The Magic Circle

Game review by
David Wolinsky, Common Sense Media
The Magic Circle Game Poster Image
Clever satire of flawed video games intentionally messy.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

Have greater empathy, understanding for people who make video games. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Any characters considered role models bicker with each other throughout, are selfish, self-serving.

Ease of Play

There's a learning curve, which isn't huge, but it takes some time to adjust since everything is editable.

Violence

Cartoony biting, thwacking, but no blood, gore. 

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Magic Circle is a downloadable adventure game. Despite what the screenshots might suggest, this isn't a first-person shooter or even a particularly violent title, apart from a few cartoonish bites or thwacks. The game world exists only to show the byproducts of an unfruitful creative process; the world doesn't make sense because people couldn't work together. That provides a lot to learn about cooperation, empathy, and sympathy, all in the wrapper of a fun and strange game. As you wade through, the fourth wall is repeatedly broken with disembodied eyes representing people on the game's team bickering with each other, and sometimes their bickering results in the world clearly being changed around you; you can do nothing but watch and cope. 

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What's it about?

THE MAGIC CIRCLE takes place in an unfinished fantasy game -- unfinished as in abandoned. The team behind the game couldn't work together or agree on how it should work or what it should be about. The result is that you're stuck winding your way through the digital space as a powerless and forgotten generic hero character. You proceed to piece together what all the arguments were about using dev notes left in the world as well as glitchy audio recordings arguably intended for marketing purposes but that actually serve as a glimpse into the squabbling that made the world around you so broken and strange -- a misshapen mess of sci-fi and fantasy.

Is it any good?

The Magic Circle is a strange and acquired taste -- and that's what makes it worth a play. You're suddenly dropped into the world, and while you're trying to understand why it's so janky and broken, you gain the ability to harvest and reassign behaviors among the game's inhabitants. This is done by trapping/editing everything "alive" that's meant to have a behavior in the world: how it moves, whom it guards, how it attacks. By doing this, you build up a "word bank," allowing everything to be snatched and assigned at will. The further you progress, the more you can manipulate the world around you with your war chest of words. But you must be careful, as, once you use a word, if you want to use it in the future you have to retrieve it from that creature once they're back out in the world.

Cleverly, your goal here isn't to cause as much fighting as possible but to proceed past all the glitches and dead ends so you can keep moving forward in your exploration of this flawed world. It's very much about experimenting and not at all about conquest and vanquishing foes. The game is very self-aware and very strange, especially because it tries to demonstrate why some games end up the way they are: not cohesive and confusing to navigate, with characters who don't fit. This is a gleeful celebration of wrongness in video games, in a big and intentionally messy package. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about creative differences. Why do they happen? What's at stake when people disagree about something nobody is asking them to make in the first place?

  • Have you ever shared a grievance publicly? Could that ever be a beneficial or healing thing? Or is it always toxic? 

Game details

Themes & Topics

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