The player assumes the role of Marîd Audran, a private detective. The game is set in "The Budayeen", an entertainment / criminal quarter in an unnamed city somewhere in the Middle East that is based on New Orleans. While running a series of errands/"business deals" for "Saied the Half-Hajj", a friend of Marîd's, Marîd is framed for the murder of a man named Kenji Carter. Although Marîd's influential patron Friedlander Bey clears him with the local police, Bey asks him to look into Carter's death. Doing so leads Marîd deep into the criminal underworld of the Budayeen.
Effinger's novel When Gravity Fails was the first in a series of three "Marîd Audran" books (followed by 1989's A Fire in the Sun and 1991's The Exile Kiss); Circuit's Edge takes place between the first and second novel.