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Sort of like a meta-question, but here it goes:

I'm trying to write a story, which there'll be a land where the worldbuilders gather and live together, and use their worldbuilding power together. It's a fantasy world, so presumably whatever they've come to mind and designed would come to life. And exactly only that, so for example, if they've decided on the overview of the city but not on the inhibitants yet, there'll be a magnificant city without interior and people sitting in there.

In order to capture their characteristics, I'd need to know how worldbuilders think and act, what's their approach to worldbuilding, and such. They may be different from people to people, but I think there might be some common traits among them?

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    $\begingroup$ Quite a broad question, but I like it $\endgroup$ – ArtOfCode Dec 20 '14 at 10:20
  • $\begingroup$ Your question is not specific. Are you trying to anticipate your players? If yes, everyone is different and it depends what their preferences are. $\endgroup$ – Vincent Dec 21 '14 at 1:33
  • $\begingroup$ What's not specific? And no, it's a story, I'm sure I've mentioned it in the question. $\endgroup$ – user5005 Dec 22 '14 at 15:14
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I like this idea, but I suspect the majority of people drawn to your community would be more likely to be visual artists, architects, interior decorators, urban planners, and (especially) politicians/political philosophers rather than traditional worldbuilding hobbyists.

The idea of getting to decide everything about a city and see it magically appear is very different from the experience of sitting around drawing a map and figuring out linguistic drift for the fun of it. Just being able to make a city be whatever you want without rules whatsoever has a way broader appeal than what writers and worldbuilding hobbyists do.

If you've seen Inception, think of the scene where the architecture student wanders around making her own personal city in a dream, breaking all the laws of physics in the process. Almost anyone with any sort of interest in the visual arts would enjoy that kind of canvas without limitations. Worldbuilding hobbists, though, are often the opposite of that. We like playing within restrictions just as much as we like crazy flights of fantasy. We like the intellectual game of making things plausible using real-world sciences. We enjoy the element of it that's like solving a puzzle, love it when our own creations surprise us, and live for that moment where we think logically about something we made up and discover something new about it ("Aha! Of course they'd have an economy based around glass!").

If you are imagining a world where there are absolutely no limited resources required to engage in these magical worldbuilding activities -- where land and magic are unlimited, so your average hobbist can give this new occupation a try -- I could imagine old-fashioned worldbuilders inventing games where they designed, say, physics systems and then tried to guess their outcome of those systems or worldbuild within those sets of rules. It could also imagine some people wanting to get together and enjoy the social experience of collaborating on a city or world, but that's not exactly the same thing, and I think many people in the former group wouldn't be automatically interested in the collaborative element. Both are in a sense forms of constrained writing, but the collaborative part would presumably be more likely to draw, say, people who like improv, or people who play story-heavy roleplaying games.

On the other hand, if there are resource limitations, I wouldn't expect the attitudes of worldbuilding hobbists to be heavilly represented in the worldbuilding field, because then in would be more a matter of money and politics, especially if real people are going to live in these invented places. At that point it stops being unlike the real world, which is already full of people building stuff with others.

Last but not least: consider the fact that a lot of worldbuilders are less interested in inventing landmasses and decorating palaces than inventing (and rationalizing) entire cultures, including things like religions and traditional table settings and the outcomes of wars. For those people, you would need for it to be possible for this magic to create something like AI citizens for this activity to be really satisfying. Otherwise I think you'd find a lot of worldbuilders right whether they are now: writing works of fiction on paper, where they can control everything except the things they prefer not to control.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is excellently put. If you are not opposed I would like to clean this up a little bit and we can utilize it for promoting the site. Let me know if you are ok with that idea. $\endgroup$ – James Dec 23 '14 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ Ironically I am not even sure the OP made complete sense to me, but this answer stand-alone is an excellent write up. $\endgroup$ – James Dec 23 '14 at 16:23
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I can't speak to world builders in particular, but I do know of a particular fictional universe of world builders:

Myst. And I'm highly disappointed that this question has been here a year and nobody else brought it up yet.

I think the universe described in Myst (particularly the novels) points out important elements that would arise in a society of world builders. After all, we're not talking about a group of people who can only imagine worlds; they can actually go there. That changes things.

A lot.

If you dig through the Myst lore (ie: if you're willing to suffer through the sometime mediocre writing in the novels), you find out all kinds of interesting things about the D'ni, the people from whom Atrus is 1/4th descended. The people who invented the Art, and the people who built a culture around it.

