Regular readers know that I am approaching an early, self-imposed deadline for my non-fiction book on virtual law, and as part of that, I have been digging in to some of the older works on this stuff. I’d seen references to Homo Ludens: A Study of The Play Element in Culture, a 1938 book by Dutch historian Johan Huizinga (originator of the concept of the “magic circle” to protect play spaces from the world, and vice versa), but I hadn’t tracked it down yet.
I just got a copy, and I was excited to find that it has a chapter entitled “Play and Law,” which includes the following passage on the relationship between play spaces, the magic circle, and legal systems.
Every place from which justice is pronounced is a veritable temenos, a sacred spot cut off and hedged in from the “ordinary” world. The old Flemish and Dutch word for it is vierschaar, literally a space divided off by four ropes, or, according to another view, four benches. But whether square or round, it is still a magic circle, a play-ground where the customary differences of rank are temporarily abolished. Whoever steps inside it is sacrosanct for the time being.
[...] Let us turn back once more to the archaic forms of legal procedure. Any proceeding before a judge will always and in all circumstance be dominated by the intense desire of each party to gain his cause. The desire to win is so strong that the agonistic factor cannot be discounted for a single moment. If this does not of itself suffice to disclose the connection between legal justice and play, the formal characteristics of the law as practised lend added weight to our contention.
I’m sure this rings true for some of the litigators who read this blog, and it also helps explain the large number of attorneys I have met who play online games, and who have a secret desire for a second career as game designers.
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