Ahah, it’s August and that means there’s nothing up my sleeve – nothing up my other sleeve – but here, on the table, under this hat that is hiding an enormous melon is the theme of tricks month. Tricks! Tricks, fun, chicanery, fooling and duping and the ways of the witty and wagering who ambiguated and disorientate with gesture and guile.
I love magic nonsense. I love magic philosophically and I love magic structurally, I love the way that magic can inform your mind and change the way you treat the world and I love it as a story element, as in, the way that a story can trick you into thinking the things the story wants you to think.
It’s not the same thing as lying.
It might not even involve any lying.
Tricks can be fun like that.
Tricks to me covers three basic like, vibes. One is heists, another is mysteries, and another is stage magic, and in all three cases, they can go fractal. Most often, I refer to magic, the thing that underpins tricks, as the art of controlling attention, which is bold to say since I have only ever really performed magic tricks for the most unimpressed teenage audience you can imagine. But the point is, tricks are generally wound around a pin of ensuring that the people who are paying attention aren’t paying attention to the right thing.
Now, particularly astute people might notice that this could be used to describe almost all storytelling and media, where you keep people looking at the image of the thing rather than the thing, and are we not all in Plato’s cave watching Touhou’s shadows leap on the wall or something like that. While that is a stretch one could take, it seems part of my brain has also latched onto August as a month where I will bring up some truly shocking stories about weirdoes in World War 2, which was kind of a peak season for weirdoes trying weird stuff. I don’t know why, exactly, that was such a hotbed of activity for immense weirdoes who would then move on to lifestyles of lying about what was in their hats.
I like tricks, though! I like tricks because just the idea of a trick – well, I mean these days people call them ‘hacks’ when often what they really mean is ‘idea’ because nobody who lives by ‘hacks’ is doing so in a way that actually improves their life or makes anything more convenient. But when it comes to tricks, for the most part, when you know how it works, things are very different to beforehand. It’s transformative.
(It’s one of those reasons I like that there Locked Tomb stories, what with how often these stories have a trick in them that once you understand it makes you go back and reread things ‘cos now you know something you didn’t even if it was told right to your faaaace)
It’s such a thing, such an idea in all my experiences and spheres of interest, that it’s now almost as universally eroded a term as thing. There’s the trick, here’s the thing, what’s the trick to this, oh, the thing here is- and that language erosion is natural, but when I sit back from it I can still appreciate – often immensely, the different things that tricks can do.
There’s so many ways that media tricks you. Illusions trick you, they fool your senses. Stimuli effects like moire and auditory illusions, they’re tricks. There are historical stories of hoaxes and other forms of duplicity, and gosh, I loved reading about those as a kid. Books full of scams and hoaxes, both ways that they could be done and the ways they were successfully pulled off! These were older books too, books with cheap paper and sometimes, invented scams, as they tried to make sure they could tell when other books were copying them, in the tradition of paper towns. Which was another kind of trick.
Of course, the history and story of tricks tends to be messy, because almost always you’re talking about the secrets and ambiguities of people who are dedicated towards keeping you from understanding them, for one reason or another. In magic, there’s a story or two told about some greats who refused to teach the entire technique of a trick to even their own proteges but instead shared bits of it with them, figuring that they’d work out the rest on their own. This also shows how much people who teach magic assume their students will refuse to work together. Like assholes.
Hell, think of trick taking games. This is an entire game system where describing it feels like something is missing because it’s just so simple. Players contribute cards to a group and one of them is considered the winner of that group. It’s a mechanism so simple that games like Bridge almost flow out of them as an actual math procedure. Most of the rules of an esoteric game of bridge are layered onto that engine, a sort of ‘well, what’s to stop X’ where you’re trying to keep the focus of that game on very specific ways the game can be enjoyed. Is Bridge there to be about divining roughly half the strength of a hand upon one inspection? Maybe. Best to add enough rules that nobody will try and find some other way to win at it, or we’ll lose our narrow focus.
What you can expect, this month, is media that fits within this broad swathe, whether it’s related to heists or horror or haberdashery, and I don’t really think I could put it much better than that. You either know the vibe i’m aiming for, or you’ll pick it up as we go. Again, tricks are about controlling attention, which is a whole discipline for the world at large now. Right now there are a lot of people who want to control your attention and I want to talk to you about ways they’re, you know, kiiiiinda assholes. That maybe I want you to understand things better, but maybe I’m just trying to be interesting because I like attention and right now you’re giving it to me.
Hard to say.
That’s the trick~