The ‘Magic Circle’ of Articulate! 

Taking part in the Game Experience Design subject has been eye opening as board games were an activity I wasn’t really fond of. I tended to keep my attention to a variety of card games and didn’t explore further past mass market games. 

As I slowly worked towards acquiring a better understanding of games through sophisticated critical research and playtesting I discovered games were a tool that allowed us to escape. Dutch scholar, Johan Huizinga, published the book Homo Ludens (Man the player or the playful human in 1938). I believe his research and observations have changed the way I perceive play and my perspective and experiences on board games. 

My new found passion came about when I indulged in a game of Articulate created by Ventura games. Played in teams (4 different coloured playing pieces), the idea is to describe as many words as possible to your team-mates in just 30 seconds, without saying “rhymes with” or “sounds like”. The aim of the game is to be the first team round to the finish segment. Taking turns being the describer and the guesser, describer reads from the category that their playing piece is sitting on. The categories include,  andom, Object, Nature, Person, World, Action and Spade. When the timer runs out, the team counts the number of cards they answered and moves their playing piece forward that many times. 

The game is made for parties and family nights in, which happens to be the two times I have played Articulate. This multi-million selling board game was invented by Andrew Bryceson and published by Drumond Park Ltd, Nilco S.A, Tomy, Ventura Games. 

Huizinga is known for his observation that games enable a ‘magic circle’, which separates the player from the real world. This observation became apparent when I played Articulate. It was like we left our world behind for a short while and only focused on communicating with each other and winning.   

Considering the process of understanding how this game works, my plan was to start with the back of the box. You’ll find the first paragraph states “Passionate rivalries, animated banter, helpless laughter.” Straight away I thought Articulate was further up the paidia side of the spectrum, thus less bound by rules. My experience with instructions is not always very enjoyable, so naturally I look to Youtube to view how the game works visually. I soon learnt the game has a ludus aspect incorporating rules to create a competitive component. 

My experience with Articulate was extremely gratifying. The simplicity and fast pace motion of the game kept me attentive, excited and highly entertained. The competitive edge allowed me to expand on my skills and create goals and strategies in order to win. The chance and randomness of the spinning segment also causes excitement of the unknown. Finally, the mimicry of role play, trying to guess the description on the card kept me on my toes and kept us all on the edges of our seats. Having llinx as an aspect to the game where you aren’t just sitting down but instead acting, jumping and using all kinds of facial expressions makes the games so enticing. A reaction I felt everyone experienced while playing Articulate was the pressure of the timer. Watching the sand fall as you and your partner rush to make records, that was definitely a feeling I enjoyed. The game required the perfect amount of time to complete and finish. Having a small house and Articulate only needed a small amount of space, allowed for a comfortable experience. 

The main demographic that the game has recommended is ages 12 years old and above. This information is vital as the experiences for a younger audience wouldn’t be as enjoyable, thus, mature players may feel impatient. The descriptions on each card can be difficult for a younger demographic as they are designed for people with more life experience and knowledge. For example, a young player may struggle with the category World if their partner were to describe Istanbul. Furthermore, the category Person may be difficult as a person such as Paul Hogan may be unfamiliar to them.    

Growing up amongst family members that appreciate television game shows, such as Million Dollar Hot Seat and Family Feud, this game resonated with us, almost like teleporting us into an alternate universe as we competitively indulged in the game. With the exchange of quick quiz questions, it provoked a sense of role play and storytelling between partners. As much as the game felt Paidia, rules guided us to stay within the boundaries allowing for a structured Ludus game. 

The targeted outcome for most board games is to create an overall fun experience, however with Articulate, it ignites a learning experience whereby allowing players to become a part of the game. It not only activates all kinds of emotions, but it also allows users to go on an educational journey. Furthermore, Articulate sparks a friendly and humorous experience whilst allowing users to advance their communication skills in a humorous, imaginative and somewhat banterful way. This is parallel to Gregory Bateson’s philosophy of games being a form of meta-communication. This communicative element sparks a rewarding outcome for all players. Overall, Huizinga’s ideology of the ‘Magic circle’ is reflected in Articulate as it invites a safe space in which normal rules of the world are suspended and replaced by the artificial reality of a game world. 

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