Conceptual Tool Box

Fan Fiction: A fiction that utilizes characters or settings from popular culture. Rarely authorized by the original publisher, “fan fic” often infringes on copyright. As Henry Jenkins writes, in “Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten,” “Like cultural scavengers, fans refuse to read by the imposed upon them by the schoolmasters. For fans, reading becomes a type of play, responsive only to its own loosely structured rules and generating its own type of pleasure” (p. 471).

Gamenvironment: In their article, “Video Gaming, Let’s Play, and Religion,” Kerstin Radde-Antweiler, Michael Waltemathe, Xenia Zeiler, define “gamevironments” as “an analytical concept based on the actor-centered approach, which integrates the analysis of the game narratives with a view to combining the narrative and the ludic approaches.” (p. 14) {The article} For these researchers, the “media practices” from which game environments emerge are composed of two conceptual levels: the technical side of the hardware and software, and the aura of cultural discourses that surround and contextualize game play.

Magic Circle: As theorized in Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens {}, the magic circle is a social membrane that separates and shields the fantasy and role play in the gamenvironment from the real world of everyday life. Huizinga writes, “just as there is no formal difference between play and ritual, so the ‘consecrated spot’ cannot be formally distinguished from the play-ground. The arena, the card-table, the magic circle, the temple, the state, the screen, the tennis court, the court of justice, etc., all are in form and function play-grounds, i.e. forbidden spots, isolated, hedged round, hallowed, within which special rules obtain.” (p. 10). The magic circle is not simply a concept that takes place in players’ minds, however, but is a set of concrete imaginings comprised of very real media practices. Accordingly, as Huizinga reminds the reader, “the consciousness of play being ‘only pretend’ does not by any means prevent it from proceeding with the utmost seriousness” (p. 8).


Media Practice: Greg Grieve, in CyberZen, defines media practices as activities “such as reading a book; watching television or film; listening to the radio; or screening a computer, smart phone, or other digital device. Media practices do not merely transmit content but rather are the performance of embodied social activities that users execute with varying degrees of regularity, dexterity, and flair. Media practices emerge from a relationship between possible human action, on one hand, and systems of communication, on the other, and describe how social beings, with their diverse motives and their diverse intentions, tactically use the technologies of communication at hand to make and transform the realities in which they live.” (p. ). {}

Real world: Actual life as opposed to the “magic circle” of “game environments.” Game environments could not exist if not for the pragmatic social practices out of which emerges “everyday life.” As the English anthropologist and cyberneticist Gregory Bateson writes in “A Theory of Play and Fantasy,” “It appears that play is a phenomenon in which the actions of ‘play’ are related to, or denote, other actions of ‘not play.’ We therefore meet in play an instance of signals standing for other events, and it appears, therefore, that the evolution of play may have been an important step in the evolution of communication” (p. 181) {}. Game environments and the real world emerge, however, like a Mobius strip, where the boundary between real and fantasy, play and everyday life, is ultimately just a human-made fiction emerging from a social reality composed of “media practices.”


Vanilla: The standard regular version with no special or extra customized features.