Halo and post-franchise worldbuilding

Paul Raven @ 01-02-2011

Here’s a link-heavy post at MetaFilter rounding up a whole bunch of bits and bobs about the fictional universe of the Halo game franchise. Over a decade old, Halo has propped up seven best-selling novels (one of which was penned by long-term friend-o’-Futurismic Tobias Buckell), a radio drama, a handful of Hollywood-grade short films… and then there’s all the fan-created content, too.

I mention this not because it’s impressive (though it is, really), nor because it represents a potential future ecosystem for creatives (which it does, be they writers, artists, film-makers, whatever). No: what interests me is that they’ve reached a point where someone has written a lengthy treatise on the nature of canon in the halo universe, and what will happen to it when Bungie, Halo’s creators, decide to move on to something else. I just tried reading it, and I bounced right off after the first few pages – if you think sf academia produces tracts couched in impenetrable language, you’ll find the SVMMA CANONICA as welcoming as a concrete wall, though I suspect the obfuscatory language is a deliberate and ironic affectation – so I’m not going to pass comment on its content; what interests me is the amplified persistence of fictional universes in the internet age. Fan-created content isn’t new, of course, but the ability to share it easily with a post-geographical community means that a certain momentum or mass can accrete around the original source material, and – in quite a few cases – eclipse it.

Who owns a world when its original creators decide to stop creating within it? How far into the future will fans still be working within the Halo canon? What are the odds of a schism in said fandom? If you have two competing fictional histories of an orphaned fictional universe, which one is more valid – the one with the most followers? The one with the greatest logical consistency within the parameters of the pre-schism history? Might the two factions war over their interpretations of the canon? Could said war be restricted to the fictional universe itself, or might it spill out into the parent reality… or even leak across into other fictional universes? When immersive virtual worlds are cheap and commonplace, how many will there be? So many questions… and enough ideas for a dozen novels*, were I skilled enough to write ’em.

[ * I’m put in mind of Walter Jon Williams’ Implied Spaces, which goes somewhat in that direction; I’m sure there are others I’ve missed, so do pipe up with suggestions in the comments, won’t you? ]

Gizmo landscapes, gonzo worldbuilding

Paul Raven @ 18-05-2010

Here’s an interesting thought experiment which feels science fictional to me – not science fictional in the “making things up about the future” sense, but in the “teasing the bigger picture out of smaller things” sense. Rob Holmes of mammoth invites us to think about the infrastructural landscapes that support a single use of a consumer-level technological artefact; his Zeitgeist-friendly example is, naturally, some web browsing done on an iPhone somewhere in Brooklyn [via MetaFilter].

The iPhone, however, is not only dependent upon highly developed systems in its production, as Banham acknowledges all such objects have always been, but is also now equally dependent in its operation upon a vast array of infrastructures, data ecologies, and device networks.  Even acknowledging this, though, and realizing that its operative value comes from its ability to tap those data ecologies and attendant socially-constituted bodies of knowledge, it is still possible to miss the landscapes that it produces. Until we see that the iPhone is as thoroughly entangled into a network of landscapes as any more obviously geological infrastructure (the highway, both imposing carefully limited slopes across every topography it encounters and grinding/crushing/re-laying igneous material onto those slopes) or industrial product (the car, fueled by condensed and liquefied geology), we will consistently misunderstand it.

His preliminary examples include the mines that supply the rare semiconductor elements used in chips and touchscreens, the factory megacomplexes where they’re designed and built, the server farms that prop up the internet that the phone connects to, and the transciever arrays that provide the last wireless step in that connection. The point is plain: there’s a whole lot of stuff behind the gadgets in our pockets and satchels that we don’t really think about when we use them.

This is very much like “systems thinking, which I imagine most of Futurismic‘s readers are already familiar with (because you all seem pretty clued up on the science and tech side of things), but which is, as far as I can tell, a fairly uncommon mindset in the population at large (a fact exploited to the fullest by politicians, among others).

But it struck me that it’s also rather like the worldbuilding that informs science fiction: the iPhone is the story, and infrastructure is the imagined world in which it’s set. In both examples, the end user doesn’t need to know anything about the infrastructure, and will probably actively resist being told about it (infodump!). In both examples, that will to ignorance allows the writer/manufacturer a lot of leeway with the infrastructure: so long as thing works, who cares how it works?

I’ll be honest – I’m not sure where I’m going with this, or even if it’s going anywhere at all*. But it gave me a brain-chime, so I’m throwing it out here by way of recording the thought, and to see if any of you can pick up the ball and run with it. Any ideas?

[ * I started writing this post immediately after a post-lunch triple espresso; make of that what you will. ]

Grand Theft Auto IV – Exploring the Mundane

Jonathan McCalmont @ 27-05-2009

Blasphemous Geometries has turned its attention to computer games, and for its first foray into that sphere Jonathan McCalmont takes a look at the hugely popular Grand Theft Auto IV. How does its reproduction of life’s bitter mundanities strengthen its appeal, and what does that say about the reality it reflects?

Blasphemous Geometries by Jonathan McCalmont


As the first Blasphemous Geometries column to look at an individual video game, it makes sense for me to start at the top with one of the fastest-selling games of all time. Grand Theft Auto IV is, paradoxically, the sixth game to appear in the series and the eleventh game to appear as a part of the wider GTA franchise. Since its release in April 2008 it has been festooned with awards and prizes and it remains one of the highest ranking games to feature on the net’s various review aggregation sites. It is not my intention today to toss another garland onto the already swollen heads of the GTA IV developers; instead, I want to use the game to demonstrate an idea. Continue reading “Grand Theft Auto IV – Exploring the Mundane”