World Building Master Concept: Culture (Part 2)

Last time we took a look at the Master Concept of Culture, we got an overview of the Think, Feel, Act model for approaching fictional cultures, which allows us to apply the three key areas; Thought Process, Social Norms and Conflict Resolution.

Today we are going to explore the ways this model affects how two fictional cultures may develop

A Simple Cultural Template

When we want to apply the Think, Feel, Act, model to a culture, it is sometimes hard to directly infer the impact of the stated facts about a culture we are creating. Sometimes, the implications of a particular social policy are very clear, but sometimes they carry with them a hidden impact that may not be immediately apparent.

As in our own cultures here on Earth, there are plenty of things that, to an outside observer have a very compartmentalized impact. On closer inspection many of these compartmentalized influences are much wider spread and important in their implications than initially assumed. This template aims to help answer some questions about how the culture we want to create will actually implement the Think, Feel, Act model of culture.

The template takes the form of a series of priorities and simple questions, which when answered, will help us flesh out how the culture will begin to grow. Remember, you will likely need to have some idea in your head about potential cultures before you can effectively answer some of these questions. As with any world building, there is a required level of improvisation in this sort of work.

Think: The founders

The founders of the culture are largely responsible for the ideas that shape a culture. Thus we will use founding ideas to represent the Think portion of our culture. For the founders we will look at Nature, Danger and Survival. These are simplified names meant to help us remember some questions about the founding.

These questions about the founding are more about the environment and factors largely beyond the control of the founders, This is by design. By placing the founders in a reactive situation, we can explore the logic and reasoning in their responses.

Nature
What was the environment in which the founders existed?

Danger
What was the biggest challenge faced by the founders?

Survival
What idea or action did the founders use to confront this challenge?

Feel: The Enclave

The first settlement of the culture was likely smaller or less established than the current hub. Perhaps the original settlement grew and became what it is today. In order to answer the questions about social norms, let’s envision the Cultural Capital or, Enclave, of this culture.

Questions about the cultural center will not focus on the explicit norms themselves, but instead how the knowledge of the founders has propagated through society (Tradition) , how the culture has dealt with disruptive individuals (Disruption) and how the society approaches obligations (Community).

For the Enclave we will select from different options, rather than the mostly free-form answers of the founding. Try and select among the options that best fit your founding ideals.

Tradition
By what method is knowledge passed from the old to the young?

  • Public Schooling (Learning from Generalists)
  • Tutoring and Apprenticeships (Learning from experts)
  • Familial Tradition (Learning in the home)

Disruption
What is the method for punishing people who are significant disruptions to society?

  • Executing (The culture really does not tolerate disruption)
  • Exile (They kick out undesirables)
  • Penalty (Law codes have to handle this on a case by case basis)

Community
How does the society expect individuals to act toward itself and other members?

  • Communal (Work for the needs of many over the needs of few)
  • Balanced (Work for the greater good sometimes, other times for person’s in group)
  • For me and mine (Work for a person’s own in group)

Act: Conflict Crystallized

Every culture inevitably comes into conflict with another at some point. The Act portion of the template is designed to help us find out how this conflict might have (or still might) occur.

For the purposes of this segment of the template, we will explore some opposing attributes of the conflict resolution factors of the culture we have created. When doing this we will want to keep in mind both the founding questions and the questions about the cultural center we have envisioned

Conflict Resolution Factors

(Rate from 0 to 10. 0 being 100% of the left trait, 10 being 100% of the right trait)

0


Force

Strength

Loyalty

Matter of Fact

Widespread


–Method–

–Tool–

–Appeal–

–Honesty–

–Aggression–

10


Negotiation

Friendship

Honor

Intrigue

Measured

Example Culture: The NovaCore

Now that we have explored a template for creating a culture using think feel and act, let’s look at how an important culture from the Star of Ashor novel would look under the template.

After we fill out our template, we will explore the implications of answering some questions in certain ways. Below, we can find the template in an abbreviated form. Refer to the above for the broader context of the questions.

Think

Nature: What was the environment in which the founders existed?
The founders of the NovaCore was founded on a remote habitable world far from the home of the species of its founders. The planet was seen as harsh but livable, with vast resource wealth for exploitation

Danger: What was the biggest challenge faced by the founders?
The biggest challenge of the environment in which the founders existed was ensuring proper supply lines from home during the founding. They feared the rekindling of conflicts on their homeworld that could disrupt this balance.

