The Magic Shop, part 1: Psychodrama

BTS has built their own lexicon of significant words and ideas through repeated use and re-contextualization across all aspects of their creative work. One of these ideas that I find particularly interesting is the Magic Shop. The Magic Shop does not mean only one thing and does not originate from only one source. But all of these meanings and references are rooted in psychology. So naturally, I wanted to explore and learn more.

I’ve come to understand that there are three main meanings of BTS’ Magic Shop: as psychodrama, as manifestation, and as Magic Healing Therapy. The first two have to do with references to outside sources, and the third is distinctly Bangtan.

I also found that the Magic Shop connects, in one way or another, to nearly every aspect of BTS’ creative work and social efforts. This is a testament to the very mission-driven nature of what they do, and I think the Magic Shop is actually an embodiment of that mission. So instead of only one post trying to cover everything about the Magic Shop, I am dedicating one post to each of its three meanings so I can dig deeper on them all.

This is part 1: The Magic Shop is psychodrama.

“‘Magic Shop’ is a psychodramatic technique that exchanges fear for a positive attitude.” This is the opening message from the first teaser for the “Fake Love” music video. In the teaser, the boys of BTS approach a masked figure in a booth and trade items related to the stories told in the fictional, transmedia Bangtan Universe (BU). It is the first definition of Magic Shop that fans ever encountered, since the teaser came shortly before the release of the song by that name.

The “psychodramatic technique” referenced is, first of all, a real thing outside of the BTS lexicon. Jacob L. Moreno, who developed psychodrama, first wrote about this technique in 1948 (Rautiainen, 2002). Psychodrama is a fusion of dramatic role-playing and psychotherapy which can be used in groups. I could only find a few easily-accessible resources about the Magic Shop technique specifically, most of which offer descriptions of the process with some examples or case studies. In the imaginary Magic Shop, a therapist plays—or “masquerades” (Koile, 2011)—as a shopkeeper who can help “customers” sell something they want to get rid of or buy something they want to gain. The wares are, typically, psychological ones: not only fear or a positive attitude, but also self-liking, or assertiveness, or patience, or anything you can think of. To explore the change customers desire (or say they desire), they will negotiate the terms of the exchange with the shopkeeper, try things out before buying, and so forth.

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The Magic Shop purveyor’s costume and set from the Fake Love teaser, displayed at an exhibition

Koile (2011) states that “In the Magic Shop the therapist can offer help to everybody through the use of fantasy” (p. 14). BTS’ interpretation of the psychodramatic Magic Shop in the teaser video seems to question whether this fantasy is a good thing. The shopkeeper looks pretty sinister, and hides his face with a mask and hood. He does not speak, unlike the therapist who would actively engage a shopper in conversation and bartering to work towards a constructive outcome or useful self-knowledge. Some of the objects he offers as representations of a “positive attitude” might even indicate fake happiness in the context of the BU storyline.

I believe BTS is drawing attention to the thin line between, on the one hand, fantasy and imagination as positive tools for growth, and on the other, illusions that obscure truth and are ultimately destructive. In one case study using the Magic Shop technique, the supervisor said to the group:

Often we hope that we could be someone else, someone who is much better than we think we are ourselves. We would like to be for example more social, calmer, wiser, have more patience and so on. Think for a moment what kind of a characteristic or ability to do something that you feel you are missing or having [sic] less than you would like to have. (Rautiainen, 2002, p. 4)

I think this explanation demonstrates one possible reason why BTS’ shopkeeper is an ambiguous figure. The fantasy of the psychodramatic Magic Shop is that we can change any aspect of who we are, and this can be for better or worse. Perhaps we have a healthy motivation to develop into better versions of ourselves, or perhaps we want to reject who we are and hide what we think we lack (themes that appear in much of BTS’ work, including “Fake Love” and especially in the BU). Maybe we feel a mix of both of these desires and we can’t always tell the difference. A skilled therapist could certainly turn such conversations into constructive self-knowledge and growth; in fact, shoppers often end up bargaining for things that are quite different from their first proposal, what they think they want from the shopkeeper (Koile, 2011). But the fantasy offered by this Magic Shop is not definitively good or bad. (I’ll also note that I did not find systematic evaluations of the Magic Shop as a therapeutic technique, so I can’t speak to its efficacy either way.)

That being said, role-playing is undoubtedly a powerful tool. And any mention of role-playing of course brings me back to games.

I have long considered the potential of RPG conventions to achieve something similar to the goals of the Magic Shop technique, although I hadn’t thought about it in those terms until now. The growth of characters is central to RPGs. Values are assigned to various traits and skills. Skill trees in an RPG are not so unlike a Magic Shop storefront, though they lack a shopkeeper role, the wares are pre-determined, and the prices are fixed. What might an experience be like for a player to build their own skill trees through negotiation and bartering? What might they be willing to give up for certain characteristics for their avatar, and could that process yield new self-insight? Could the offerings for sale be determined in a more flexible and responsive way? I think those are some exciting design questions.

Many connections can be drawn between games and theater. For one, we often talk about the “magic circle” of games, a literal or imaginary boundary that delineates when and where the rules apply or not, and when we are acting in the role of player or not. Similar boundaries also exist in other contexts, including theater, and would certainly apply to psychodramatic activities. My greatest interest in the magic circle is in its potential to be (what I’d call) psychologically semi-permeable. Our choices and behaviors within a magic circle are still informed by who we are outside of it, and in some cases we can be affected by the roles we play even after leaving it (see, for example, Yee, 2014).

In fact, this is essentially the premise behind psychodrama: that real change can be achieved through role-playing, which is only a simulation of a situation, even an entirely unrealistic one. The Magic Shop is a completely fantastical construction but it deals in real-world ideas and behaviors. As Koile (2011) writes about Magic Shop: “the therapist (shopkeeper) sets the stage, without drawing the line between fantasy and reality…” (p. 6). A boundary of sorts (“the stage”) exists, but also does not exist (“the line between fantasy and reality”) at the same time. I suspect that this quality of both boundedness and unboundedness is what makes both the shop and the circle magic.

Even though BTS’ stance on the psychodramatic Magic Shop doesn’t seem wholly positive, I believe there is something about the “exchange” in its definition that they are invested in and take seriously. The Magic Shop is a place of psychological change, of transformation for the better, which is also a quality of the other type of Magic Shop that inspired BTS. I talk about that more in part 2: Manifestation (here).

 

Works cited:

Koile, E. (2011). The Magic Shop: The therapist masquerades as a shopkeeper. Voices: The Art and Science of Psychotherapy, Spring 2011Retrieved from https://www.aapweb.com/aad/vo/voices-sample-koile.pdf

Rautiainen, R. (2002). Using the Magic Shop in a work counselling group. Centre for Playback Theatre. Retrieved from http://www.playbacktheatre.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Rautiainen_Magic-Shop.pdf

Yee, N. (2014). The Proteus paradox: How online games and virtual worlds change us—and how they don’t. New Haven: Yale University Press.

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