Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Obsession of Creation

There's something about making things, particularly unreal places, that touches a core part of me. I feel driven to codify, explain, and expand until every stone, tree, and cottage is real. It sounds like insanity: how can describing a place make it real? In a simple pragmatic sense, it cannot. You can't visit these places, except through a mediatior be it a book, a film, a video game, or a DM. They aren't physically present, which makes any pretense to "reality" a bad joke. And yet...

And yet. There's a way to view these creations through a semiotic lens as being no different than the world around us. Dare I say it? Fantasy worlds can be as real as reality itself. It sounds like the claim of someone experiencing a psychotic break or engaged in the highest level of new age bullshit. There is a difference of course, and that's the mediating factor. The real world is mediated through our senses while fantasy worlds are two steps removed: our senses mediate an experience which itself mediates. Thus, it is at least one step removed from the experience of reality. But the same types of interaction are at play. A sufficiently complex semiotic network is indistinguishable from reality. At least, that's what I tell myself.

Can this be what drives my desire to write down, to explain in excruciating detail, to spend hours dwelling on fantasy realms? Over the past four years I've spent a LOT of time developing Arunia and the 10th Age... and I don't see myself stopping any time soon. Every time I complete a treatise on imperial society or finish fleshing out a map of Agstowe or Soloth I feel a sense of divine accomplishment, a profound satisfaction. I have made Arunia a little more real, or so I tell myself.

I can't figure why I do this. Is it a profound sense of egoism? I began it after reading about Tolkien's journey into creating Middle Earth—I think. Reading that he always claimed to be "discovering" rather than "creating." That's what spurred me on, I suppose, the feeling of being a god. I used to relish that. I don't know if its true anymore, I don't particularly feel like a god while I write. I feel more like a historian now, a medium, a vessel. I don't determine the outcome of events, I try to discover the outcome which feels most "true."

I piece together the past of Arunia the same way I've pieced together the history of the House of Ely or the Carolingian Renaissance—with painstaking research. The only difference is that where I must go to real sources for one, I can "discover" sources for the other. Reading a history book, watching television, reading a novel, even experiences in every day life allow me to find "true" things about Arunia.

Just what the hell is this thing that setting designers do? Is it art? Is it history? Is it madness? Sometimes I must admit that it feels something like madness. Few players indeed will read the detailed descriptions I write and most of those are close friends. I cannot imagine that the 10th Age will ever really get a large following in the OSR or the world beyond that—it's just one of those things that I'm compelled to do, to make it available so that if people did want it, it'd be there.

1 comment:

  1. What you are experiencing is a divine urge.

    Tolkien liked the term "subcreation." And as I was reading your post just now, I realized that God (I believe in God, but not some old guy with a 'tude, but that which creates and breathes life into the world)feels the same way. He creates so that he can know that creations completely and in detail--for the sheer joy of creation. And the Creator loves the creation--even those things and people that fail, are destroyed, whatever--that is their story. And it's a story that must be told.

    What you are experiencing is a divine urge.