Fictional universe

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A fictional universe (also fictional world , fictional place or fantasy world ) is a fictional reality that differs from reality by more or less large deviations. These deviations can be limited to the mere existence of fantasy characters such as Sherlock Holmes or extend to fundamentally different worlds such as the Discworld or Narnia , in which magic exists or natural laws are otherwise overridden or varied. In the broadest sense, every television series , every feature film , every novel , every comic or similar plays with it. in a fictional universe, which is also called the series universe in television series . In a narrower understanding, however, fictional universes that deviate from reality are largely perceived as such. Such a fictional universe can comprise a large number of fictional locations , but it can also consist of only one or no fictional location at all. The invention of fictional universes or fictional worlds is a popular element not only in science fiction , fantasy and utopia works, but also in political philosophy .

In role-playing games , especially in pen & paper role-playing games , the fictional worlds form a central point. Such a fictional game world serves as the background and location of a game . The term is mainly used in pen & paper role-playing games and computer games. A fictional game world basically contains the description of all aspects that the real world also has, including the geographical , sociological , political , economic and climatic conditions. Since fantasy and science fiction are among the most popular genres for game worlds, cosmology , religion and magic are often added. Some role-playing worlds are so extensive that their description would go beyond the scope of the basic game. Additional publications describing the world are called source books. Fictional worlds from literature or other media are often adopted as game worlds.

It is similar with computer game worlds. However, these are usually only described implicitly by the events in the game, but sometimes there is also extensive information about computer game worlds, for example through novels about the game or detailed texts that can be discovered in the game.

The activity of inventing such fictional universes or places and worlds is also known as world tinkering or world building.

Connection to the real world

Fictional worlds do not have to differ significantly from reality. Basically, every location of fiction corresponds to an independent reality. In science fiction and fantasy in particular, however, supernatural elements are often woven in. Fantastic often takes place in a mythologized past. Even fairy tales , legends and myths fall into this category, as well as modern works thereof ( "The Mists of Avalon" by Marion Zimmer Bradley or the "winter solstice" cycle of Susan Cooper ). In addition, there are also worlds that are reached through a transition in a reality modeled on reality. A classic example of this is Alice in Wonderland .

Many fantasy worlds, however, are independent. Middle-earth from the pen of JRR Tolkien , on which many later fantasy worlds and role-playing games were based, is considered a pioneer of fantasy literature . Tolkien has also written on the process of inventing a fantasy world, world crafting , which he called subcreation .

Backgrounds and functions of fictional worlds

In philosophy and classical science fiction , such worlds serve as a parable to real social problems (see also utopia , dystopia ). In the case of Ptolemy's Terra Australis , a thought experiment even turned out to be reality in retrospect.

Especially in the field of science fiction and fantasy literature, great importance is often attached to a coherent background. Such considerations are also necessary when developing RPG systems, but while an author usually only has to deal with the areas that are relevant to his story, an RPG author must give players the freedom to explore a wide variety of areas. Role play worlds therefore tend to be rather broad. Thanks to the exchange on the Internet, there are now also individuals who “ design ” fictional worlds as an end in themselves in their free time.

In the commercial sector, elaborate realities often also serve to promote customer loyalty. In the 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby from Marvel Comics established the  success of the publishing house, which continues to this day, with the various guest appearances of the superheroes in their comic series. Such guest appearances are also often used in the film and television sectors to draw attention to new formats.

In part, the “ construction ” of worlds is also carried out scientifically and even experimentally in the laboratory . For example, NASA is researching alternative requirements and developments for the origin of life on other planets or trying to find out how life forms in other ecosystems could be constituted. This forms a separate branch of science with astrobiology . The thought processes necessary for this are very similar to world tinkering.

World tinkering

A world builder invents - or tinkers - fictional worlds of any size. This includes inventing languages , designing maps , descriptions of peoples and races, legal texts and much more. In this way, villages, countries or even entire parallel world complexes can arise. In the role-play and fantasy area, development from one idea to the next is less associative, but a clearly structured world is planned. Many world-makers start by drawing a map or writing a story. Two approaches are explained below. In the following lists there are many examples of fictional worlds that were largely devised by individuals.

From the general to the specific

It starts with a rough overview of the world. At the beginning there is a world map and basic key data on geography, climatic zones , inhabitants of the world, a general world history or the state of the art in this world. Starting from here, it is refined more and more, over continents, civilizations, nations to cities and villages, until finally all the necessary details of the interesting regions are known.

Many science fiction planets are created in this way by first choosing parameters such as hydrographics, average temperature, atmosphere, population and others and then moving on to regional details.

With this method, coherent and low-contradiction worlds can be created. In some cases, great importance is attached to compliance with the laws of physics known today , but they are also consciously contradicted. However, this approach from general to specific takes a long time to develop a region to such an extent that it can be used for a novel or an RPG.

From the specific to the general

The other approach is to first take a region in order to describe it in all its details, establish facts about local geography, cultures, social structures, politics, economy and history, introduce the most important people and explain their relationships to one another. The surrounding areas are described on a less detailed level. The further the described region is from the described location, the less the details become. Only when the world-maker needs other parts of his world will these be expanded and described if necessary.

This approach is often found in fantasy authors who first describe what is of immediate importance for their hero and his story, while they only roughly hint at the rest of the world and only then and only as far as they describe other regions Dramaturgy is important.

The advantage of this approach is that the region is available very quickly, for example as a background for novels or role-playing games. However, an incoherent overall structure of the world often becomes noticeable as a disadvantage. For example, there are often too many different cultures to be found in too small a space.

A typical example of a world created in this way is the world of Elric von Melniboné by the author Michael Moorcock .

Movie and TV

One of the earliest and most popular examples of a film universe is George Lucas ' Star Wars , which resulted in a multitude of comics, literature, television programs and video games early on as a result of the three original films. Since Lucas reserved the canonicalization of the individual expansions himself, something in the Expanded Universe contradicts  the later "more official" films. With the theatrical release of Iron Man in 2008, Marvel Studios began to transfer their multi-linked comic world to film and television in a structured manner. This is what they refer to as the Marvel Cinematic Universe .

Usually there are no comprehensive (external) descriptions of the worlds of film and television, so they are usually limited to what is actually represented there. There are many guest appearances by characters from other series (see crossover (media) ) or characters from one series are transferred to a new one (see offshoots (media) , backdoor pilot ). This is mostly done to make the audience of an already established program aware of a new one. As a mind game, you can combine both fictional realities, which, due to extensive guest appearances, creates a huge coherent world, especially on American television, which extends from In Love with a Witch to Star Trek to The Wire and continues to expand to this day.


To illustrate the structure and diversity of fictional worlds, some examples follow in chronological order. A list of other fictional places and worlds can be found under the additional information .

In classical literature

The earliest examples are philosophical utopias , classical myths,  and 19th century children's literature.

In science fiction literature

In fantasy literature

Following the example of Tolkien's Middle-earth , the world here is often based on a mythologized European Middle Ages , enriched with classic fantastic elements such as mythical creatures  or magic

In pen & paper role-playing games

In computer role-playing games

On the Internet

In comics

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Weltbasteln  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Maps of fictional places or locations  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Hirmer Verlag