Maybe this won't be considered on topic...but here's an essay I wrote for the book This Is Not A Game by Dave Dave Szulborski. I give a take on the experience of magic and how this experience is created in ARGs...I hope you'll enjoy this perspective and I hope you don't find this post an intrusion on this site.
The Structure of Magic
By Ben Mack
Magic is the act of facilitating a phantasmagorical experience, the acceptance of the world where natural laws dont have such a firm grasp on reality. I grew up a junior member of The Magic CastleIf ever there was a real Hogwartz, this was it. David Copperfield lectured to our membership, Dai Vernon tutored us and Diana Zimmerman managed us. The Magic Castle wasnt open to kids interested in magic. Instead, The Magic Castle held biannual auditions and initiated those who demonstrated proficiency of craft and potential for expertise. The older a candidate was, the better they had to be. It took me two tries to be accepted. Natural aptitude was rarely enough to muster the goods necessary for acceptance. Virtually every candidate had been tutored. Lorenzo Clark was my mentor. I called him Larry.
Larry not only taught me sleight-of-hand, called prestidigitation, but he also taught me the psychology of perception. In order to create a sustainable illusion, one must have a commanding grasp of perception. A magician must transcend fooling their audience and enter the realm of trust where an audience grants you their willing suspension of disbelief.
Magic is not a thing or a physical act, but a state of mind that approaches the sublime but is more aptly referred to as phantasmagorical. Magic occurs at the intersection of a performer and an audience. There is intentionality to the perception. A stone that looks like an eagle is not magic, regardless of whether or not it is carved to represent the physical traits of an eagle. A sculpture maybe a catalyst to an altered state of mind, but I am reticent to call a sculpture magical. Some panoramas feel almost magical to me, but real magic is dynamic and ephemeral. Magic is the process of engineering an experience where reality emerges as it cannot be, and yet the audience is compelled to set aside their disbelief and flow with the experience as long as it lasts.
Creating an illusion entails tweaking our visual prejudices. We drop a coin, and it falls. We know this to be true; we have seen the force of gravity pull objects to Earth since before we had words to articulate the phenomena. What most non-perceptual psychologists DONT recognize is the extent that our mind projects our expectations, our visual prejudices, onto our sight.
If a magician creates the physical gesture of dropping a coin from one hand to another, yet palms the coin so it doesnt actually fall into the second hand, most minds will see the coin fall. The term for this sight projection is sight retention. A normal mind will literally see the coin fall. This specific visual hallucination is called a projection, our mind projects its expectation of reality onto our sight. The magician makes note of the triggers that cause these visual breaks from reality and assembles a presentation that often includes a series of these triggers, often strung together through a narrative known as patter. The magician is an actor playing the role of a person with supernatural powers.
A person who engineers a magical frame of mind, phantasmagoria, for an audience may or may not be a performer on a stage. If the person who engineered a magical experience is not the actor presenting the feats, they are the puppet-master of the experience, where the magician is a marionette, performing in the puppet-masters phantasmagorical production. Clock makers of the 17th Century created automatons, mechanical men whose gears and riggings could be activated to perform the tricks of magicians. These clock makers were not magicians; they were the puppet-masters of their metal figurines that could perform magic, even in the absence of their creators.
Creating magic requires the recognition of stages within stages, seeing micro-stages within macro-stages. The macro-stage is the physical place the audience encounters the magic. A magician may perform on a traditional proscenium stage, in a parlor, at a dinner table or on a street cornerwhatever location the magician interacts with their audience becomes the macro-stage. The micro-stages emerge as the audience shifts their attention. David Copperfield regularly performs coin tricks in front of audiences in excess of 2,000. How? He manages the micro-stages, the focus of his audience. By focusing his own attention, with all his body, on a silver dollar, he can command the attention of 2,000 sets of eyes, whose minds enjoy the representation of a miracle as he makes the coin vanish. Copperfield directs the focus of his audience. Site retention wont work unless the audiences mind is engaged. The mind must not only see the cues that trigger the mental projections, but the mind must be so immersed in its focus that the mind accepts the magicians cues as real. The creation of these cues, the intentional use of projection triggers, is the keystone to invoking illusion.
Misdirection is the magicians ability to secretly do one thing by directing the audiences attention on something else. Direction is the root of misdirection. Managing the micro-stages of an audiences focus is at the heart of misdirectionmovement hides movement. When the puppet-master doesnt want the audience to see the magician load the dove in a scarf, he choreographs the magician-puppet to steal the dove-load during another movement. Sound impossible? Harry Blackstone used to have an elephant walked on stage, up-stage-left, while he commanded attention down-stage-right. When Blackstone gestured up-stage-left, the audience was amazed to suddenly see an elephant.
While I cannot fully articulate the magical frame of mind, I can say this: when an audience feels safe, respected and cared for, their minds loosen and the defenses drop. The goal of the puppet master is to have his avatars communicate their love for their audience. Deception created purely for personal gain is a con; deception manifested for the benefit of the audience may feel magical.
In years past, puppet-masters were magicians, playwrights, screenwriters and novelists among other artists who created dynamic performances for the theatre-of-the-mind in meat space. The growth of the Internet has borne a new species of puppet-master, the weavers of magic who weave cyberspace into their tapestry, the architects of alternate reality games. May you enjoy and appreciate their creations.