Without question, the worlds we create are a reflection of understanding of reality. Maybe that is why I was not surprised to hear IE Horton say that his primary method of worldbuilding was unleashing selfish people on a utopia to see what happens. After all, we see this same pattern over and over again, both historically and in our modern context, don’t we? Though, if you are not cynical about humanity’s ability to sustain goodness, you might consider the opposite and build a world that sways to the other side. Rainbows and Unicorns, anyone?
From a practical standpoint, however, there is such a thing as too much, on either side of the spectrum. Too much happiness and the world smacks of the cloyingly sweet sense of wish fulfillment that we instinctively know to be a pipe dream. Too much darkness and we find ourselves fatigued and overwhelmed by the futility of it all. This balance is the thin line that the creator treads as they build a space to explore their ideas.
Or, you could just swap back and forth as Valve does in their terrifyingly laugh out loud short, Meet the Pyro.
This does beg the question, though, if we are creating a world spun from threads of imagination why can’t it be whatever we want? And the truth is that it can. It can be what we want, the way we want it. It can be nothing but cotton candy clouds and candy cane forests. Or a burning hellscape where every breath is like a inhaling shards of metal. Both can work as a setting for the story we are spinning, so long as we recognize that there is one factor that we must pay homage to.
The state of humanity.
The method of worldbuilding that IE Horton presents here cuts straight to that factor, and can be used in any setting. Let’s break it down. For the moment, let’s put the setting aside. We could be in the Celestial Palace of the Sugar Plum Fairy, or in the depths of a mad Lich’s lair. We could be on an alien planet, or the quietest street in America. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is the people who tread the grass, dirt, biomatter, or cement of our setting. How they react to their setting, their peers, and their own motivations will shape the world in powerful, and sometimes unexpected ways.
Let me give you a concrete example. Take a normal day on a normal street in a normal, American town. Our hero walks out the door of their home, seeing their neighbor who has watched them grow up walking their dog. The neighbor raises their hand in greeting and then expresses that they could really use help fixing a light on their front porch. If we pause the world in this moment we know that the story could go any number of ways, but all of them will be determined in part by the motivations of the hero and their neighbor.
But it doesn’t end with them. Rather, there is a complex web that stretches around the whole world, entangling all creatures in a tangled string of cause and effect relationships, guided by the ever present question, what do they want? And so we see the depth that can be achieved through this method of worldbuilding. Pick the setting (Utopia), establish the people’s base motivation (selfishness), and witness the result (different political societies and complicated cultural interaction).
Stay tuned for more writing from the WorldCraft Club as we explore worldbuilding and the crafting of fictional settings to inspire your creativity.
Seth is a host of the Worldcraft Club Podcast and he wrote this blog. He writes a Gamelit series called Nova Terra that you can find here on Amazon. He currently lives somewhere in Pennsylvania with his wife, kids and neurotically cuddly labradoodle.
We’re happy to host guest blogs on here whenever we can, it gives James a break and let’s other people contribute their ideas. Let us know if you have a worldbuilding concept or strategy to get off your chest, we’d love to hear it.