Thursday, May 19, 2022

A Conclusion to Worldbuilding

Having finished writing a brief description of 112 professional backgrounds, my thoughts are somewhat tangled.  The background generator isn't done, no not by a long shot, but it's nice to put this part of it aside and move onto something new.  I've approached the page these last two weeks by writing a set amount each day and being satisfied to see progress ... but I am definitely in that dark, dreary place where I'm far past being excited with the page and yet possessed by dispair that it will ever be finished.  As a designer, this is a terrible place to be.

My apologies for ceasing to write more on worldbuilding at this time.  My thoughts on the matter grew more and more disjointed as I ended up pursuing bits and pieces that interested me more than teaching the procedures themselves.  On some level I feel that, given a little time, I could probably go back to the beginning and do a better job describing the process overall.

Boiling it down to its key points, the reader ought to have a solid perception of the following points:

Know what the world isI mean this in a way far past the fact that there is a world, or even its topographical structure.  Making a world, any world, begins with the self.  How do I think the world functions?  How do I think it ought to function?  What are the obstacles dividing those two visions?  How do these obstacles manifest in the players' efforts to remake the world into how they think it should function?  Having a clear, concrete evaluation of these things is critical for building a game world that's going to be used for adventure.

For example, the most common perspective is to imagine a world full of fairly decent, fruitful people, which is also inhabited by many bad apples.  The difference between how the world functions, ie., with rotting apples, and how it ought to function is the removal of said bad apples.  The players therefore exist to remove bad apples.  If they do, the world becomes what it ought to be.

This is painfully naive and juvenile, but it's also highly tenable for anyone not especially familiar with the world — like children — who are seeking a simple, practical structure upon which to run a game world.  The adventures essentially write themselves, are easily comprehended, produce escapist results and — when the adventure is concluded — leave a feeling of warmth and accomplishment.  This feeling can also contribute to the death of a campaign, as it has a "finished" aspect that suggests, "Why not quit while we're ahead?", but this feeling can be overcome by quickly pointing out another really bad apple that needs removing.  One that's even worse than before.

[that creates an uncomfortable sliding scale, with every bad apple having to be more hideous than the last — which is economically unsound — but truthfully, most campaigns will die of their own accord before we reach the worst possible bad apple]

My vision of my world consists of a stupidly complicated humanistic existentialism, in which there are no bad or good apples, just circumstances which compel victims to become monsters, and that the idea of "how the world should be" is a deluded fantasy that leads players to commit atrocities themselves in the face of achieving goodness, while maintaining a suggestive impression that things ARE getting apparently better, even if this is a false impression originating with the players' personal sense of importance in a mad world.  In other words, creating hell while maintaining that this is what heaven actually looks like.  But this is me.  Running this kind of world demands the ability to create legitimate dilemmas while positively not leaving fingerprints on the evidence.  It's not for everyone.

Understand geography.  This does not mean reading a text book on the subject.  It means reading 30 textbooks on the subject, and then commentary on the text books, and then commentary on the commentary.  These books must describe physical geography, yes, and geology also, but what's wanted are books about political, historical and economic geography.  All these books exist.  And for many, they are dull, inflexible and hard to equate to gaming or why we'd want a map.

I wrote many posts emphasising the importance of this information and its application, and yet I think most people will never read enough of it to produce the tipping point of, "Ah, I understand, that's cool."  Which takes awhile.  Critically, understanding the Earth's appearance, structure and behaviour is a self-gift that keeps on giving, not only for role-playing but for every other aspect of life.

Understand people.  This means more than comprehending why and how they act as they do, or what they do, or when they've done it, or who's done what where ... though all these things are incomprehensibly helpful.  The larger goal is to study people in order to emulate what people do, as they do it, without judgement or refrain, since acknowledgement of all people means inhabiting the game world with people WE DO NOT LIKE personally.  Seeding the game world with people we don't like means, on some level, learning to like them ... and this, I've found, most game designers and runners won't do.

The common workaround is to represent unlikeable people as two-dimensional cardboard cutouts, mostly as bad apples, and always as disposable.  Which definitely serves if it's your goal to write for television and Netflix, and especially Amazon prime, but which will disappoint people who — with all the world of things to choose to spend their time on, they've taken up fantasy role-playing games — have higher standards.  For a time, the cardboard apples seem to work ... but only for a time.

Of all the things that players like most about a game world, it's being surprised.  Interesting adventures and complicated situations can do that, but these things take enormous amounts of set-up and skull-sweat.  Geographical features and profound fantastical landscapes can surprise, but the more surprising they are, the less believable they appear, so that eventually such efforts produce a "ho-hum, seen it" effect.

People, on the other hand, especially people we don't like, present a never ending, vast wealth of potential surprising possibilities ... once it's understood how to fabricate them realistically out of whole cloth.  It's this immense capacity to surprise that drives the film, literature and personal stories juggernaut of human fascination — and as it happens, people we like have the LEAST possibility of surprising anyone by doing anything, except something bad, which we hate.

People we hate surprise us by doing something good ... which we as humans looooooooooooovvvve.  But they can't do something we love unless they're first presented, at length, believably, cruelly and positively as something we really, really, really hate.

This is the secret to writing.

It will take the reader the rest of his or her life to "understand people," so get on that.  It should keep you busy.


JB said...

Mmm. Hm, mm, mmm.

I feel there's at least another couple ways to understand what the world is besides these "good/bad apples" and "no apples" categories...I'm just having a hard time putting my brain in the frame to articulate my ideas.

(I do NOT infer from your post that these two concepts provide a comprehensive list of possibilities...I'm just saying my mind tends to look for a "third way," just as a matter of course. And it's failing at the moment)

Anyway. Come back to the WBing topic when you can; it's almost always good food for thought!

Alexis Smolensk said...

Oh, no, I don't propose a dualism in any sense. Only that it's necessary to have A vision of some kind. "Worldbuilding" enables sustainability only if there's some binding concept that the players are able to understand, so they can identify their place in the game world. Without this binding sense of purpose or reason, they will feel cut adrift and thereafter dissatisfied with the emotional force of the campaign.