Penn Jillette: With game design, “the challenge is precisely the same as magic”

Enlarge / Jillette (left) and Pitchford (center) perform a card trick on stage with an audience volunteer. (credit: Kyle Orland)

LAS VEGAS—For all the clichéd talk of the "magic of video games," we don't often think of the similarities between those games and the kind of magic tricks done on stage. But to kick off the annual DICE Summit Wednesday morning, magician Penn Jillette and Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford (who are working together on a new virtual reality version of Desert Bus) came together to discuss exactly that—how video games can learn from the tricks stage magicians use to play with audience attention.

While many people think of misdirection as essentially pointing and saying "look over there" to fool someone, Jillette stressed that's not actually the case. Instead, misdirection is about studying and learning where people's attention naturally goes and becoming an expert at controlling that. "It's not misdirection; it's direction."

"We've been playing around in VR and traditional games, and one of the challenges is precisely the same as magic," Jillette said. "How to have someone make a totally free choice—put their attention where they want—and have us know where that is."

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