Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Science of Magic

Magic is not magic, you know. It's a science! And like all good sciences, it ought to be observed, studied, theorized and explained. Magic should be something that makes sense in the game world, something internally consistent and explainable, not a plot device that is no sooner introduced that it is dismissed. And perhaps more importantly in an open world, it should be something the players can discover themselves.

Magic, as a natural phenomenon, should be discovered before it can be used. This might be the premise of the world : the formally barbaric, nomadic tribes first settled down when they discovered how to use the natural supernatural forces themselves. From there on, they unraveled, little by little, the threads of life, the elements and spiritual things, increasing the human presence in the world.

Then come the players, in their youthful enthusiasm, expecting incredible forces to be bestowed upon them with little more effort than the destruction of native life forms; and while studying indigenous creatures that have some forms of natural magic might indeed help pierce its deepest secrets, it is through the scientific method, applied rigorously, that players get to discover the new things of their virtual lives. When enough efforts have been applied toward the discovery of things supernatural, new powers can be unlocked, powers of creation or destruction; powers minute or gargantuan; powers shared or jealously guarded, which can then only be found by the same, rigorous process, or by multiple observations of its effects, typically of the painful variety.

All of this, of course, is not possible if the magical powers are simply throw-away elements, token acknowledgements of a fantasy world that is best left rigid and unimaginative, for there can be no science if there cannot be growth of knowledge, through observation and experiments. If, however, precious care is given that the world is not only malleable, but internally consistent, such that players can not only discover its marvels, but collaborate in creating such wonders themselves, then magic becomes not only a science, but also a whole realm of technology, where industries rise and flourish through the many needs of the players. Certainly, many will want the capacity to toss fire and its elemental cousins at undesired intruders, but many more will want simpler things, from constructions and convenience enchantments, to alterations and purely aesthetic creations. Slowly, the players will find ways to outdo themselves, marking the history of a rising magical culture or the downfall of an overambitious nation.

Eventually, beasts will be dissected and elements observed; potent powers will be weaved into fabric and metals; and grandiose spectacles both immensely useful and ridiculously eccentric will be presented. Players will gain power; for its own right, for themselves or for others, they will seek it. Conflicts, both ideological and territorial, will spark, until one or none remains, for it is the nature of men to seek what is unobtainable. And only after too much has been done will men realize the folly of their pursuit. Science is not good or bad, but there are always those who will seek it for either. Magic, then, becomes just one more way for humanity to doom itself. Perhaps their impressive ruins will serve as a warning to future nations, then, to not toy with the basic forces of nature? One can only hope.