Creativity: Creating Worlds

I’ve been thinking about what’s appropriate for this blog. Should it be solely about games and game design? The subtitle says “Explorations into game design and creativity”…and I think that’s the answer. Creativity is important to me, and game design is one of the most important expressions of creativity for me…but it’s far from the only one. The truth is that games, books, comics, movies, they all merge together into one big ocean of creativity in my brain. And this happened even before stories that spanned multiple media.

I Enjoy Worlds

I enjoy media that create worlds and allow me to imagine things within them. To put it another way, I enjoy media that encourage me to be creative. Growing up, I watched cartoon shows—with toy lines that encouraged kids to play out their own adventures. Whenever I read a novel, I often imagine small scenes of myself meeting and talking to the characters; It’s not like it’s a huge part of reading, but it’s always there.  Comic books, mainstream US comic books at least, are designed to accomodate any number of characters and storylines. A story goes from start to finish; a world can engender any number of concepts.

Creating Worlds—The Secret Hobby?

Then, of course, there are tabletop roleplaying games. Perhaps more than any other type of work, a tabletop roleplaying game expects the reader to expand upon what’s given.

I’ve read quite a few tabletop roleplaying game books in my life. I’m sure that’s had some effect on me. Some of these books are written with the expectation that it’s the author’s responsibility to pass along the “true” information about the fictional world; many a supplement has been released detailing some corner of the world or some arcane sub-society. However, other books exhort, even require the reader to fill in the blanks along the way. I don’t want to judge one thing as bad and another good; the one point I want to make is that detailing a fictional world, and detailing how a reader can expand upon a fictional world, are two different skills.

Roleplaying is a hobby that encompasses many different skills, many different activities; world-building is only one of them, and it’s one that’s often glossed over in the books. (Perhaps the most notable exception is Universalis.) And yet, you can find accounts of people who love building worlds, who pursue it in their spare time, to obssessive ends. It seems like worldbuilding is something that’s assumed but not talked about. Perhaps this is a market that’s underserved.

Computer Games

Computer games can evoke worlds in a way no other medium can, by allowing the player to explore them in real time. This was particularly evident in early arcade games, such as Zoo Keeper; it always seemed like there was more to the world than was actually shown. As computer technology improved, it became the norm to portray game environments much more realistically. One could argue that increasing realism made for decreasing mystery, and thus less engagement in the process of imagining the world; I believe there is a fair point there, but I also believe that it is entirely possible to have an intriguing and mysterious world rendered with great realism.

Procedural Generation

It’s possible for programs (such as Dwarf Fortress) to generate well-nigh infinite amounts of internally consistent worlds. However, what knowledge can we gain from these worlds? It depends on how hard we look at them; just look at the case of Tholtig Cryptbrain, Dwarven Queen. Programs can create any amount of data, but meaning comes only from human thought.


As I see it, the process of creation is a neverending loop. Someone creates a work, and that work inspires others, who inspire others in turn—often the original author as well. In some cases the loop is tight, in others it’s more of a cascade; in any case, the tools helping us with our creative efforts are only getting better.

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