This page is a work in progress, which I’ll expand upon in due course.
The concept of digital world-building can be somewhat esoteric and abstract. So I’ll use metaphors to help explain the idea.
Imagine you’re about to play with a set of toy blocks (or Legos). These blocks can be shaped, colored, and combined in endless ways. “World Building” is like using those blocks to create an imaginary city with streets, houses, parks, people, and stories.
It’s about crafting a whole universe from scratch, deciding its rules, landscapes, cultures, and histories. It’s similar to how writers, movie directors, or game creators make up fictional worlds, like the land of Hogwarts in Harry Potter or Middle-Earth in The Lord of the Rings.
At its surface, world-building might seem like just creating a backdrop for a story. But delve deeper, and you’ll find it’s an intricate and holistic process.
It’s the art and science of architecting a comprehensive and immersive setting. It requires consideration not only of geography and history but also of culture, politics, economy, religion, and even physics if you’re crafting an entirely different universe.
World building isn’t merely about creating a believable place for characters to exist; it’s about developing a living, breathing entity that evolves and influences the characters and narratives it houses.
Compelling world-building can transform a simple story into an immersive experience, inviting the audience to get lost in the depths and details of the created environment.
The first distinction is we are not the architects of fictional worlds.
As sovereign creators, for our purposes as modern marketers, our context for world-building is non-fiction, aka, with actual events, facts, or people. We’re not fiction writers making up worlds for fictional charters to inhabit (although in the context of fiction, this is often easier to understand because we all watch movies and read books, so we can very easily relate).
As I explained in Part III of the Tiny Worlds Manifesto, cinema, and fictional literature gives us a framework of time-tested ideas from which we can abstract similarities for building our non-fiction Worlds.
Story (and storytelling) is hardwired into our DNA from hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. It’s inescapable. But more importantly, story, and by extension, world-building, is a powerful tool we can use.
Before I unpack “world-building” in more detail, it’s helpful to look back to see forward with greater fidelity.
It’s taken me years to appreciate the significance of lessons embedded in the threads of history, patterns in the signal that can give us clues that can be applied to our lives today.
Birth of Storytelling
It is challenging to pinpoint the exact origin of storytelling. Still, linguists, etymologists, historians, archeologists, and neurobiologists agree that it’s deeply ingrained in human history, likely emerging alongside the development of language as part of our cultural evolution.
Oral language, predating written language by 200,000 to 300,000 years, formed the foundation for storytelling as an oral tradition.
People would gather around campfires, passing down stories from one generation to the next. These stories fulfilled essential functions, such as preserving history, teaching moral values, and providing entertainment.
Community elders likely shared their knowledge and experiences through these tales with their tiny, captivated audiences.
Through the use of metaphors in tribal storytelling, the first principles of storytelling and the concept of “world building” emerged, helping people make sense of their existence and establish codes and mythologies for their societies and their survival.
Worldbuilding allowed exploring complex abstract ideas like morality, philosophy, and spirituality through stories anyone could understand, preserving and transmitting cultural knowledge, values, and customs across generations.
As storytelling evolved, multiple storytellers worked together to create the great mythologies passed down through generations.
These complex and ever-evolving narratives contributed to human survival and our understanding of the world through the ages.
While I am not an expert in mythology or theology, it is fascinating to observe that grand mythological narratives, like the Roman and Greek sagas, the Bible, and the Quran, have emerged from countless storytellers. Over time, these collaborations have contributed layers to the enduring tales we recognize today embodied in religious and sacred texts.
Moreover, observing the resilience and durability of these stories and the beliefs they embody is remarkable.
World Building for Sovereign Creators
The people we serve have stories — internal and external narratives that shape and reinforce their beliefs and hierarchy (structure) of value.
As Jordan Peterson explains, we see meaning (not objects!). We infer objects (a digital course, product, or material items like a watch, car, or house) from meaning. One of the interesting insights that JP asserts is that meaning is mapped right onto our body.
What I find endlessly fascinating is that worldbuilding is a container for narratives (something I’ll expound on in later essays), allowing us to build an “open world” that contains many (hundreds of!) narratives, based on the stories and worldviews of our readers — prospects and customers. Like Harper in The Invisible Conversation.
In email #4 of my Tiny World email series, I talk about Mechanism Design Theory, which involves designing a situation (system) so that desired outcomes occur when each participant acts in their own self-interest.
The implications of this are astoundingly powerful.
Like fictional world-building, real-life world-building can create a sense of culture and meaning within an immersive setting.
This website, for example, is a real, living, breathing expression of me building a World for you to inhabit because there are things you read here that resonate with your sensibilities, specifically in how you can better attract an audience and better serve that audience within your area of expertise.
Worldbuilding is a complex, multilayered process for the creator (architect). It goes far beyond just mapping out places (articles and emails) and adding descriptive details (context and story).
Effective world-building involves establishing logical connections between all the elements so the World functions as a believable, immersive system.
The creator brings the world to life not through the density of detail but by knowing which details matter most to the overall meaning and experience. In this way, world-building moves from an act of imagination to one of calculated, purposeful creation — a sacred act.
(I have much more to add to this page, along with imagery, which I’ll do in due course.)