Worldbuilding: The Ecstasy, The Agony, The Stupidity

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I love worldbuilding, and yet I meet people who hate doing, even resent it. That’s because we forget what worldbuilding is for – our audience and their experiences.

Let me note upfront my obvious biases about worldbuilding, from stories to games. I love doing it, and have for years. I love looking at other worlds people created. I believe there’s psychological value in it. I also have and am writing a ton of books on the subject.

But other people I’ve met resent it. I’ve found they fit into a few categories.

  1. “I want to get to my story” – People don’t want to figure out the exact value of the Frbillian gold ducat of Slenderhome. They have an epic drama to write and none of their characters give a damn.
  2. “I don’t want to get lost” – You can easily got lost in worldbuilding, something I do joyously. You may be good at it and like it a bit too much if you get my drift.
  3. “I’m doing this for my audience” – You’re worldbuilding for the sake of the audience first, not to deliver something, but based on the assumption they expect “X” amount of worldbuilding or hate Y or something. Worldbuilding is part of a larger product.
  4. “I want to be like this person” – Which 90% of the time seems to mean JRR Tolkein. We’re busy trying to emulate other worldbuilders as opposed to asking what we need to do and want to do.

I’m sure some of these apply to you as a whole or in part. Worldbuilding can get onerous – even for someone like myself who loves it. I’ve experienced all of them.

Now how do we address them? Much to the surprise of absolutely no one, I’d like to discuss Agile Methodology. No, stay, this won’t take long.

Anyway, a big thing about Agile is focusing on value of something. You have an audience. They need something, and you figure it out and how to deliver it. Worldbuilding is the same way.

Your audience wants a story or a game – so Worldbuild enough to get the story or the game done.

You need a certain among of worldbuilding – Use this precision to avoid getting lost. Feel free to enjoy it, since you are also part of the audience, but also know when to stop.

Know your audience – Ask who your target audience is and deliver enough worldbuilding for them. If you find yourself with a huge list of different target audiences then you don’t have one in mind. You’ll get lost.

Worldbuilding is about delivering value, and knowing enough to deliver a game or a story or whatever. Keep yourself focused by asking how it serves your larger goal. Even if your goal is a world guide for an RPG, you have to ask what delivers value.

Let me close out with a suggestion if worldbuilding troubles you: Write down your target audience and sort them into no more than three categories. Next, ask yourself what these audiences want and list the top three things. This will give you a guide to how much to do – and not do – and make you think about your audience.

If you can’t answer those questions easily, then you’ve learned even more . . 

Steven Savage