Conworld

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Aspects of Conworlding

Conworlds, also known as constructed worlds, are fictional worlds characterized by elaborate detail, expansive scope, and generally attempts at plausibility. They may serve a variety of purposes, perhaps most often appearing as settings for fiction writing. In this capacity, they form the backbone for many more elaborately developed works of science fiction and fantasy. Conworlds may also serve as settings for role-playing games, or as artforms in themselves with no regard for using them as settings.

The interest in a conworld often lies in the concultures it contains; often these are cultures of humans, but many conworlders also delight in inventing non-human races. Some go further and populate their worlds with only non-human races, not including humans as we know them at all. Conworlding has much overlap with conlanging.

Principles

The art of conworlding has few firm rules beyond the requirement for æsthetic appeal and hosts considerable diversity in style and content. Conworlders agree, though, that projects should aim for rich and consistent detail and give the impression of living, breathing worlds that could plausibly exist. Other widely held, if not universal principles, include the following:

  • Internal consistency - Well-made worlds should have clearly established ground-rules and follow them without exception. If the setting establishes that elves live forever, it should not introduce Elvish funeral homes without some very clever explanations. Often this extends to making the world consistent with real world scientific and anthropological knowledge where applicable. The best conworlders are also excellent researchers who study real life cultures and science to make their work more realistic and nuanced.
  • Self-containment - For the most part, conworlders have prefered to make their worlds independent of our own. Most conworlds aim for internal completeness and self-reference giving the impression of worlds unrelated to our own. As such, they typically avoid allegories of issues in our own world and especially undiguised borrowings.
  • Moral neutrality - Most conworlders frown on blatantly didactic settings with obvious divisions of good and evil. Creating conworlds as soapboxes for personal issues and ideological goals is considered especially bad form. Many worldbuilders prefer instead to distance their work from Western or personal notions of ethics altogether.

Note that none of these principles represent absolute rules and that plenty of perfectly viable conworlds violate them outright. Middle Earth, widely considered the magnum opus of conworlding, follows the personal ethics of Tolkien with razor-sharp moral clarity. Almea has a colony of Christians imported straight from 4th century Earth through a random miracle. Narnia abounds in allegorical allusions to our world as well as conspicuous borrowings from it. These principles reflect a descriptive rather than prescriptive account of conworlding.

Types

As with any artform, conworlding lends itself to numerous methods of division. Perhaps the most basic, paralleling the narrative roots of conworlding, divides worlds into science fiction and fantasy settings. Others prefer to classify worlds by how they differ from conventional reality:

The alternate Earth or alternate history conworld is the Earth we know, but with some part of its history altered. The interest then lies in seeing how things might have happened differently. Many works of science fiction essentially follow this approach, presenting the world as it might look after fictional history and scientific developments.

An Earth equivalent closely resembles Earth while differing from it in various (possibly superficial) ways. Its geography and history and to some extent even physics (for fantasy worlds) may be freely changed. Included in this category are extra continents or islands imagined as lying in parts of the Earth that are in reality covered by water; conworlds of this type often include interaction between the invented part and real countries.

The final, and broadest, type of conworld has no connection to Earth at all, but takes place on another planet or realm entirely. This type of conworld presents by far the greatest range of possibility. Sometimes the conworld is not a planet, but a moon orbiting a gas giant, or a generation ship in deep space, or some other hypothetical living space. In still more radical cases, the conworlder may dispense with physics and reality as we know them and opt for something quite unknown.

History

Many trace the art of conworlding to Tolkien, who created perhaps the most famous conworld of all, Middle Earth, as a setting for his Lord of the Rings and other works. His work set the standard for later conworlders with his emphasis on realistic language development and detailed history. It also gave rise to many tropes and trends that remain widespread in conworlding today, such as the ever popular Mediæval fantasy setting and races such elves.

More recently, the work of Mark Rosenfelder has inspired a new generation of conworlders.

Community

For the most part, conworlders have pursued their work in a highly individual and private basis. Tolkien went so far as to call his projects a secret vice, which implies both the desire to keep them hidden and a certain shame. Undeniably, the hobby of conworlding represents a very introverted and even nerdy practice that does not typically lend itself to communal engage.

Though not entirely focused on conworld creation, the ZBB acts as a de facto stronghold of the conworlding community.

Some ideas like a united conworld have also come up, envisioning a conworld unified by many concultures of other people. It is still in its early stages.

Great Conworlds