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Worldbuilding 101 Part 2


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#1 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4822

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Posted 11 September 2000 - 04:20 PM

Building Culture and Sociobiology Part 1 of several No man is an island, alone unto himself. Everyone is born into a society that teaches its members a system of ethics and a model of how the world works, which information these members use to decide how to live their lives. And each society is a product of the actions of previous generations, who were in turn products of earlier versions of society, and so on, back to the dawn of intelligent life. When you create a single character and their assumptions, beliefs, and personal philosophy, you to some extent also need to create the whole of this history. The exception is if you are doing a near-present Earth setting, because your player will already be fairly familiar with these. But games in the story-dependant genres (RPG, action RPG, adventure, strategy and FPS campaign, and interactive fiction) are usually set in cultures other than that of modern reality. So it follows that you will need to sketch this new culture out for your players as part of your story. You have neither the time nor any real necessity to tell the player the whole history of your civilization, of course. The most important things to describe are those which affect the plot events, characters’ motivations, and characters’ patterns of reaction. It will generally be necessary to describe or imply the culture’s prevailing moral beliefs at the time your game occurs. (E.g. do they think theft is a social pastime or a soul-destroying sin? Or is the concept of theft impossible because they don’t have the concept of property?). Players frequently enjoy a direct statement of a culture’s beliefs, especially if in the form of a ‘traditional’ chant or poem that you have invented. An example from Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness: Light is the left hand of darkness And darkness the right hand of light. Two are one, life and death, lying Together like lovers in kemmer, Like hands joined together, Like the end and the way. This works best when the chant is foreshadowed by an ‘ignored assumption’ in your characters’ comments. Thus instead of relating a boring piece of exposition, you have satisfied the reader’s curiosity. An ignored assumption: Character1 says, “The flurbing should be better than ever this year!” Assuming that the reader doesn’t already know what flurbing is, he/she will think the following: “Flurbing happens on a yearly basis; the character thinks flurbing is a good thing; that flurbing is getting better may be an effect of the way(s) the culture has been stated to be changing.” The one of these that’s an ignored assumption is that flurbing is good. It’s an ignored assumption because the reader will assume this solely because the character thinks so. When the reader finds out what flurbing actually is, he/she may think it’s a terrible idea. So what information are you conveying through your ‘traditional chants’ and other miscellany? The stage of cultural evolution your society is at, the kin group patterns your society is organized around, the type of economy your society uses, and the stage of technological evolution your society is at, for starters. If your world has magic that will need to be explained too, and you probably will want to say whether your world just evolved or was and is home to one or more deities. According to Elman R. Service’s book Origins of the State and Civilization all civilizations that arise spontaneously and free from the influences of previous civilizations go through the following phases: hunting and gathering, incipient agriculture, formative, regional florescent, initial empire, dark ages, cyclical conquests. Now admittedly this is not a very strong generalization because he had a sample size of only 6 spontaneously occurring civilizations throughout the Earth’s history. (These being Mesopotamia, Egypt, N. China, N. Peru, and Meso-America.) But we might as well assume that this generalization is solid so we have something to work with. So what do those phase names mean? Supposedly the first hominids were similar to modern-day bonobos (a type of chimpanzee). They lived in nomadic bands on the plains of Africa and fed themselves by scavenging and browsing. They communicated simple concepts via a few grunts and motions. The only ties they acknowledged were mother-child and friend-friend relationships, and the only ways they controlled each others’ behavior were by physical force and favor exchange. Then something changed in our brains and we began developing language, and through language we cooperated to develop tool-use, food-storing technology, and cooperative hunting. Persuasion, rules, and taboos were invented, and we tamed fire and learned to cook. This was the hunting and gathering period. This is where patriarchality started to overcome matriarchality. Superstition had also been invented, so some tribes, when their members died, buried them with food for various reasons. Some of this food was grain and tubers, and these were observed to sprout from the grave next spring. Thus agriculture was invented, spontaneously in each of the six civilizations. The problem with agriculture was that you couldn’t take the plants with you; the solution was to live in a cave or village near where the plants grew best, usually a river valley or delta. But giving up nomadism meant reducing your chances to mix your genes with another tribe. The solution to this was recognition of a more complicated kin system and a primitive type of arranged marriage. Settlement in one area also meant that there were some resources a group just didn’t have access to and some that the group could get very easily (specialization), and an organized barter system evolved to even out the distribution of goods. Animals were domesticated somewhere in here too. All this happened during the incipient agriculture period. Keep those comments coming folks!

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#2 Landfish   Members   -  Reputation: 288

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Posted 12 September 2000 - 02:17 PM

Ack! I love what I have the patience to read, S&S. You and I seem to be having the EXACT same thoughts, which is good because you''re writing them down so I don''t have to. But it''s also bad because it''s hard for me to read it; I feel like I wrote it myself...



