Sometimes, in any fantasy world where you have invested a large amount of your imagination, you start to append your real-world experiences to those of the characters being portrayed. For example, in the Star Wars universe, characters such as Luke are relatable, in that most people understand the story of “the everyman.” He is compelling because of the extraordinary destiny that lies ahead in his life. People generally like to feel that there is a greater purpose for them, and as such, they always cheer for the protagonist that achieves this greatness. As we cheer on we also become invested in the story. No matter how far removed from reality the elements of the story are, there is a humanization that brings us right back in. We love this. We want this to continue. We want to never break the feeling we first received while experiencing that story.
Everyone experiences this in a different way. What we pull from a story will differ depending on our life’s experiences. Continuing with Star Wars, one might feel more attached to Han Solo, the brutish scallywag that really has a heart beneath his crusty façade. Or, maybe it is Leia, the strong-willed and persistent princess, one who can get things done, regardless of the testosterone that flies around. Maybe you even felt a connection with Chewbacca—a big cumbersome brute that protects his friends with furious devotion, but is cuddly and cute once you get underneath the fur. Regardless of how you made the connection, you connected. You became invested in the story, and you want nothing to scramble that experience, even if you’re willing to give little ground.
Continuity of a game world works the same way. Consumers of fantasy become invested in the characters, and they begin to sense the world around them, taking in the descriptions and feel an author has provided. R.A. Salvatore, New York Times best-selling author and creator of the renegade drow Drizzt, is fantastic at bringing in the reader and giving them what is needed to relate to his characters. It is undeniable that Drizzt is popular, and for numerous reasons, people keep coming back to hear what will happen to him next. They want to maintain that feel, and have the protagonist overcome adversity.
The Ultimate Power In The Universe
Consumers of fiction care about the setting of which their protagonists reside, and they want to see that maintained to a certain standard. When large swaths of their protagonist’s world are rewritten/overwritten/removed, it begins to deteriorate their experience, and becomes a frustration. Imagine, if you will, in Star Wars, that the snowy planet of Hoth was retroactively rewritten to be a tropic world. The explanation is that the Empire developed a terraforming device, the LifeStar, to make planets inhabitable so that the Empire could more easily expand their reach and develop larger populations. First things first, this is lame. It is so lame that I’m getting pissed just writing it. No matter why this was created, or what justification there is for doing it, it just plain sucks. It feels foreign, is not relatable (never found in any of the popular movies, or in the novels), and completely distorts our mind’s eye view of the Star Wars universe.
I admit, that would be big change, and I used it more to illustrate something extreme. Surely that would never happen, but the point remains. Let’s take an example that really did happen. R.A. (Bob) Salvatore, someone I am blessed to be able to call a friend, was tasked with killing off one of the most iconic characters in the entire Star Wars franchise: Chewbacca. At its concept, it is huge. It is almost exciting, right? Killing off an iconic character!? Oh, my God! Imagine the ruckus this will cause! Surely it will be good for sales! No, it is a kick in the nuts. Remember where I said Chewbacca was a cuddly and cute? People generally like bad-ass characters that are also cuddly and cute. How about Ewoks? Not so much. Kill them as much as you can. Yeah, I’m looking at you Wicket! Don’t even get me started on Jar-Jar Binks. Messa gonna have an aneurism.
Continuity of a shared world is difficult, however, and it is not without some major constraints. The longer the world exists, and the more people who contribute to it, the more it becomes a cumbersome beast. Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) used to employ continuity editors. In fact, Erik Mona, one of the big honchos at Paizo and one of my game design idols, was originally hired to be a continuity editor for the Greyhawk world. How freaking cool is that? His job (I assume) was to make sure things made sense and that the world of Greyhawk wasn’t devolved into something that would rebuke fans.
Continuity Cops: Protecting and Serving
Making things more difficult are fans like me. I have spent a good portion of my free time, prior to being a game designer, connecting the dots of continuity in the Forgotten Realms setting. Even with my dedication, I am but a speck when compared to others—such as my older brother, Brian R. James. So, if someone like me can devote a large amount of time to the Realms, imagine what a large group of like-minded individuals could accomplish? Fans like me tend to be viewed as a thorn in the side of editors and game designers. We are quick to point out inconsistencies and errors, and we are unforgiving in our relentless quest for purity. We’re not always right, and we’re certainly not always fair, but the intentions of such fans should be viewed as an asset to a publisher. I’ll explain.
Without fan-sites and discussion boards, I would have to comb through my large library of books for the nuances of what an author wrote. It could have been written 20 years ago. I feel these sites should be viewed as a resource, and not a burden. It’s much easier to see the collective discussion on a topic than it is to hammer it all out in your own brain. I can’t count how many times I have relied on these communities to pin-point an exact piece of information that I can use. As the game designer, it is my duty to remain true to that experience, and to be the judge in forming its creation.
The beauty of large and vast worlds is that there should, theoretically, be plenty of design space to create new and interesting stories. It may be the case, and I have been guilty of this, that writers want to butt up against something that is already established. This is not inherently bad, but it does open up a can of worms if proper due diligence is not employed.
After all is said and done, continuity is an important aspect of consideration that publishing companies should consider carefully. While the downsides are clear, and include a larger overhead (much larger depending on the setting), the benefits of taking the time to do it right can return ten-fold. What are your thoughts? How important is continuity when it comes to the imaginary worlds (or universes) you use?