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In my last post, I talked briefly about worldbuilding in general. There is so much involved that no one post can cover it all. But I did mention one thing I would like to expound on. I talked about how video games benefitted in the early days because of their limitations, as far as creativity goes. As for me personally, by the way, I was a big gamer when I was younger, but am starting to lose interest now. There could be several reasons for this: I’m getting older, more mature; I can face my problems instead of turning to video games to numb my problems; I don’t have as much free time, etc. But one thing is that they don’t interest me as much. They are all starting to look the same, losing creativity. Not to offend anyone, but first person shooters all appear to have the same game mechanics; sports games seem to be depersonalized, focusing on a team instead of a player; and rpgs, especially online ones, are full of petty quests where you have to defeat a certain monster or fetch a certain object. I want a game with more substance, or at least something I can enjoy playing. But the games I’ve played recently start to blend together, and seem more formulaic than creative. I worry that now with the current graphics, the big teams, the long standing series, the video game industry overall, with some exceptions, has lost the ingenuity that earlier games had, because they can make pretty much whatever game they want.

Limitations make things better, despite the counterintuitive reasoning there. For example, I am a graphic designer. If I have a project that was completely open ended, I would have no idea where to start. But if given strict parameters (I want this logo in this color, to represent this, etc), within reason, I find myself testing the limits, trying to get around something, or taking one of the requirements, fulfilling it, but doing it in an unexpected way. Creativity comes when getting somewhere after funneling through a small opening, not when floating around in the air with no direction. Taking this example further, when someone decorates a cake with frosting, in order to get the intricate designs of flowers or whatever else is wanted, the frosting is squeezed through a narrow tube in a specific way. If it was slopped on, it would never become so pretty. Graphical limitations for early video games forced developers to come up with new ideas. Now, that might not be so true.

Many people complain that a movie based off a book is not as good as the book, especially if they read the book first. Why? A movie is similar to how we experience things in real life, as spectators. We see things, we hear things. We try to read minds, but the closest we get is reading expressions. Books, however, are just a bunch of words printed on a page (or tablet). There is no direct visual representation, nor audio. The scene is broken down into imperfect words and conveyed to the reader through language, a purely abstract form. The reader has the responsibility of reassembling those words into a mental picture and playing it out in the mind, with visuals, audio, even smell, touch, and taste. But none of that is driect, it has to go through brain filters. That’s a lot of work, and there are many limitations to language. So why do people curl up with a good book? While not true of all, there are many great works of art that come from books and words. The bible, Shakespeare, Swift, and many others have changed the world with their writings. Video games, nor even movies, have not yet achieved such a high status.

As far as worldbuilding goes, limitations are important as well. Take fantasy. Magic can be powerful, but it can’t be all powerful. There needs to be limits. If not, either the villain would take over everything, or would be stopped easily by the hero. Limit what magic can do, and be consistent with it, even if the reader doesn’t know exactly what the limits are at first. The limits can inform about the magic. Example: Magic in one world can only be cast in daylight. Why? Because magic comes from the sun. Humans on this world have adapted to use the sunlight to perform tasks humans on other worlds wouldn’t have been able to. What story elements can come from this? A powerful sorcerer becomes just like everyone else at night, easily assassinated. There could be a group of nomads who are trying to travel as fast as their world spins, so they never taste the sunset. Space travel could be a goal, to escape the dark side of the planet and have unlimited magic. Giving a story some limits makes it more interesting.

Science fiction benefits from this too. Pretty much every technology ever created has its tradeoffs. New York streets used to be covered in horse poop until the automobile came out. Now the streets are safe to step on, but there are more people killed by accidents and the air is polluted. Each new technology has a bigger impact on the environment. What would the fuel for a sublightspeed space ship cost? Recently I saw Jurassic Park, and they talk about the unintended consequences of using science that we don’t fully understand. Having a moral issue that makes using a new technology suspect makes for a more interesting story than just having some scientists discover something and congratulate themselves.

Creating artificial boundaries can improve not only the world, but can be useful in writing exercises or creating a unique writing style. In the end, the boundaries don’t limit a story, but give it more focus.


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  1. By Worldbuilding-Limitations | MOONWATER PRESS on 26 Nov 2013 at 4:14 pm

    […] Worldbuilding-Limitations.any fantasy or Para-perter writer will greatly benefit from this. […]

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