Understanding world-building in games

March 21, 2020
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I’ve watched Inception once a year ever since its, er, inception. While no film ages perfectly once you can quote it in real-time and have pored over every little flaw and inconsistency, I think Nolan’s heist movie about breaking into people’s dreams still holds up as a piece of work that’s simultaneously amazing and absolutely terrible at world-building.

Viewers and critics frequently like to joke about how for large stretches of screen time in Inception, characters only speak in exposition, with one person asking questions and the other launching into a lengthy explanation. There are so many bits of exposition necessary just to follow the plot of the film that world-building seems to get left behind entirely. How was the system for lucid dreaming devised? How widespread is its use? Was it just used for industry espionage or are there any cyberpunk-esque commercial applications?

Inception has no time for these questions, unconcerned with the wider world. It has no way to hint at the world that made dream heists possible in the first place, and while I understand why, I think it’s a shame. Lore deep dives can be tricky for films to do due to time constraints, but Star Wars and Mad Max are examples of films that presented us with completely realised worlds even before sequels and other media padded out their universes.

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