Saturday, January 15, 2011

Echo Bazaar: A Great Use of Mystery

If you want to entertain people with mysteries, then you need to check out Echo Bazaar. It's a free browser game with incredible depth despite its stark simplicity of mechanics. Even non-gamers can play this, that's how accessible it is. So why should you?

Because as magicians and mentalists we are mystery entertainers. While the primary mystery is almost always the how of the things we do, there is the frequently overlooked why. A truly great performer will enthrall an audience not with another Miser's Dream effect, but depth as a character and person. There needs to be a mythos to create verisimilitude and the desire to explore more deeply the reality that the mystery entertainer lives in.

Echo Bazaar is a paragon of the use of mystery in an interactive piece of entertainment. As of writing, I began playing on Thursday and have become addicted. Seriously, if it weren't for the limited number of actions you can take at one time, I wouldn't have gotten any work done these last couple of days. The game's abyssal depth just sucked me right in. There were new mysteries to explore at every turn and pursuing one lead just opened up new ones. I'm never short for something to do, and now that I've chosen an ambition for my character it's only getting more intense as I go. Everything happens for a reason, but I can't figure out what. Yet.

Click the link above and give it a shot. It's free and despite being so addictive doesn't require anything more of you than 10 minutes of your time a day, if even that. If you want to create mysteries, you have to see how other people are doing it. It's the same as a musician listening to multiple genres of music to find his sound.

Oh and while I'm thinking of it, there's a social element to. Facebook friends and Twitter followers/followees who are in the game can interact with you. I'm on Twitter as DrAVornoff. Just in case... you know, you were curious.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Alex's New Book!

Since my beginner's guide to mentalism turned out such a positive response, I've decided to flesh it out into a complete guide in ebook format. I'll be covering not only bibliography, but also how to develop a performing character, scripting, presentation, specializations, using New Media, and more. I'll even be including some effects and routines from my own working repertoire.

If there is a topic you'd like me to include in the book, let me know. I want to make sure I deliver a comprehensive start-up guide for mentalism initiates.

Monday, January 3, 2011


I play guitar. Badly, but I still play it. Yeah I know, a shaggy white guy who plays guitar. Big surprise! I used to hang out with other guitarists online and off. A situation that repeatedly came up was a guy would ask what songs he could play at a party to get the attention of girls. First of all, I have no problem using music as a way to break the ice and make people come to you. What I did have a problem with was the suggestions. One that came up without fail was Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton. If you don't know, Clapton wrote that song as a catharsis after his baby son fell from the window of a high rise apartment and died. All these guitarists would recommend playing the song for a girl and then telling her the story behind it. I always had one question for them: "Have you ever known the touch of a woman?"

There's something distinctly crass about exploiting tragedy for personal satisfaction. And yet, as we pursue magic as an art this sort of situation is inevitable. Time and time again, you'll see hacks who imagine that to be deep, they need to dial the personal tragedy up to 11. Why? My best guess is that sentimentality is much easier to articulate than actual sentiment.

What the difference? Sentiment is how we feel about the things that happen to us. It's sublime and complex, but usually understated when expressed in words. We have a massive variety of words to describe our emotions, the nature of them and the intensity with which we feel them. Some languages even have words to express feelings that others don't. An example would be the Russian word "toska," which refers to a longing for something that isn't there and which can give way to a general malaise or even full-blown depression depending on the strength of the longing.

Sentimentality on the other hand is the exaggeration of emotion. It's melodramatic, overblown and extravagant. Cheesy in other words. I little cheese is good for you now and again, but too much of it leaves you fat, sick and blocked up like... it's better if I end this metaphor now.

Sentimentality is easier to write because it doesn't require as much subtlety. A few touches of lurid language here and there, some outrageous metaphors and analogies, and there you go. So easy a monkey could do it. Which is a phrase that I always considered to be an excellent example of damning with faint praise.

Schlocky sentimentality may get you some nods here and there. There's a reason schmaltzy greeting cards sell so well. But if you want to actually make a strong impression on people, you're going to have to try a lot harder than that.