – sexual orientation.” A Blizzard representative later attempted to clarify the restriction on LGBT-friendly guilds on the public forums:

Topics related to sensitive real-world subjects — such as religious, sexual, or political preference, for example — have had a tendency to result in communication between players that often breaks down into harassment. To promote a positive game environment for everyone and help prevent such harassment from taking place as best we can, we prohibit mention of topics related to sensitive real-world subjects in open chat within the game, and we do our best to take action whenever we see such topics being broadcast. This includes openly advertising a guild friendly to players based on a particular political, sexual, or religious preference, to list a few examples.

Blizzard’s efforts to maintain the integrity of its magic circle — to lock out as many real-world referents as possible — have the effect of locking players in a magic closet, a place where targets of abuse and discrimination are blamed for “inviting” harassment and where a veil of silence is the only accepted defense. When they say that “on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” what they really mean is “keep your dogginess to yourself, cur.”

Then there’s the fact that Blizzard doesn’t do a very good job of keeping sexuality out of its own content. Various quests revolve around marriage and married couples, and of course, there are the jokes triggered by the “/silly” emote, which in addition to being really lame are universally heterosexist. The more closely you look at the magic circle, the fuzzier its edges get.