One of the most frequent questions I get is, in some manner, related to cultural applications and language submissions. I feel that there is a lot of misunderstanding and a lot of confusion on what is and isn't allowed, and what it means to do a submission. I know there was a brief time that cultural applications had been opened, but I closed the thread for a few very specific reasons. I wanted to go through those reasons, and discuss a few different things to help bring understanding to why "submissions" are closed. I feel that it is easier to open up a conversation, rather than answering the question once or twice a week.
When someone approaches me with a pitch, saying that they want to make a culture, I internally ask myself a few things.
-- Is this a culture they are trying to create, or is it a description of their faction?
-- If it is a culture, does it exist in game?
-- If it does exist in game, is it part of HollowWorld's identity and has it become integral to Altera's history?
-- Are submissions open or closed?
When someone approaches me with a pitch about a language, I internally ask myself these few things:
-- Is there a culture and/or faction of origin?
-- From what language does it originate?
-- How did it start?
-- Is it reasonable that is has developed over time?
-- Does it make reasonable sense for it to exist?
Is it a culture or a faction?
The first question is the killer, most often. I find that many folks misinterpret the difference between a culture and a faction. I would like to take a moment to direct folks to Cherry's woooonderful thread called Group Nomenclature.
Now, this part actually comes from a discussion I had in a convo recently, so I will just quote myself in it. But-Culture - A culture can be loosely described as a society defined by distinct ideas, customs, and social behaviours, usually spanning a defined geographical area, but potentially more thinly spread if the culture is less specific or entails a nomadic lifestyle. Not all individuals necessarily belong to a specific culture, and it is equally important to note that cultures vary in how much they affect those who belong to them. Some cultures are accepted quietly as a natural part of life, some fervently proclaim and enact their values, while some feel their way of life to be a grave personal choice.
Subculture - Not the same thing as a culture, in short; a subculture specifically describes a smaller set of cultural norms within a larger one. A real life explanation would be to consider British society in the 1960s as a culture, and the Mod/Rock youth movements of the time as its subcultures. A better example for a roleplaying server might be this: there is a culture of humans dwelling in small stone villages in the foothills of a large mountain range who worship a small collection of heathen gods. Within this culture, one tribe is distinct in that they only worship the god with the head of a Ram, and not the Ram, the Owl, and the Hare as the others do. They also tend to settle in the highest, rockiest parts of the foothills, and some of their stone buildings are partly dug into the ground for protection from the wind, with round walls instead of square. This would be a subculture; it has an identifiable parent culture, but with some distinct quirks that make it notable in its own right.
Faction - Different to a culture in that it does not necessarily constitute a whole society, a faction is an organised group of people, usually working towards a common goal or within a common framework. Examples include noble houses; nations comprising of multiple cooperative noble house; various trade guilds; religious organisations; and mercenary groups. Factions can exist at a number of levels of complexity, scale, and influence, and often have links to other groups or a certain culture.
When I look at Cultural submissions that come in for HollowWorld, I will only accept those that understand the difference between a culture and a faction. That is why I have declined so many. When you join HollowWorld, if you are looking for a city to join, or a faction to be a part of, you can go to the House section, or the Settlements section. Each house may have certain standards, but for the most part, Factions are a group of people that have banded together under a common leader, and a common goal. The people tend to be rather eclectic and often believe and behave differently than others under the banner. They may wear house colors, or the faction may attract believers of a handful of the Pantheon. All the people in the faction may not act, look, believe, or do the same things. You only know their allegiance when interacting with them and learning they're allied with the faction. But that is still just a Faction. And that is okay to just be a faction.
A culture, however, is something that is recognizable and shapes the identity and background of that person. A culture is something that all members of the culture adhere to. It is a way of dress, a way of behaving, a way of believing. You interact with a character of a certain culture, and you know that they are part of that culture. When you interact with an Anhalder, you KNOW what their culture is because they have strict beliefs in Ignis, their own mannerisms, their own fervent dedication to their emperor. When you interact with a Norvagen, you KNOW they're Norvagen because of their belief in the Path, because of their discomfort with magic, because of their geographic area and dislike of the south. When you interact with the nakam, obviously they are another race, but they believe in the Ancestors, the First Four, they dislike magic, they like art and culture. As well with the Makani, they believe in Manna, believe that groundlings are demons, they have a caste system and a unique social structure. When you encounter a Sooleran, you KNOW they're Sooleran by the way they speak, and the way the dress, and the way they interact with others.
