Now and then in my writing I discuss the benefits of Worldbuilding in real life, such as improving record keeping and the like. Truth be told there are other benefits than the more technical and procedural skills, but I never really thought about it much or where to put them. Then I realized, I could write a column on it.
Yeah, I know. Should have thought of that early.
So, let’s take a break from good and evil, science and technology, politics and religion, and discuss just why all these elaborate setting-creations, timelines, and notes benefit you beyond your ability to create a good game or comic or story. This is how Worldbuilding improves you and your abilities in general ways, ways of insight and dare I say it, character.
This may sound a little weird. You may truly enjoy that giant mecha slam-bang universe you created, but you hardly think transforming robots really is going to make a difference in who you are or how you see things.
Actually, you’re wrong. Having done world building myself (in complete and far more unfinished projects), having analyzed it, having talked to writers and artists, I’ve been amazed how the act of world building actually improves people as people. They become, in a way, better and more insightful.
If you’re aware of it, of course, then you can appreciate it, use it, and enhance it. I’m not saying everyone should sit down and create an epic sci-fi universe or fantasy epic, but I’m noting that it does more than you may think.
If you know it, you can use it.
Here’s where it helps.
GAIN A BETTER GRASP OF CAUSE AND EFFECT
Ever wonder just why people make stupid decisions? Ever look at a politician discussing a plan that seemed to be created by an insane person? Ever wonder if these people actually understood cause and effect?
Cause and effect are core to good planning, good results, and in a way are part of being human. We’re able to evaluate where we want to go and what we want, determine what caused what, and use it. Every building you walk by, every criminal case solved, every recipe cooked involves cause and effect.
And a lot of really, really dumb, stupid, deadly stuff is the result of people deciding cause and effect need a time out from each other.
When you do world building you are hip-deep in cause and effect. You think about what happens when something is done. You ask how things are made. You wonder “what if.”
Sure, speculating on what happens when N’gormath, High Lord of Necromancy escapes the Pit of Unsundering and is turned loose on Mogwarth seems trite, but it’s still contemplating cause and effect. Be it zombies or ood processing, thinking about what happens when “X” happens is thinking about results.
A good sense of cause-and-effect is really a kind of skill, a skill that gets burned into your bones and into your mind. It’s almost like Martial Arts, and people who get cause and effect instinctively are amazing planners and thinkers and getters-of-results.
Worldbuilding being all about cause and effect is burning that experience into your mind. Every question, ever elaborate outline is making you better at determining the results of actions. Every time you build some complex part of your setting (even if no one sees it) you grasp mechanical connections and subtle principles.
YOU LEARN PERSPECTIVE-SHIFTING
Ever wonder why some people seem trapped in their own heads (except you, you’re right most of the time, correct?). Ever wonder why some people just can’t see things through other people’s eyes even when said people aren’t lacking empathy or understanding? It can get frustrating as it’s an all too common experience.
Worldbuilding, good worldbuilding, actually teaches you to shift perspectives. It’s required, really.
When you’ve got a huge world running and you’re thinking about who did what, you have to “jump” between the minds of your characters. When your world is in gear and you’re coding behavior for a game ow playing an NPC or writing a scene, you have to shift perspectives. It’s like a juggling act and it’s in your own head. Sometimes when you build a world or create adventures in it you’re not just an author or a coder – you’re a group or a team or a country or a war.
The old story about walking a mile in another person’s shoes? Good world builders have more pairs of shoes than an outlet store and they run marathons in them.
This is an extremely valuable skill to develop for many reasons:
- It allows you to see things from different viewpoints. Imagine being able to be in the shoes of a customer or a friend or a loved one or a stranger and just want you can learn.
- It makes a difficult skill a habit so you can access it easier.
- It keeps you from getting full of yourself as you literally are used to getting outside of your head.
- It teaches you how people see things.
Most of us would love to see more of those above skills.
YOU LEARN HOW TO ASK QUESTIONS
Ever wonder about people who seemed incurious? Who didn’t seem to wonder, to ask questions, to try and delve deep into things. Ever seen them screw up and have to note “uh, if you’d explored this a bit more . . .”
You probably have.
Worldbuilding is all about learning to ask questions, from “how would this person react” to “what if I could use magic to fling a sun through hyperspace at a galaxy-sized angry god?” Worldbuilding gets you into the question-asking mode. that is so vital to doing more in the world.
This ties into the understanding of cause and effect that people develop in good world building, and usually a good sense of cause and effect comes from question-asking. At the same time, it’s a good separate skill as it just keeps you asking “why?” and “what?”
This really means you develop a good, even fun sense of inquiry. This helps you in many areas of your life, developing that curiosity to ask questions people didn’t even think need to be asked. It’s broadening.
BUT HOW DO YOU USE THIS?
So, yes, I think Worldbuilding makes us better, well, people really. But how do you use it?
The answers is actually something I say all the time – OK way too much. Be aware of it.
Be aware of the things you’re learning,t he skills you’re building. Be aware that you’re gaining something from all of this that goes beyond the game or the book or the comic. Acknowledge, and respect it – and bring it to the fore.
To give you a personal example, in one of my many unfinished projects I was doing some world building, and from it found that some of my cause-and-effect analysis was spot on (as it was a real world story). Taking that queue, I realized what I’d learned and worked to hone that analysis to be more useful so I could better understand some technical and cultural trends. And no, I’m not going into detail because I feel a bit silly.
So, be aware, be proud, and put this to use. Every day, every time you world build, you’re really improving yourself.
Plus you’re creating amazing, cool, interesting, fun, scary, things. It’s a double win.
– Steven Savage