the magic circle

The Magic Circle by Jenny Davidson is the story of three young women whose lives revolve around games.  Ruth is a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University in New York City whose research focus is on game theory and design.  She pulls two friends, Lucy and Anna, into the development of her most recent alternate reality game, Trapped in the AsylumThe Magic Circle follows the dramatic, life-altering effects game development and practice has on these three women.

The Magic Circle has a lot of potential.  It explores a segment of geek culture that I personally love (live action role-playing gaming, ARGs, etc) and involves three strong female protagonists.  Additionally, Davidson incorporates different forms of story-telling, including having portions of the story told via gchat conversations, online forum conversations, and blog posts.  It has a much darker tone than I expected and includes some interesting twists.  While I would love to be more involved in LARP and ARG culture, I admit I do not know all of the intricacies of that world and therefore cannot speak to the validity of the culture they portray in this book.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading a book that acknowledges how enlightening and fun this world can be, primarily with regards to the Trapped in the Asylum game.

Nevertheless, there are some problems with the book.  The first half of the book is slow.  Aside from the parts of the book that serve to develop Trapped in the Asylum, I found myself having to struggle a bit to gain interest in these characters and their lives.  The second half takes a dramatic turn and becomes much more of a thriller.  It is faster-paced and much harder to put down.  My biggest problem with the last half of the book is that there are a number of plot points that never get fully explained.  These plot holes left me feeling slightly unsatisfied by the end and wishing the author had added just a few additional pages to wrap some things up.  Admittedly, I am not familiar with The Bacchae, the Greek tragedy the latter half of the book is focused on, and therefore I might be missing part of the story.  Regardless, I would have liked a little more wrap-up of the primary story lines in the final resolution of the story.

The Magic Circle is a dark thriller that skirts on the edge of a full examination of game culture and design.  While I have a handful of issues with the way certain story-lines and characters were handled, I admire the effort Ms. Davidson put into exploring unique ways of handling prose and the examination of live action game culture.  I am definitely interested to see what future stories Ms. Davidson has to offer.