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#3 ahw   Members   -  Reputation: 263

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Posted 13 September 2000 - 01:47 AM

Errr. .. I am kindof disturbed by the last parts. It''s going too fast without enough details. I mean, if you are really gonna talk about the different phases of how we came to be homo sapiens sapiens, you should be a bit more careful at the way you describe all this.
I don''t remember myself the different names and periods, but at least, mentions to homo erectus (when we started standing, erectus = standing), homo nehandertalus (when we started digging graves), homo sapiens CroMagnon man (when we started the gathering/hunting lifestyle). It''s interesting to note that according to really recent discoveries, CroMagnn had some pretty good abilities in Herbalism, Medicine, and even Surgery.
Then you could go on with the Iron Age (we were at the Stone Age so far), and the sedentarisation (or is it settling in english ?) of the nomads. Bronze Age, Empire, DArk Ages, Middle Ages, Rennaissance, and after that, I guess it''s a bit too different, so maybe stick with someting you know

The first part about how to make the world view be passed to the players is interesting. That''s the way I am investigating with my own writings, BTW

Don''t you think you should make several articles ?

#4 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4822

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Posted 13 September 2000 - 08:26 AM

quote:
Original post by ahw

Errr. .. I am kindof disturbed by the last parts. It''s going too fast without enough details. I mean, if you are really gonna talk about the different phases of how we came to be homo sapiens sapiens, you should be a bit more careful at the way you describe all this.
I don''t remember myself the different names and periods, but at least, mentions to homo erectus (when we started standing, erectus = standing), homo nehandertalus (when we started digging graves), homo sapiens CroMagnon man (when we started the gathering/hunting lifestyle). It''s interesting to note that according to really recent discoveries, CroMagnn had some pretty good abilities in Herbalism, Medicine, and even Surgery.
Then you could go on with the Iron Age (we were at the Stone Age so far), and the sedentarisation (or is it settling in english ?) of the nomads. Bronze Age, Empire, DArk Ages, Middle Ages, Rennaissance, and after that, I guess it''s a bit too different, so maybe stick with someting you know

The first part about how to make the world view be passed to the players is interesting. That''s the way I am investigating with my own writings, BTW

Don''t you think you should make several articles ?



The stone/iron/bronze age terms are used by people studying technological evolution. The ones I am using are a parallel set of terms used by people studying cultural evolution. I was just doing cultural evolution and the few technological advances that are inextricably tied with it here, because you could create a society where different inventions occurred in different ages or didn''t occur at all. I was going to do a different section on technological advances, maybe with a chart like they have those big wall charts .

I do see the problem about going to fast with too few details. The question is, how can I write about details if they might be different for any society you invent? What would you suggest?

I don''t see that there''s any functional difference between a lot of small articles and a big article with a lot of subsections. I thought it would be better to write one big article simply to keep formatting, tone, and terms consistent, and to allow hyperlinking between the parts.


#5 ahw   Members   -  Reputation: 263

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Posted 13 September 2000 - 09:55 AM

cultural and technical.
It''s funny, I used the terms about Stone/Iron/Bronze age only to refer to the cultural evolution they created.
I think it''s a bit hard to talk of cultural evolution without mentioning the technical improvements ... in the case of the homo sapiens sapiens at least.
I don''t thikn there is anything wrong in doing a case study. It''s always better (IMHO) to give real and clearly explained basics (with lotsa links to big dusty books !!!) and let the people imagination go wild and extrapolate from there.

Usually Bronze is the "invention" that triggered the start of real wars, as it was now easier to make durable and strong weaponry. But what if you are on an alien world, and that your species is biotechnologic ???
I think what''s important is to show the evolution, the way one thing trigger another.
I love the Chomsky pyramid (is it Chomsky ... I have a doubt, yet again), where the basic need is survival/safety, then feeding, then shelter, then it goes higher and higher, up to self accomplishment.
It goes nicely with the evolution of men, first you get cavemen that hunt and hide wherever they can. Later, they learn to do gardens so they don''t have to be nomadic, and they can be sure they have a source of food, as weel, at this stage, they learn how to build shelters, etc...
I think if you take it that way, it becomes easier to extrapolate to non-human civilizations.

As for creating a culture ... I am not sure where to start.
My idea is to look for defining events.
The conversion of Clovis to the Christianism made France the ''elder sister of Christianity'' (it''s the Vatican who said that). And that was like 1500 years ago.
The guys that wrote the Bible created a massive phenomenon as well...
For Japan, the arrival of the portuges changed the Art of War (because of the arival of guns), and their culture (arrival of Christianism, the "white man" effect).
Christoph Colombus changed the perception of the world for his contemporaries.
Galileo (or was it Copernicus...ah the shame!) tried to change the culture but failed ...
Especially in the modern era, you just can''t ignore the influence of science on the world, and probably in the mentalities as well. I guess this is not as cultural as talking about art and literature, but everyday life is probably as important as the intelligenstia of a society.

god, that''s SUCH a vast subject I love it !

