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Article - 'Background' by Xanqui

An item about Game Design posted on Jan 14, 2004

Blurb

Xanqui rewrites his very first GW Article, this time using more details and examples. Take a look if you plan to add a history to your story.

Body

I get really annoyed whenever people tell me “Hey Xanqui, that Backgrounds article was really good.” It wasn’t. It was my first article, and it sucked. I thought it didn’t have enough information or details, and I couldn’t stand it when people told me about it. So I decided to rewrite it. This way, when people tell me my backgrounds article was good, I won’t be so annoyed.

To begin, everything has a background. There is a story behind everything. There must be a reason as to why it is there, how it got there, who put it there, and when it was put there. The same thing applies to characters as well. Characters must have parents (or a means of existing), a home, former friends, and a history. There must be a reason for him being at a specific location at a specific time. There is always a reason.

So what does this mean exactly? It means that everything that exists when the story starts existed BEFORE the story started. Why is this useful? If you care to add depth to your story, background is absolutely essential.

Obviously, the idea of backgrounds has been around since stories themselves. The entire Trojan War is based on things that happened before the war even began. For those of you who don’t know, the entire Roman Empire started because of the Trojan War, which in turn was started because Zeus likes to get laid.

I’m going to give you a real quick summary of how the Trojan War began, just to show you how the background comes into play.

Zeus, the God of thunder, as well as the most powerful God, was a very horny God. Every beautiful woman in the world at the time was probably done by him. This means he had quite a few children, all of which were males. But upon hearing of a prophecy stating that there would be a son of a woman who would surpass the father, Zeus became extremely worried. He had to find out who the woman was, so that he didn’t do her, and the son would surpass him. But the only person who knew of this woman was Prometheus, the God who gave man fire, and was punished by being chained to a mountain, where eagles and vultures ate out his liver every day (since he was God, his liver regenerated every day).

Zeus asked Prometheus who the woman was, but Prometheus forced Zeus to promise to relieve him of the punishment. Zeus accepted, because he LOVED women, and Prometheus stated that the woman was Thetis. Zeus quickly arranged a wedding and a party for Thetis and a mortal named Peleus so that he wouldn’t forget and accidentally make love to Thetis. (Peleus and Thetis later had a son, who turned out to be Achilles, the invincible hero during the Trojan War).

Zeus invited all the Gods except one, Discordia (the Goddess of Discord). Discordia, doing her job, throws a golden apple with the inscription “for the fairest” onto the floor of the party, where the beautiful Goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite claimed the apple. Zeus, not wanting to choose, decides that Paris (a mortal cowherder) would choose who was the most beautiful. Hera offered Paris power over men and nations, Athena offered the gift of infinite wisdom and knowledge, and Aphrodite, the Goddess of love, offered Paris the most beautiful woman in the world. Being a man, Paris decides to choose Aphrodite as the most beautiful goddess, and Aphrodite gets the apple.

That woman happened to be a lovely lady named Helen, who was the Queen of Sparta, and one of the MANY daughters of Zeus. But she was also the wife of the King, Menelaus. Despite this, Paris went to Sparta and took Helen to Troy. Upon hearing about his wife’s departure with Paris, Menelaus asked his brother, who was the most powerful King in Greece, named Mycenae. Mycenae decided to go to war with Troy, and sent a fleet of one thousand ships to retrieve Helen. When they arrived at Troy, which was atop a hill, the war began.


Well, that was a mouthful. All of that happened before the Trojan War, and everything led up to the war. If you noticed, the story above also had some background information that I slipped in there. I mentioned that Paris was a cowherder (and he also went on a few adventures beforehand), and the fact that the party was for a wedding between Thetis and a mortal. It wasn’t necessary to go into that detail, but it was interesting nonetheless.

Background is generally just interesting information for a storyline. No one really needs to know that Jack was once a farmer, but knowing it adds just a little more depth. But it can also serve a purpose. For example, Jack’s farming skills could come into play when he has to save the town from a massive corn storm…or something. If the audience didn’t know he was a farmer, they would wonder how he knew how to prevent the corn…storm.

Anyway, mythology isn’t the only form of background. History is background to our lives today. It has shaped the foundation of society, and many key events have changed the human race forever. There are far too many examples, but I’ll give one that has affected a large portion, if not all of the world: World War II.

World War II began as a fairly direct result of World War I. Shortly after WWI, Germany was thrown into a major depression, as a direct result of the Treat of Versailles, which forced Germany to pay reparations. It was so bad that one U.S. dollar was worth trillions of deutsche marks, the German currency at the time. So when Adolph Hitler proposed a plan to bring in money, as well as restore economy, AND turn Germany into a new world power, the Germans were more than willing to accept. For several years before the war officially began, Hitler ordered the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews from all over Europe, while attacking other countries in the process.

After World War I, a word peacekeeping organization known as the League of Nations was formed. It was a strong alliance system that would prevent Germany from ever restoring its economy. The United States was the only country that didn’t join it. So, not wanting to take part in something caused by this treaty, the U.S stayed out of the affairs in Europe for some time. Even after Germany had allied with other countries such as Italy (which wanted to restore the Roman Empire), and Japan, the U.S. still didn’t take part.

Japan wanted to take over the Pacific Ocean, which the Nazis were supporting, because it would help eliminate the United States. But with Hawaii loaded with the United States Navy, it would be rather difficult for Japan to take over the Pacific. As you probably know, this lead to the attack on Pearl Harbor, which was resulted in the United States joining the war.

All off this happened because of alliances and treaties that had been formed over the past several hundred years. Even the Roman Empire, which had been destroyed almost two thousand years before was a factor in World War I and II.


I had to leave out a lot of other facts because there were simply too many details to fill in the whole story. Some of it may be slightly inaccurate, but I researched it to get it as close to what really happened as possible.

Anyway, events such as World War II, and even the Roman Empire are affecting the world today. They have established the background to our history, and without the knowledge of these events, our lives would not only be less interesting, but we would still be repeating them.

So consider this while working on your story. Background WILL have an effect on what is currently happening because of the nature of history repeating itself. A very effective way of using background is by having the hero face the same villain or force of evil that a hero thousands of years faced as well. Just take a look at Final Fantasy X. Tidus was going to prevent history from repeating itself by going all the way and completely defeating what caused it to happen in the first place.

But even that has background. Sin was created because of Yu Yevon (I think that’s the name) who wanted to transform the world into a less lazy society.

The best way to create background for your story would be to start with the story itself. Forget that what happened one thousand years before is going to affect today. Establish a setting and your characters, then focus on the background. This will allow you to have the storyline of your choice, and will allow any altering you need after you’ve created the background. If you begin with the background first, you will find that the plot you originally had will be much more difficult to work with, since everything is already set.

While working on the storyline, there are many ways to express what happened before the story began. Characters can make references to historical figures, or there could be tension between two nations because of a lawsuit that took place ten thousand years before. The easiest, and two of the most effective methods are narration, or the story beginning in a history class of some sort.

I never read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I saw The Fellowship of the Ring movie. It began with an elf telling the background of the ring that was the basis for the entire LotR trilogy. The elf explained how the ring was born, what it caused, who it belonged to, and how it ended up in the hands of Bilbo Baggins.

The classroom method was used in that awesome, awesome movie known as Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Though this was used a bit differently. The main part of the movie was the background, and the ape teacher was telling the story to children some seven hundred years later. But as the movie began, the ape gave a little bit of background information so that the audience would have an idea as to what was going on.

In other words; not only is background interesting, but it’s a great way to start your story off. It will allow you to establish the mood, setting, and even some of the characters before the audience even know what the story is about. But it will create a subconscious reference for the future, in case a character refers to something in the past. That way, the audience will think “oh yeah, he was the guy from the beginning who did that thing with the thing. I know him.”

Background is one of the most open-ended aspects of a storyline. There are no limits to what can happen in a storyline, and thus no limits to the background. It’s not that hard to make one for your story, but it does take a while to think up every important detail.

Anyway, this is my longest article yet, and I’ve put a lot of research into it. If you’re going to be taking Latin, be sure to forget what I said about the Trojan War (or use it so that you can show off). You’ll learn a lot more details about the war if you take the class. Same thing applies to what I said about WW2. I’d like to thank my Latin teacher, Mr. Brainerd, as well as all the mythology books I have for that portion. And I’d like to thank my former Modern World History teacher, Mr. Day for teaching me about WW2.

I hope you found this article a lot more useful than the old article. If you found anything VERY inaccurate, or that I lacked a vital detail in either my Trojan War or WW2 history, please Gwmail me @ Xanqui. Do NOT tell me in my replies, or I will delete them and disregard them.