Participation, Worldbuilding, and Genres
This is the first in a series of posts regarding shared story world design
The genre you choose for your SSW will have a direct impact on how people contribute and participate. Some genres lend themselves to participation better than others, so consider the advantages and drawbacks of each, especially if your SSW has a commercial element to it or your business model requires a high level of participation.
In general, a SSW set in our world (Earth) and time (the current year) offers the lowest hurdles to participation. No elaborate sets, special costumes, computer-generated special effects, or arcane knowledge of historic or imaginary cultures required. Just grab a mobile phone and go, in some cases! Mystery, drama, comedy, and romance fall quite nicely into the here-and-now landscape.
One step removed from current-day settings is the “urban” fantasy/science fiction category. “Twilight” is an example of an urban fantasy/horror world. It takes place in the same world we move through everyday, but it adds vampires and werewolves to the mix. “Harry Potter” is another example of an urban fantasy, though much of it takes place in the magical sphere occupied by Hogwarts.
Contributors need to learn a bit more about these kinds of worlds and their rules before contributing (for example, if you’re writing a “Twilight” story, you need to know sunlight doesn’t kill the vampires in “Twilight”), but the learning curve is fairly flat. In fact, the learning curve may be completely flat if the rules of the SSW are revealed directly in the stories (I’ll touch on world bibles/wikis later).
Fantasy and science fiction (“Lord of the Rings,” “Dune”), while very popular, often have higher bars to participation. They present foreign, if not alien, cultures – sometimes with new languages and extensive histories and mythologies. Even near-future science fiction has a learning curve, as the audience has to know about any gaps between “now and “then” (these gaps can be cultural as well as technological). The more world you create, the more work you are asking of contributors.
Here’s another way to think about this: how much work must a contributor do before they can begin the work of participating? How much research is required, how much world history/mythology must be learned before someone can begin to create a contribution for your world?
There is a direct correlation to the density of a SSW and its immersiveness. There is a similar correlation between a world’s density and the difficulty of audiences contributing. Look for a balance between density and difficulty.
The good news is that even for the densest, richest of foreign worlds, you can construct very scoped and tightly scaled sandboxes for audience collaboration and contribution. The design of that sandbox deserves an entire post, which it will get shortly, but for now, just consider how to increase audience contribution by decreasing the number of creative choices they have to make.
Some Questions to Consider:
- What genre is suited for your story or world idea?
- How does the world genre affect the ease or difficulty of audience-created content?
- If you are crafting a large, dense world, can you create smaller, contained invitations to contribute that lower the bar to participation?