Survival: What idea or action did the founders use to confront this challenge?
The NovaCore aimed to become self sufficient and ind pendant as quickly as was possible. Thus, the NovaCore military forces who spearheaded the expedition rapidly expanded their training to all people. As a result, everyone in the NovaCore became well trained and disciplined in survival and war-fighting to hedge against possible conflicts

Feel

Tradition
By what method is knowledge passed from the old to the young?

Public Schooling (Learning from Generalists)

Disruption
What is the method for punishing people who are significant disruptions to society?

Penalty (Law codes have to handle this on a case by case basis)

Community
How does the society expect individuals to act toward itself and other members?

Communal (Work for the needs of many over the needs of few)

Act

Conflict Resolution Factors

0


Force

Strength

Loyalty

Matter of Fact

Widespread


–6->

<-4–

<-2–

–6->

–7->

10


Negotiation

Friendship

Honor

Intrigue

Measured

The Breakdown

Now that we have the NovaCore’s Template defined above we can get an idea about the NovaCore culture, from founding to modern day. Though this is an existing culture, the process is similar for any culture: the creator must come up with reasons as to why things are the way they are.

This step is a very important followup for the template, perhaps more important than the template itself. This is where we really answer questions, just like we do during our world building techniques.

The founding answers from the template above, as free form short answers are self explaining to a large degree. Therefore I will focus my explanations on the rationale of the subsequent answers. Keep in mind that I am exploring a culture who operates a nation with essentially a single culture. The society of the NovaCore largely focuses on its own culture above others. As a result of this, some of my descriptions make heavy references to the NovaCore as a nation. This may not be a proper approach for every culture, as not every culture is also a national power. I also tried to add interesting “edge cases” that I felt were implied by these answers as a way of showing just how broadly impactful each of the answers to these questions can be.

Why public schools?

As a highly coherent group, who have always had a need for shared common knowledge and experience, a public educational system was a requirement for the NovaCore. It provides them with education in both survival skills needed from the days of the founding, to the modern cultural glues and norms that all the rest of the citizens will be expecting themselves. The culture itself is expected to help educate the rest of its members and this extends to the mindset of all knowledge sharing.

  • Military Schools and academies are common due to a confluence of public education and a military based culture.
  • Innovation is a work of public ownership, everyone who can is welcome to innovate for the common good. This is thanks to a communal culture and a strong emphasis on knowledge sharing from people to others in the education system

Why penalties?

During the original days of the NovaCore it was clear that kicking people out of the fledgling colony was dangerous. Everyone was needed to contribute. As a result, even when someone was penalized, their effort was still captured for the greater good in some way except in the most extreme of cases. This also meshed well with existing legalistic systems that were carried from the founding culture of the NovaCore’s founders.

  • Criminals are required to work to support society and themselves regardless of offense.
  • Rehabilitation is an important part of the NovaCore justice system due to the emphasized value on retaining the individual contributor.

Why communal?

The natural evolution of the shared survival mindset made the NovaCore a very communal culture. The people of the NovaCore shared a common need, and, being so heavily tied to the military nature of it’s founding, the NovaCore culture also instilled this military discipline and brotherhood into its own members.

  • NovaCore tend to demonstrate a high social cohesion even to strangers due to a strong sense of shared values
  • People who consistently fall outside the norm are often given chances to find ways to contribute because of a confluence of communal culture and the desire not to discard useful contributors. By embracing the shared values of the culture, the NovaCore try to embrace each other as well.

Force vs Negotiation

Because of its relatively young age and size compared to other powers, the NovaCore prefers resolving conflicts before they occur if possible. As a militaristic society, the duty to participate in conflict is extremely broad and far reaching. Therefore, public pressure to negotiate is also high, since people want to avoid fighting. Internally, NovaCore rely on their shared loyalty and communal mindset to try and resolve conflicts with negotiation first.

  • Because of their already strong connection to legal codes, negotiation laws and protections are important to NovaCore.
  • Penalties for senseless / needless violence are severe in the NovaCore to prevent the improper wasting of resources.