They lived in a cavern 3 miles beneath the Earth's surface. Why? Well, if you have the ability to go to anywhere more or less at will... does it matter all that much if your home is a cave? You don't do your farming in a cave; you have bountiful harvest worlds for that. You don't strip-mine your cave; you have mining worlds for that. And so forth.

If you are always just a few steps away from any world, the one you live on starts being less important. There were public recreational ages, acting much like parks and so forth. Many D'ni nobles had their own private ages, analogous to owning a ranch and lots of land.

But more than this is the relationship between the D'ni and the peoples of the worlds they "create". Indeed, the quotes there are very important, because it is the ultimate D'ni heresy to claim that using the Art of Writing actually creates anything. They say that it simply links to an already-existing world.

That important, because everyone, everyone who starts thinking that they're creating worlds rather than discovering them immediately wants to lord their power over the native populations of that world. So my interpretation of the D'ni's views here is that it's a conscious effort to not start seeing other worlds as subjects waiting to be enslaved.

And I think that is probably where real world-building starts running afoul of human nature. Because if you really can build a world... what happens if you build life? How do you treat that life? Is it OK to create people who exist solely to serve you? Well, what if you create them such that it is their nature to serve you? Do these world builders have that level of control (notably, the D'ni do not)?

What if the life you create starts doing things you don't like? Is it OK to destroy what you've created?

If you're going to create a world where world building is a legitimate thing people can do, this is a question that absolutely must be answered. Do they treat them as casually as a novelist, who creates people that go through horrific torments in some cases, even casually discarding a character who has served their purpose? Or do they treat them with the respect befitting a world?

Or is it some of both? How much of both is it?

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    $\begingroup$ You actually found a relevant reference for pure worldbuilding question. +1! (Some of the most interesting features of D'ni society were the details that prevented their Art from causing too much upset. The strict regulation of age ownership seems unnecessary, for example, until you realise that it preserves some of the resource scarcity on which their economy's stability depends.) $\endgroup$ – user867 Dec 16 '15 at 3:02
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    $\begingroup$ @user867: "The strict regulation of age ownership seems unnecessary" I don't know about that. Writing livable ages was always depicted as a difficult, exacting task. Failure to do so correctly can send you into an airless rock, the bottom of an ocean of methane, or the fiery heart of a star. Not to mention the possibility of linking to a place with intelligent life that decides to invade D'ni. I think a little regulation is warranted ;) $\endgroup$ – Nicol Bolas Dec 16 '15 at 3:07
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed, the books featured many explicitly stated or implied legal limits on how ages could be written and exploited, and many of those limits may well have served multiple purposes, as you say. (Some of my favourite instalments of the series suggested that the Art can do a lot more than what the D'ni used it for - but that their strict adherence to their laws and traditions prevented them from realising it. By a traditional D'ni understanding, Atrus's stability patches for Riven should not have worked. Then there's writing through time, linking within an age, Yeesha magic...) $\endgroup$ – user867 Dec 16 '15 at 3:56
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One common trait would be a balance of imagination.

A world builder, by their trade, must be able to imagine a world that others have not imagined. However, they must also share this world. They should be used to tempering their imagination with the stark reality that it has to fit within the imagination of others, or be lost.

If there is a society of worldbuilders, they would also likely subscribe to the first rule of improv: you never oppose something that has already been stated. I don't think I can claim that all world-builders follow this philosophy, but if a large number of them banded together, they would almost certainly accept such a philosophy as at least as important as the Golden Rule.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd disagree with your improv parallel. We often have at heart to make the world as believable as possible. And that means contradicting each other all the time! We all have our own background / beliefs / knowledge and we make errors and we correct some. $\endgroup$ – Sheraff Dec 20 '14 at 11:29
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There are two ways to approach worldbuilding: outside-in and inside-out. These approaches would have distinct signatures to outsiders who observe these worlds.

Outside-in starts with a planet and then postulates creatures to fill it. As the question states, such a world might appear barren before it is filled.

The inside-out approach begins with those details with which the protagonist of a story interacts. The "troping" (armchair literary analysis) community calls this a world limited to the plot. In a universe where fictional creations come into existence, such a world might appear to outsiders like various forms of small secluded world, where the only part that exists is the part of which the protagonist is aware. It might look like the Other Mother's world from Coraline, where the edges fade into patchy pieces surrounded by a plain white void. Or it might look like the block-transfer-computation-powered city of Castrovalva from season 19 of Doctor Who or the titular town from the film PleasanTVille, which incorporate toroidal wraparound. And if the inhabitants' physical appearance hasn't been explained in detail, the inhabitants might look similarly without detail, like characters in animated cartoons for preschoolers.

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