Destructive world building with Watch the World Die

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The phrase ‘world building’ sounds so positive and constructive. Of course for us as creators it is – we’re dreaming up another reality to put down on the page or screen. But that doesn’t mean it’s always going to feel constructive to the inhabitants of that world.

This is your brain on logic
Such a pretty act of creation!


I mentioned Watch the World Die, the game of collaborative apocalypses, in my post on story games. I had it pegged as a potentially useful world building exercise, so last night Laura and I gave it a go.

WtWD as a writing tool

WtWD is about creating an apocalyptic scenario, describing how the end of civilisation as we know it comes about. Like Microscope it’s pretty free wheeling, though it’s narrower in its focus and designed more to inspire you with its list of possible scenarios than to send you running off in all sorts of crazy directions.

While it doesn’t energise the creative faculties to the same extent that Microscope does, I can see WtWD being helpful to writers in two ways. One is that, like any good creative exercise, it sets some limits and makes you work within them, leading your brain to make connections you didn’t expect.

The other is that it’s a handy shortcut if you want a well-developed post-apocalyptic scenario for a story and don’t want to spend hours on it. A few dice rolls, a couple of sentences expanding on each result, and you’ll have what feels like an in depth history without having to dream it all up from scratch. You could even use it to flesh out an apocalypse you’ve already half developed. It’s perfect for short story writing, where you want to create the impression of depth without investing disproportionate time in planning.

So if you like your settings dark then this could be pretty useful.

WtWD as a game

Though not pitched in the same way as a roleplaying game, WtWD is most similar to Microscope, being another collaborative story telling / world building exercise. I think we might see these narrative games emerge as a genre over the next few years, because they really don’t fit within the category of roleplay games, where Microscope is marketed.

WtWD is to Microscope as a quick round of dice game Heckmeck is to spending the day playing Britannia. It’s a quick, pallet cleansing game that you’ll get done in half an hour. It’s fun but without the time commitment or the sense of deep engagement that comes with a longer game. It’s a good world building game for someone who finds Microscope intimidating, with its back-and-forth chronology and wide open spaces of the imagination.

One more tool in the box

WtWD is free to to download and adds one more tool to your writers’ toolbox / games collection. All you need is a pen and a couple of six sided dice, so why not give it a go?



Picture by Maxwell Hamilton via Flickr creative commons