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Tolkien and Worldbuilding, Essay by Catherine Butler | Notes

My mind has been busy with the topic of the power of immersiveness in games. Obviously, technology is not the most important factor in immersiveness; we do not need bigger screens or better VR to achieve it. I have been questioning why certain games, books or films possess more of this power than the others.

I have encountered the "Tolkien and Worldbuilding" essay by Catherine Butler, while I was researching about the art of world building for video games. Reading about the creative process of J.R.R. Tolkien and the basic characteristics of his story architecture has shed light on the topic.

It seems to me that instead of focusing on designing a game, if I focused on finding a self-sufficient, small world somewhere in time and space, I could achieve creating a truly immersive experience. In Tolkien's worldbuilding method, there is no act of "creation", the builder should believe that the world they put out there is already in existence, and they are only discovering it. Based on this method, all the other components (game mechanics, aesthetics, characters, narrative etc) will arise naturally as a part of the world.

Here are a few phrases from the essay that I would like to keep with me:

Tolkien’s ‘thought through’ world building “The sense that there is more to the world of a story than the story itself,”

His texts act not only as narratives but as gateways to a world.

If depth and detail are two desirable aspects of an invented world as Tolkien conceived it, a third is consistency. As Humphrey Carpenter writes: Not content with writing a large and complex book, he felt he must ensure that every single detail fitted satisfactorily into the total pattern. Geography, chronology, and nomenclature all had to be entirely consistent.

Tolkien talked ‘about his book not as a work of fiction but as a chronicle of actual events’, and Tolkien reported that for him, as for many writers, the act of creation was experienced subjectively as one of discovery: ‘always I had the sense of recording what was already “there”, somewhere: not of inventing’

On occasion, he writes as if the world were begotten by his desire to invent languages, which necessitated a place for them to be spoken: ‘the “stories” were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse’

Stories of Middle-earth constitute his attempt at an ‘asterisk mythology’ that is, a reconstruction of what an English mythology might have looked like had it survived.

Tolkien never relinquished the sense that ‘imaginatively this “history” is supposed to take place in a period of the actual Old World of this planet’,



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