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MJH again

M John Harrison in his way ("every medium–cinema, theatre, dance, games & telling stories in the dark when you are eight years old ... reduces readers, writers, game-players and mall rats alike to the status of solipsists masturbating in separate darkened rooms.") has more comments on his blog on "What It Might Be Like to Live in Viriconium".

Apart from not seeing any point to gaming ("I don’t care one way or another if people invent, sell or play games based on fictional "worlds", though I don’t quite see why they bother.") he states that the main thrust is to highlight "the naive idea that a world exists on which a game may be based." I don't think anyone would claim it does exist, although those idealists amongst us might claim that even the real world is a fiction, whether you confront it solipsistically or not. So what's the difference?

Of more interest is the very related comment on worldbuilding. The thrust is that "Above all, worldbuilding is not technically neccessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism." I'd agree with this on many levels although possibly not for the reasons that MJH gives, "This gives us a clue to the psychological type of the worldbuilder & the worldbuilder’s victim, & makes us very afraid."

Once I've found out how to login and comment, I want to push on this fear. Afraid of what?

The reasons I shy away from worldbuilding (in rpgs) are several:
- the time involved;
- you don't know beforehand what you need so you'd have to think of everything;
- you end up writing lots that is never used;
- tying things down detracts from the spontaneity of the experience;
- worldbuilding takes ownership away from the players and denies their creative input.

To a similar extent, this is why I find scenario writing difficult. It's not that I don't have interesting ideas it's just that I don't want to limit the experience to my ideas. I value the creative input and process very highly and my decisions as to what should happen tend to deny this.

Of course, once I've run a game, based on my meagre notes and the interaction with the players, I can write down what happened so that others can copy but I always get the dreaded feeling that they are slavishly trying to reproduce what I did rather than create their own thing, that they are missing out on the full experience. Maybe that's what MJH fears.

P.S. There's more on MJH and worldbuilding here but I haven't read it yet.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 30th, 2007 12:47 pm (UTC)
"This gives us a clue to the psychological type of the worldbuilder & the worldbuilder’s victim, & makes us very afraid."

Would that psychological type be like someone who wishes to detail without other being able to interact with the creation? Like say, story writers?

I agree with your thinking about about why you don't world building, but in a sense any kind of background setting is world building. Personally I like day dreaming about unique aspects of world X that might make it interesting and sometimes start fleshing that out further. And maps are fun with Simons software, lol.
Jan. 30th, 2007 01:21 pm (UTC)
I think that Harrison's going even further here -- not only does Viriconium (obviously) not eally exist, but the whole concept of fictional "world" distracts from the appreciation of the text as artifice. Which is an extreme position, certainly.
Jan. 30th, 2007 02:56 pm (UTC)
Mm, that's what I took him to be meaning. I'm not sure it's really that extreme -- it seems to me a development of the authorial thinking whereby eg. Pratchett for a long time resisted preparing a map of the Discworld, because if he did so it would remove his freedom to shuffle the geography around, interpolate new bits etc.

Viriconium is I guess a particularly artificial setting in this sense, int aht Harrison has not thought it important to make it behave like a "world" in the RPG gameworld supplement sense, and if he thinks it would demean it to corral it so, I think I probably agree with him.

This relates to the last two reasons gbsteve gives for not world-building for games, which I can identify with strongly.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 30th, 2007 01:48 pm (UTC)
Going pomo
Harrison puts his worlds together out of bits that will make for a better story. In fact, when i've written, I've tended to do the same.
I do too, but where do these bits come from? Presumably, to a certain extent, some pre-existing notion as to what the world is like. Unless one subscribes to the position jholloway alerts us to, text as detached from its setting.

But then, is it possible to escape the trace of Viriconium, even if it doesn't exist?
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 30th, 2007 02:26 pm (UTC)
Re: Going pomo
Lol, but then worldbuilding is pornography and a debased one at that!
Jan. 30th, 2007 04:23 pm (UTC)
Re: Going pomo
No, I don't think that he is operating from "some pre-existing notion as to what the world is like." At least, he says he isn't: he decides what kind of crazy shit he wants to happen, and hey presto, Viriconium is like that.

Part of what he appears to be aiming for is a feeling of uncertainty or misunderstanding on the part of the reader as part of the desired experience of reading the book -- describing the world in objective, practical terms would obviously muck that up something fierce. If you think you understand a setting, you feel comfortable reading about it; Harrison wants you to feel uncomfortable.
Jan. 30th, 2007 01:37 pm (UTC)
You guys are obviously better at Lit Crit than me so, yes, what you said.
Jan. 30th, 2007 02:10 pm (UTC)
He sounds like an ill-balanced sort of fellow who likes to think of himself as controversial; and I do not wish to subscribe to his newsletter.
Jan. 30th, 2007 02:24 pm (UTC)
I don't think so. It's just that he inhabits a different world.

And he does write jolly good books. Try Things That Never Happen, the first sentence of the first story is a cracker.

I think Nova Swing, his most recent, perhaps even more than Viriconium, seeks detachment between setting and story. There's a kind of narrative in there but it's not really what the book seems to be about.
Jan. 30th, 2007 03:51 pm (UTC)
I have had trouble getting into a lot of MJH's work. I do agree with him that books and games tend not to make very good games, but obviously don't endorse his belief that anything other than worshipping at his altar is solipsistic wanking. I also don't accept that fiction's purpose is to explore some sort of existentisal angst or critique contemporary society.
Jan. 30th, 2007 04:42 pm (UTC)
That should have been "books and films".
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )