World Building & The ‘View Askewniverse’

World building in games, cinema or literature is a long process and one which requires great creativity and imagination. Fictional worlds and universes vastly vary in size, structure and content though all share the same core principal, to act as a vessel for the telling of a story and its cumulative elements. A world created around a narrative gives the consumers different avenues through which to explore and experience a story, it also facilitates the option to vary the story and its component parts.

In creating the world for his films, writer/director Kevin Smith uses some unique techniques.

Dubbed the ‘View Askewniverse’ (named after Smith’s production company ‘View Askew Productions’), it comprises six films all with entirely different narratives though all share recurring elements, characters and situations.

The self-referential nature of the View Askewniverse is a prominent feature of the fictional world. Characters and events from previous films are mentioned and indeed appear in others, often in the form of ‘in-joke’ humour. Though some of the references are humorous on their own, they take on a whole added dimension if the viewer has prior knowledge of the reference source. In later films in particular, these nuggets of self-reference seem to have been deliberately inserted to speak directly to fans of the previous movies, thus giving the educated viewer a greater sense that he or she is involved in the film, not just as a spectator, but as a participant.

The world building mechanics don’t only stretch to fictional characters. Smith often uses the same actor(s) in his films, both portraying recurring and new characters. The obvious examples are the characters of Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith). These two characters recur in the aforementioned six features and are a constant element in the construction of the narratives. It is the employment of the same actor portraying different roles however that I feel helps Smith to achieve a real sense of individuality within the View Askewniverse. The repeat appearance of a number of actors helps to identify the film as a Kevin Smith feature and breeds a sense of familiarity, even though the actual character is a different entity. A great example of this is the actor Jason Lee. To date he has appeared in five of the six View Askewniverse pictures, portraying four different characters:

The characters of Brodie Bruce (Mallrats, 1995 & Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, 2001) and Banky Edwards (Chasing Amy, 1997 & Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, 2001) are lead roles in their respective films (Mallrats, 1995 & Chasing Amy, 1997), though additionally; Lee performs both character parts in the 2001 film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. It is this crossing over of characters that helps build the world of the View Askewniverse and affirms the fictional bubble in which they reside. A much higher level of immersion is created by the use of recurring characters and actors. It is this level of immersion that I feel makes a really great and engaging narrative world.

Games have also adopted the concept of world building, both from a transmedia perspective and a narrative expansion perspective. The Final Fantasy games for example use commonality in the individual game worlds as a sense of identity. While each Final Fantasy game adopts a unique world of its own, unique characters, environments, narrative and gameplay mechanics there are common themes and elements implemented in all of the games to provide the sense of the familiar and to create a feeling of core identity. So no matter which of the entries are played, regardless of its differences, at its essence it ‘feels’ like a Final Fantasy game. These common elements are subtle, yet very effective:

  • The unit of currency in all Final Fantasy games is known as ‘Gil’.
  • The font used for the box art of the game is always the same.
  • The use of a logo behind the font, while different for every game, helps enforce that this is a Final Fantasy game.
  • Magic and spells are generally named the same throughout all the games (e.g. Fire, Fira, Firaga, Firaja, Blizzard, Blizzara, Blizzaga, Blizzaja)
  • There are two recurring NPC characters in most Final Fantasy games called ‘Biggs’ and ‘Wedge’.
  • There is almost always a character in the game named ‘Cid’.
  • Names of weapons and inventory items cross over between games (e.g. Squall’s final weapon in Final Fantasy VIII and a weapon Lightning can acquire in Final Fantasy XIII are both named ‘Lionheart’).
  • The most useful and powerful accessory in almost all of the games is called the ‘Ribbon’.

These are just a few examples of the way in which worlds can be build around an intellectual property, narrative or concept and goes to show that it can be much more than just a continuation of a story. World building is a vast and incredibly complex entity and one which in this day and age is becoming more and more commonplace. Games in particular are no longer about just one title. Games often spin off multiple sequels and other transmedia elements. All however come together to create a world. The world is invariably rich with its own identity and ideally is accessible to both newcomers and veterans of the subject in question. The world created, not dissimilarly to transmedia, is also there as a choice, it is up to the user how much of the world they choose to become involved with.

Ultimately, world building at its core establishes a story or idea with a sense of identity and provides a vessel in which the narratives, characters etc can not only exist, but live. Created worlds often have something akin to an ecosystem, whereby additional content is produced and consumed, thus creating a richer and more user satisfactory environment. The bigger the world becomes, the more needs to be produced in order to be consumed.

References

Kevin Smith Image. (2009) [Online Image].
Available from: <http://www.topsocialite.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/kevin-smith.jpg&gt;
[Accessed 05 November 2010].

Clerks Movie Poster. (1994) [Online Image].
Available from: <http://aspergers.dasaku.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/clerks-movie-poster.jpg&gt;
[Accessed 05 November 2010].

Mallrats Movie Poster. (1995) [Online Image].
Available from: <http://hwcdn.themoviedb.org/oldimg/posters/4677/Mallrats.jpg&gt;
[Accessed 05 November 2010].

Chasing Amy Movie Poster. (1997) [Online Image].
Available from: <http://uk.movieposter.com/posters/archive/main/68/MPW-34044&gt;
[Accessed 05 November 2010].

Dogma Movie Poster. (1999) [Online Image].
Available from: <http://www.impawards.com/1999/posters/dogma_ver1.jpg&gt;
[Accessed 05 November 2010].

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back Movie Poster. (2001) [Online Image].
Available from: <http://www.moviegoods.com/Assets/product_images/1020/194293.1020.A.jpg&gt;
[Accessed 05 November 2010].

Clerks II Movie Poster. (2006) [Online Image].
Available from: <http://www.celebritywonder.com/mp/2006_Clerks_II/movieposter.jpg&gt;
[Accessed 05 November 2010].

Lance Dowds. (2006) [Online Image].
Available from: <http://www.cineol.net/images/noticias/Cameos/Clerks2_4.jpg&gt;
[Accessed 05 November 2010].

Azrael. (1999) [Online Image].
Available from: <http://www.dogma-movie.com/pics/bar/images/gunhappy.jpg&gt;
[Accessed 05 November 2010].

Banky Edwards. (1997) [Online Image].
Available from: <http://images.dawgsports.com/images/admin/Banky_and_Holden.jpg&gt;
[Accessed 05 November 2010].

Brodie Bruce. (1995) [Online Image].
Available from: <http://i42.tinypic.com/2jd1h7q.jpg&gt;
[Accessed 05 November 2010].

Final Fantasy Logos. (2008) [Online Image].
Available from: <http://www.freewebs.com/megafreakintron/music/Final%20Fantasy%20Logos.jpg&gt;
[Accessed 05 November 2010].

Final Fantasy Series. (1987-Present) SquareEnix. Tokyo, Japan. [Various Platforms]

Clerks. (1994) Directed by Kevin Smith. Atlantic Highlands, NJ, USA. View Askew Productions [Film:35mm]

Mallrats. (1995) Directed by Kevin Smith. Eden Prairie, MN, USA. View Askew Productions [Film:35mm]

Chasing Amy. (1997) Directed by Kevin Smith. New York City, NY, USA. View Askew Productions [Film:35mm]

Dogma. (1999) Directed by Kevin Smith. Pittsburgh, PA, USA. View Askew Productions [Film:35mm]

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. (2001) Directed by Kevin Smith. Camarillo, CA, USA. View Askew Productions [Film:35mm]

Clerks II. (2006) Directed by Kevin Smith. Buena Park, CA, USA. View Askew Productions [Film:35mm]

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