Videogame magic comes in a lot of different flavors, some a little tastier than others.
How does magic work? Is it a "snap fingers, make fire" kind of thing, or are there long rituals to perform with a lot of chanting, a bubbling cauldron and the eyes of various amphibians? The answer very much depends on what game you're playing, and in Issue 300 of The Escapist, William Bloodworth looks at a selection of titles and the different ways they make impossible things happen.
The magic found in the Tome of Eternal Darkness is inherently alien and requires a lot of work on the players' part. While materia gave Final Fantasy VII's characters convenient access to magical powers, the Tome forces player characters to wander horrifying locales and fight off eldritch horrors in search of runes. Most games utilize spells like "Heal" or "Cure" to recover from injuries. In this game, players get this effect from combining the runes "Santak", "Narokath", and "Chattur'gha".
The first two runes align with the concepts of "Self" and "Environment", which means they draw energy from the environment into the player character. The third rune is the name of one of the Lovecraftian horrors and determines if the spell affects the body, the soul's capacity for magic, the mind, or some combination or inversion of the three. The rune system ties into the game's sanity system by forcing players to approach common concepts through the paradigm of an ancient monster.
Unlike the materia system, the Tome's magic has immediate negative consequences. The game offers twelve playable characters and nearly all of them encounter the tome and subsequently suffer a horrible fate. Both Alex and the players learn that sanity and survival are the price for using the tome, which creates an uncomfortable sense that Alex is not going to survive the final chapter of the game without a straight jacket. Like the characters, players must learn the alien language of the elder gods, so once again the magic system creates sympathy between the hardships of the characters and the players who control them.
Some videogame magic isn't even really magic at all, but technology that looks like magic. But whether it's super-science or honest-to-goodness sorcery , it still has the same effect. You can read more about it in Bloodworth's article, "The Source."