#6 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4822

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Posted 13 September 2000 - 10:36 AM

quote:
Original post by ahw

I love the Chomsky pyramid (is it Chomsky ... I have a doubt, yet again), where the basic need is survival/safety, then feeding, then shelter, then it goes higher and higher, up to self accomplishment.


That''s Maslow''s Hierarchy of Needs. Chomsky did Transformational Generative Grammar and some political stuff.

I agree about the defining events and how big an impact one culture''s intrusion can have on another culture''s development. I''ll try my best to communicate that.


#7 ahw   Members   -  Reputation: 263

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Posted 13 September 2000 - 09:00 PM

too much data makes ahw go something something ...

thx sunandshadow

And keep those articles coming it''s nice to see all this stuff, I hope the criticisms are helping you a bit ?

#8 Chai Peddler   Members   -  Reputation: 122

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Posted 15 September 2000 - 05:10 AM

For a most unique look at human cultural evolution, read "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn. It''s actually fiction, but is very informative.



CP

"Can't you see it's only life! We can laugh about it!" - Seal

#9 Chai Peddler   Members   -  Reputation: 122

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Posted 15 September 2000 - 05:33 AM

Oh, and also... There is something I must add.

Science and technology do NOT change people; no thing can change a person. People change themselves -- artifacts and methods are invented to suit the needs of a changing people. As desires change, so do perceived needs, and so then new ways and tools are created to satisfy the new needs.

For example, GameDev.Net was not created to make people form a community of game developers. It was created out of the desire for an already existing, and growing, community of game developers.

And by the way, the book I mentioned above really is very interesting, and I highly reccommend it. It really gets into a very unique look at what''s been discussed here.

Okay, that''s my two cents...

CP

"Can't you see it's only life! We can laugh about it!" - Seal

#10 ahw   Members   -  Reputation: 263

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Posted 15 September 2000 - 06:46 AM

This is a debate as old as Darwinism ... does the limb create the function (I got wings ..let''s learn how to fly), or does the function create the limb (my arms turned to wings after a certain number of generations).

For humans, the Tools are a way to expand the limited functions our different body parts can perform (sword = claw, plane = wings, submarine=aquatic breathing, computer = mathematic brain).
So I think it''s a bit of a mix really. A constant feedback loop, where some new tool/idea will create a new function (discovery of Fire), and some need will generate, after much trial and errors, a new tool (abachus turned into mechanic calculator, turned into computer).

Sunandshadow : there is one thing I can''t stop wondering about : what do you mean by sociobiology ?
Are you saying something like Ethnoanthropology ? (study of ethnical and physical evolution of humans ... mmm, something like that )

youpla :-P

#11 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4822

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Posted 15 September 2000 - 09:10 AM

Chai Peddler: I agree that technology cannot change people, but ideas can. It''s amazing how different the self-concept of the average person in the middle ages was from the self-concept of the average person now. And differences in self-concept, ethical system, etc. produce changes in individual and societal behavior.

I''ll probably check out Ishmael, thanks for the reccomendation.


quote:
Original post by ahw
Sunandshadow : there is one thing I can''t stop wondering about : what do you mean by sociobiology ?
Are you saying something like Ethnoanthropology ? (study of ethnical and physical evolution of humans ... mmm, something like that )


Sociobiology, acording to my SOC030 prof, is basically trying to assess the effects of that which is biologically inherently human and that which is not in the development of societies.


Oh, FYI I probably won''t have any more of this to post for a week because I just hauled home 15 books on patriarchal vs. matriarchal societies. Please, feel free, though, to make more comments on this and/or the other pieces; I''ll continue to work comments into the part I have done.

#12 Chai Peddler   Members   -  Reputation: 122

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Posted 17 September 2000 - 05:47 AM

sunandshadow -- Yes! Sorry... that''s what I meant by "people change themselves," though I failed to specify how people change themselves. New ideas, new experiences, etc.. I think it will never come to pass that a human being will say "I now know everything" and be correct.

By the way, I apologize if I came across as preaching... I''m not in a good place right now, and am letting it get to me. But things always change.

I must remember to laugh. All of us must laugh!

CP

"Can't you see it's only life! We can laugh about it!" - Seal

#13 Joviex   Members   -  Reputation: 248

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Posted 17 September 2000 - 08:55 AM

quote:
Original post by ahw

homo sapiens CroMagnon man (when we started the gathering/hunting lifestyle). It''s interesting to note that according to really recent discoveries, CroMagnn had some pretty good abilities in Herbalism, Medicine, and even Surgery.



Just thought it would be interesting to point out that a recent show on Discovery points to the theory (which is supposedly being embraced [GASP] by most anthropologists) that we did not evolve from CroMagnon man.

He was another who species that developed from early primate, as is shown in his skeletal structures. Thus his affinity for Herbalism, Medicine and Surgery was a blessing due to his sheer mental ability (which was greater in capacity than our own from skull analysis).



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