Worldbuilding Through Characterization
 

Worldbuilding Through Characterization

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One Way by S. J. Morden
 

One Way

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When The Dust Settles

Samus by ChasingArtworkWhile attending this year’s Nine Worlds convention I went to a session titled “How To Win The 21st Century,” which talked about games as a dominant cultural medium. This and many other talks at the convention highlighted the growing power and popularity of entertainment forms that had previously been regulated to “things geeks did.” Now admittedly what could you expect to hear in a geek stronghold such as Nine Worlds? To stroll up and down the hotel corridors was to rub shoulders with cosplayers, mega-fans and (if you were lucky) famous authors. But even upon returning home, as I looked around with more careful eyes I began to really notice the changes that people had been talking about.

Sitting down to watch a bit of TV, anyone who regularly watches E4 will know that when you switch over there’s probably a one in three chance of coming across an episode of The Big Bang Theory. This series has pretty much replaced the iconic Friends as the show that is always on. Think about what that means for a second, one of the most popular sitcoms ever has been replaced by a show so heavily influenced by geek culture. People who’ve never picked up a comic, or seen an episode of Star Trek in their lives will be watching a show about characters who live and breathe that kind of entertainment. The Big Bang Theory is a very accessible introduction to SFF and the culture that surrounds it because it focuses on the comedy and characters, making use of the geek factor to serve the humour means that anyone can enjoy it. When compared to shows like The Guild, which is riddled with in-jokes and unlikely to be watched by anyone not familiar with the culture, a series like The Big Bang Theory has the potential to draw in a much wider audience and promote social acceptance of all things geek.

Ygritte by Mingjue Helen ChenIt’s not just the comedies, who says you can’t take fantasy seriously? I scarcely need to mention the phenomenal success of HBO’s Game of Thrones, or the way its success feeds back across mediums and means that the viewers are picking up copies of the books. While there may have been blips like this in the past with The Lord of the Rings films, nothing has matched the current level of enthusiasm for the fantasy genre that we’re seeing right now.

Superheroes too are the order of the day, the cinemas are packed with blockbusters like Age of Ultron and Fantastic Four. Our skyboxes are filling up with episodes of Arrow and The Flash, leaving us the problem of how to make space for when Supergirl comes out in October. Now that technology has caught up with our desire to see a huge green monster batter a guy in an armoured suit our screens are filled with superhero based entertainment. It’s no longer nerdy to watch a film about costumed heroes and sinister villains, it’s become just like watching the latest action flick.

But apparently even the most successful of films can’t outdo today’s gaming scene. During a talk I learned that more money is being made by game developers/companies now than is being racked in by even the most popular film. The speaker did highlight this may have something to do with the £40 price tag of a AAA game over the cost of a cinema ticket, but also because of the massive surge in the number of people who play games. The diehard fantasy fan creating their own hero in Dragon Age is a logical extension of the RPG formula, but alongside them are millions of players gunning each other down in Call of Duty or planning heists in Grand Theft Auto. You’d be hard pressed to find a teen these days who hasn’t spent a few hours in front of a console or pc, regardless of their background and character. The question is no longer “what, you play games?” with a sneer of contempt, now it’s “what games do you play?”

Paper Candy Crush by Yulia BrodskayaThat’s not even touching on the scope of multiplayer games, MMO’s, MOBA’s and other acronyms pull in players by the millions. The rise of eSports continues with prize pools that make pro athletes sick with envy, this year the DOTA International had a prize pool worth over eighteen million dollars! There are twitch streams and YouTube channels that have subscribers in the hundreds of thousands who regularly tune in to watch others play. Games no longer even require the standard console or pc route, people play on tablets and iPhones, sinking hours of the commute into Angry Birds or Candy Crush – you know things have changed when you see a businessman on the tube furiously tapping on his phone to try and line up a series of brightly coloured symbols.

It may appear that the humble book has been lost in this new wave of geekdom, yet even with bookstores[1] and libraries closing there are people picking up Kindles and Nooks (how else can you read Fifty Shades of Grey with no one noticing?). The utility of tablets makes them a must have device for many and even if only one person in twenty chooses to download a book instead of a HD film, that’s another person with a chance to fall in love with reading. In fact, thanks to the success of SFF in other mediums, people are more likely than ever to scroll down the list of fantasy and sci-fi titles on their devices, if only for something to tide them over until Game of Thrones has finished buffering.

Mother of Dragons by Stacey Aoyama

With all this content on offer it seems like you can’t swing a cat without coming across something geeky that has become part of the mainstream. Drive down the street and see billboards for the latest superhero film, prime time advertisements show clips from games coming out, I even had a piece of junk mail with a spaceship on it. Let’s face it, if anyone can be said to have won the 21st century, it’s the geeks. There may have been some setbacks early on, some trying times, but people have finally begun to see that we were right all along. And while I could end this article by telling the few remaining holdouts that “resistance is futile” and that “you will be like us,” I think it’s better to end on something upbeat:

[1] A bookshop is a retail outlet that existed to sell physical copies of books, and swiping your finger as you entered would have absolutely no effect. It may still be possible to find examples of these stores in the high street, however due to their scarcity it’s recommended you check for the presence of a portal back in time should you ever encounter one.

Title image by euclase.

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar Yora says:

    It’s not just entertainment. The 21st century world is run by a technocracy. Everything is done by extremely complicated machines and very complex financial calculations. And only a very small number of people in the world is able to build, use, and repair these machines. You can’t repair your modern car, and only relatively few people can fix minor problems with computers. Even fewer people could make a new computer out of individual pieces and almost none of them could make the individual pieces themselves. Probably never in the history of the world has there ever been a group of people without which all civilization would collapse that was as small as it is now. When a medieval government collapsed, life on farms could mostly continue as normal. Today everything is vastly more interdependent and almost nobody in highly industrialized countries able to survive without the modern infrastructure. And the only people who can keep that infrastructure running are not intelectuals or politicians, but engineers and mathmaticians.
    Being physically strong and tough has become a useless trait. The modern power hierarchy depends entirely on brains.

    “The ability to destroy a planet with nuclear missiles is insignificant next to the power of controling the global digital infrastructure.”

  2. Avatar Julia says:

    There are also those games, that come with a vast number of books attached, like for example “The Witcher”.

    I agree, that video games will not stop people from reading. Those that did not read before, due to TV and sports, will now still not read due to video games. Or they might start to read, because the game world is cleverly expanded by good books.

    And also there is a growing number of video games, where you have to do a lot of reading.
    Interactive graphic novels – what else could we wish for 😉

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