LAS VEGAS — Penn Jillette, the famous comedian and magician (and the speaking portion of the Penn & Teller act), is a defender of video games as an art. He got up onstage with Randy Pitchford, chief executive of Borderlands maker Gearbox Software and an amateur magician, to talk about video games as a protected form of art and free speech.
Their talk shed some light on the common ingredients that all great entertainment and art share, and the session was meant to inspire the elite creators of the video game business to be more creative and think outside the box, because that’s what results in blockbusters that can change the industry.
“There’s one show business, and we’re all in it,” Jillette said in the opening talk at the DICE Summit game event in Las Vegas. “We are trying to inspire the human heart.”
Jillette and Pitchford are both entertainers, and they tried to glean lessons from broader entertainment and apply them to the art of making video games. Jillette started out by saying that games should be embraced as the newest form of art and entertainment, alongside rock music, which was also controversial when it first started making an impact on pop culture.
“Penn is not as deep in the world of video games as I am, and he has a more objective view,” Pitchford said.
Jillette, who didn’t grow up playing video games, said that a friend of his sat him down and forced him to play. Jillette said playing games has helped him relate to his kids, who have grown up with games.
“If you liked rock ‘n’ roll in 1971, you have to love video games today,” he said. “… The last time Hillary ran for president, her very first ad said she would crack down on video games. But every person under 30 knows the names of people in this room. You do not need to understand the art form to love your children.”
One of the differences between magic and games is the live nature of magic, Jillette said.
“One of the deep, fooling things in magic is that people think that, at the end of a trick, the magicians knew where they were going at the start,” Jillette said.
Misdirection is another common magic trick that is also useful in video games. You want to have someone make a “perceived” free choice. You put the gamer’s attention exactly where you want and have them make a choice, but leave out something that could affect that choice, Jillette said.
Another thing that magic and games share in common, Pitchford said, is making the audience uncomfortable.
“Teller says the difference between magic and theater is theater is the willing suspension of disbelief, and magic is the unwilling suspension of disbelief,” Jillette said. “There’s a bigger umbrella in that. Games are being played in a safe space. That is the most important thing about art. We deal with horrific ideas, but deal in a space that is completely safe. There’s a big misunderstanding that when we think about art, they are not celebrating death and pain. They are celebrating youth and life. Death is certain. Pain is certain. We cannot fight that in the real. But in art, we can.
“It’s the 21st century. Stop fucking beating up artists.”