What does virtual reality have to do with magicians?

September 21, 2017

Virtual reality – where you strap on a headset and maybe a vest or some gloves – at first doesn’t seem like it has much in common with magic, but as Curtis Hickman of The Void explains, they both rely on misdirection. In a presentation at the Augmented World Expo, Hickman, who is himself a magician, described how effective virtual reality depends on tricking participants into believing in not just the fantastic, but more importantly the mundane.

To get the audience to buy into a magic trick, you must first establish certain ground rules of truth. This is a regular coin, you have selected a card of your own free will, this is a real bowling ball. The hurdle for convincing someone to believe a virtual reality experience is similar, and misdirection is key to selling the lie. Hickman’s example of creating an endless hallway by letting the player walk in circles is a perfect illustration of how, as he says, “virtual reality is the result of misdirection.” 

It’s a fascinating exploration of how willing our brains are to fill in the gaps of not only what’s not really there, but what’s not even possible.