Urville, France and Other Imagined Places

Apparently I missed out on the attention that was lavished upon this film about am autistic artist who has created an imaginary city in France. (That link is to a video page. I’m partly posting it so I get a chance to see it on my other PC; it’s not loading well on the laptop so I’ll try at the office.) I found the link on Maureen McHugh’s blog, but apparently boingboing also had a post about it.

It triggered for Maureen a post on worldbuilding, which is interesting. I haven’t actually gone on a binge of mapping and worldbuilding for years now, though it used to be a passion of mine. The first stories I wrote as a kid, I wrote only after drawing a very clear and detailed map. One of them that I have on file somewhere shows a world with political boundaries showing The Land of the Centaurs, The Land of the Dwarves, The Land of the Troglodytes… a strangely apartheid world, it seems to me now, but it made sense, and I was kind of proud to have created this world in which humans were not the prime movers and shakers.

After gaming developed into a big hobby of mine in middle school, worldbuilding became such a warped passion, in fact, that for several years I was a perpetual purchaser of Forgotten Realms books, just because I was so interested in how they would build up the fantasy world that was, at the time, the flagship of the AD&D line.

Eventually, I got disenchanted with Forgotten Realms, and with swords and sorcery in general — for a long time, until I read China Mieville’s stuff, I thought I hated all fantasy, but actually I’m just sick of the swords& sorcery genre; so much so that I’m thinking of writing a sort of dark steampunkish turn-of-the-(19th-)century novel for the next NaNoWriMo, set in some place like what Korea (yes, a generally somewhat Asian-styled society, etc.) might have been like if, beset by hostile nations on each side, a kind of technothaumaturgic revolution hit the world and contact with faraway countries and imperial occupation hit at about the same time.

When the disenchantment hit, both my gaming and my writing interests veered from imagined worlds to warped versions of this, our “real” world. I felt much happier jamming our world through one or two dozen years of invented future history, or through some kind of alternate-historical chain of events, than in creating worlds from whole cloth. Mapping? That, to me, seemed like a kind of distraction from what I deemed the “important” part of fiction. Mapping, for me, seemed more like a shortcut to creating a world that felt real, and I was no longer interested in shortcuts; I would make my worlds feel real through my writing itself, I decided.

I probably will never go back to mapping my fictional settings again, or at least not drawing maps that are intended to be presented to readers. But there is some old nerve that gets touched by the idea of someone having mapped as completely as possible a fictional city, and I myself feel the same kind of drive to make my settings feel as if I’m writing about a place that is, for me, that real… so that they seem that real to my readers, too.

Meanwhile, the article at the other end of this link makes me seriously think again about the usefulness of RPG play as a means for language acquisition.

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