Thursday, October 12, 2006

Info Dump

When I'm not writing ("You mean you do other things with your spare time, heathen?"), one of the things I like to do is play video games. Lately, the time I get to spend playing them is kind of sparse, though, so when I do play a game, I kind of consider it an investment, and so I like making sure that I get my time's worth.

Usually, this means that I end up playing games that come with a big, enjoyable story.

Well, one of the biggest, most convoluted, most... bewilderingly-complex of stories for a video game in recent history is probably that of the Xenosaga series. After a few months of plodding, I finally finished the third and final installment, and I was doing some reflecting on it (as one tends to do when finishing up a story).

Now, say what you will about pretentious Japanese storytelling (and the general bogged-downedness of Xenosaga in particular): there's still a lot of information, there, and it's clear that the people behind it put a lot of thought into it. The third game goes so far as to include a database (a pretty honkin' huge database), containing just about every bit of encyclopedic detail one could ask to have about the series.

I was thinking about this database after I was done with the game; it contains an awful lot of information that would just be too awkward to shoehorn into the actual storytelling of the game, or which wouldn't ever be relevant enough to warrant mentioning on its own. Even so, it's still there in the database, almost as if to say, "Hey, in case you care or are curious, this is the deal with X." And for some reason, the inclusion of this database resonates with me.

In creating my own worlds for storytelling, I do try to put a lot of thought into them, and how they work. Most notable is probably the world in which my current novel-in-progress is set: I've spent the last several years thinking up more and more details on how the world works, what the political situation is, what different cultures are like, what took place in world history... basically, it's a lot of stuff that is helpful to me in forming a setting that I can write into, but which is a lot more information than I'd ever force a reader to slog through just in order to get through a single story, even a novel-length one.

I guess what it comes down to is that, when all is said and done, only a very small percent of what I think up is ever going to get into something the reader sees, and part of the fun of writing, I guess, is in picking what portions of this world are worth sharing and worth reading about--and, to a different extent, in finding ways to slyly include other bits of information into the story in a way that the reader might not notice until afterwards, because its inclusion was just so subtle and organic that it never drew attention to itself.

Even so, the idea of putting together a big encyclopedic database like the one in Xenosaga does make me smile, just because I'd be flattered by the notion that someone would care enough to want to know that much about that which I'd created.

Then again, I guess the next best thing (or, really, the better thing) to do would just be to keep writing more and more novels in said setting, so that I could make the place as real as possible for the people who wanted to spend time there.


Tim said...

That background is really important to make the story feel more "real," and the sly working in of details is what gives your world texture and depth. It is nice when people want to know more about your world, but for me, the effort required to formalize the background that is mostly sitting around in my head is not really worth it when I could be writing another story. Some people like to write out all their background, but for me that works mostly as a device to get around writer's block.

I don't know what my point in writing this comment was... just my viewpoint, I guess. :)

Rikoshi said...

For me, what I do is just write out enough of the background so that I know it's there for me to look at. It's almost like writing Cliff's Notes for a history text that I get to use to study from.

The good thing, though, is that nothing is 'formalized,' really, until it actually makes it into a canonical source where a reader sees it, it's still nice and mutable. :)