Strength vs Friendship

The NovaCore tries to keep a strong posture as opposed to relying on friends for support. This stems from its beginnings as a frontier colony as much as it does from the heavy military influence in its daily business. This need is balanced internally by the fact that strong cooperation and loyalty to one another are cornerstones of the culture as well. Thus, in daily life, strength and friendship are closely balanced in this culture and as potential avenues for conflict resolution.

  • NovaCore allies are rarer due to their focus on standing strong without help, but they are a strong ally themselves as a result.
  • Because of a strong loyalty to their in group, NovaCore tend to make strong friendship bonds once the initial barriers to friendship are overcome.

Lovalty vs Honor

The NovaCore culture is expected to adhere to itself and be loyal to itself. This means that loyalty to one’s own in group is quite likely to influence how and when conflicts are resolved. Rather than doing what is always considered the moral imperative at any cost, a NovaCore is expected to weigh that against the needs of the whole.

  • NovaCore tend to pursue the safety and well being of their own culture over others, even when others may think it morally ambiguous.
  • Novacore try to be honorable to those they are loyal to, as a way of showing their loyalty to each other.

Matter of Fact vs Intrigue

Being a relatively small power in the galaxy, the NovaCore employs asymmetric techniques as a matter of course. They are not above ambushes, covert plans or secret operations and will often prefer these options if they believe it is lest costly to their own interests than direct open warfare. Even during wartime, standard operations will be heavily backed by secret and covert actions. NovaCore tend not to be dishonest with each other due to the strong emphasis on loyalty however.

  • NovaCore want to ensure they can win in a fight, but that desire is tempered when interacting with each other because of a strong shared and communal loyalty.
  • NovaCore tend to have a large covert operations contingent when dealing with external powers or cultures

Widespread vs Measured

The NovaCore has no interest in causing undue or broad damage to most of its opponents, thus, too, do its people feel the same way. Whatever method a NovaCore uses to resolve a conflict is typically designed to resolve it without causing too much additional damage. But once pushed to conflict, strength would be employed judiciously and quickly

  • Surgical precision and measured response work well with the NovaCore tendency toward covert conflict resolution. This could easily cause them grief with their neighbors.
  • Avoiding a large collateral damage to personal conflicts is a preferred strategy for a culture whose communal and shared values are such an important part of daily life

Culture and conflict moving forward

One can see from the above that there are implications still left unlisted by the above rationale and explanations. It is possible to explore any of these particular aspects and, especially when viewing it along with the others, come to more new conclusions about how NovaCore society may work or evolve.

It should also be clear that not all questions in our template have direct and straightforward answers. In some cases, there can be a rationale that provides for an answer one might not expect for a given situation. Whether it is in how the NovaCore deal with people who do not conform in a communal society, or how they view honor and loyalty, I think it is apparent that there is plenty of room for creative exercise when applying this sort of template to a fictional culture.

While one can explore a bit more about NovaCore culture in the Codex on this site, or in the Star of Ashor Novel we will use the template created here as a springboard toward future building on the idea of culture.

Our next master concept article on culture will get to one of the most important aspects of culture in showing how culture provides a context for conflict between broad populations, nations, and even characters. We will explore how culture can be an important factor, or sometimes, a defining cornerstone of conflict in fiction, and how we can improve our handling of culture as a tool for good world building and storytelling.

3 Replies to “World Building Master Concept: Culture (Part 2)”

  1. I’m having a little trouble understanding the Act part. By “to the right” do you mean they use more force for example, and to the left they favor not using force?

    Or is it related to the list underneath?

    1. The template here is showing what are roughly shown as two opposing sets of traits. By leaning toward either side, the template aims to show you the relative strength of the inclination of a culture, towards a specific set of activities. The numbers 0-10 are a way to numerically demonstrate the attachment to either side, with 5 being neutral, 10 being the extreme shown on the right hand side of the template, and 0 being the extreme shown on the left hand side.

      So if something is shown as a strength 2, then it will be strongly biased toward the trait shown on the left, while the trait on the right would be demonstrated more strongly with say, a 7.

      Does that help answer your question?

  2. The list can be different for different cultures? I doubt they’d all place a certain emphasis on the same things.

    It reminds me of those things when players are creating a character for a roleplay game, a list of traits and the player chooses on the spectrum of traits they want their character to have.

    The traits tend to be opposites in that case. I guess that is how I am seeing that part.

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