Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Queerness, Worldbuilding Culture, & Ursula K. Le Guin

So this post was prompted by my love for Ewa's wonderful Worldbuilding Notes YouTube channel which you should defiantly go check out, like right now. I'll wait.

River Basin | Getting Dressed by Worldbuilding Notes
From The River Basin: The Queens and their King

So, one of the big influences Ewa cites is Ursula K. Le Guin, a favorite author of mine as well. This got me thinking about how we worldbuild culture in our games (as well as more broadly in speculative fiction). And how we depict and include queerness and diversity in our works.

Ursula K. Le Guin - Wikipedia

The most common method I have seen (both in game worlds and story worlds) is the "Everyone" style, where gay, trans, non-binary folk, and all are included and fully accepted in the world. Essentially the no prejudice, no hate model.

Now, and let me be clear about this, There Is Nothing Wrong With This Way Of Doing Things, it creates a more diverse setting and incorporates queer people into the fiction. As well, for many, it offers a safe refuge from real world hate. People can and should still make worlds like this.

But for the purposes of this post, I'd like to explore a different method of doing things

When endeavoring to make stranger, more interesting cultures it is important to keep in mind that much of what we consider as normal is utterly baseless and only a symptom of our culture, not necessarily a universal. This applies to almost all matters from gender to warfare. What is and isn't considered obscene. What is and isn't masculine or feminine. All of these things are potentially points to vary and change in pursuit of a more unique culture. 

However one must also consider the ways in which the environment will shape a culture. Things do not exist in a vacuum after all. It is here where I would recommend watching Ewa's videos again for they contain many examples of how environments, and especially magical or supernatural influences, can shape how a society develops. Also they are just a delight to watch.

So, when making cultures for fictional worlds one should take the time to consider ones personal bias and cultural norms and decide how this cultural may differ to those. Is weaponry obscene? How does marriage work? 

Now back around to queerness. It should go without saying that modern (and especially "western") ideas about gender and sexuality are far, far, so very far from being universal. In many real societies across the globe queer people have often been deeply tied into cultural practices.

Essentially the point I'm making is to Include Queerness In Your Cultures As Integrated Parts Of That Culture. Consider how sexuality and gender tie into spirituality. Consider how they don't tie into spirituality. How does gender work? Do people stay the same gender over time? How does this tie into what work people do? Are there groups that are marginalized in this culture?

So this post was a bit ramble and probably not as concise or clear as it should have been. I'll probably do a followup sometime. If you have any questions about my reason please feel free to ask!  (also go watch Worldbuilding Notes. Dooo itttt.)


  1. This subject came to my mind when I was working on an anthropology paper that dealt in the ubiquity of homosexual/homoerotic behavior among human populations. There is a dispute among two tribes in Indonesia about the sexual practices of either tribe; both tribes accept homosexuality but vehemently disagree about the exact method of homosexual sex that is accepted. So no homosexual taboo--their idea of sexual dysfunction is wrapped up in a completely different set of standards than the global West.

    This is ripe for mining in fantasy fiction, because many different groups are operating with completely different ideas of gender and sexuality. In my game I have every unique culture offer their own third gender (so every culture has a gender trinary) that flows from their environment, cultural norms, etc. It can make for interesting interactions and, provided your players are comfortable and mature enough for it, challenge some preconceived notions about gender and sexuality.

    Good post :)

    1. Exactly! Lot of potential for fun in game. Thanks for the kind words!