All the cultures I mentioned have something that sets them apart. They are a set of beliefs and standards that everyone in that culture adheres to. Their culture is a part of who they are as a person, but being part of a faction may not be part of their social identity. And that's really what the difference comes down to, between cultures and factions. It's a social identity. It's a group of people that have similar beliefs and ideals, and act and emote themselves a certain way, with certain ways of dress, and curious customs.
And remaining as a faction is not a bad thing. I've had a lot of people believe that, when I decline their culture, that I am saying their group is not legitimate, or that I am trying to detract from the value of what they're trying to build. But on the contrary, a faction is a perfectly legitimate thing. A group of people with loose ideals living under the banner of a house is perfectly viable, but those people can be very different and factions often have an eclectic manner to them.
So if you approach me with a pitch, if it does not pass the first test, then I tend to say no. But that does not mean your kingdom or empire is insignificant. It only means that there is no defining traits that bind them together into a culture.
Does the culture exist in game?
The second question is a kicker a lot of the times, but I find that a lot of people misunderstand this part as well. I would like to take a moment and quote Cherry's Lore Submissions thread, where she references a point Naelwyn once made:
In the wise words of Naelwyn: “If someone gets a group of players together and they're all playing desert-dwelling humans who have a preference for clean red linens and always wear a Fez, all the power to them. They get no special abilities or anything but are totally free to define things like their cultural morality and taboos, diet, clothes, architectural style, etc.”
Newly emerging cultures can be created without official approval provided they don’t cross any lines with the setting, but once they’ve established a bit of history in-game, if you want them to be included on the main lore forum, a lore submission will need to be sent.
So. You have this great idea for a culture, and it is indeed a culture. Let's say you have want a group of desert dwelling elves that wear loose fitting blues and golds, that believe their fortunes are told by the sands. Great. Awesome. You are absolutely free to RP that. You do not need my permission to make and RP as a culture. Just get some friends together, and start RPing. Recruit folks to join your endeavor, and hopefully it takes off! Actually, I encourage folks to try their hand at making new cultures.
If you apply to have your culture added to the Official Lore sections, and it does not already exist in game, I will say no. The point to submissions is to create space for the cultures that have grown, that have gained history, and notoriety. The Official Section are for cultures that make HollowWorld what it is. If you want to make something from scratch, I will not add it to the Lore Sections if it doesn't already exist. So when I decline a culture based on the second question here, it's not because the culture is necessarily bad. It's just because it's not already part of Altera's identity.
Is the culture integral to Altera's identity?
The third question is covered by the second question's answer, in a way. But let me expand.
So let's say that you've made a culture. You and your three friends are RPing with your new culturally developed characters. It's been about three weeks, and you think it's going well. When you apply to me, I am probably going to say no. In part, I don't want to add and remove cultures every other month because it loses steam or because the players that make it go inactive.
When I look at how involved, or notable the culture is in Altera, I want it to have some history behind it. I want it to be an endeavor that the creators and those assuming that cultural identity stick around for, and feel passionate about it. I want cultural submissions to feel like it's part of the world, and that if this culture stopped existing, that the world would be changed for it. In short, to make it to the Official Forums, it needs to have longevity, representation, influence, and/or a sense of permanence.
If I decline the submission because of this question, it is likely because it is too new, there's not enough representation, or that it is too isolated from the world as a whole. The last point is sort of like... "Is this a tiny cult in the mountains, or a full cultural movement?" "Is it the beliefs of a single family, or an entire people?" "Is this a one man culture where one player plays every member?"
Are submissions open?
Part of the reason I am writing this novel is very related to this question. I know that cultural submissions were opened by the previous loremaster, and that we have/had very different opinions on cultures and submitting them. But I am a firm supporter of Cherry's system. As well, there is a lot going on back-end right now. If you send a submission while it is closed, as per the Lore Submissions thread, you may not get a response. And it may be that I am purposefully ignoring it, due to being very busy with other things.
However, if I see a culture gaining steam in game, and I see it gaining influence in the world, then I may be more open to a submission. You should already have a scope of your culture's place in the world before trying to get it added to the official section.
That was a hell of a novel. But I wanted to write this to clear up a lot of misconceptions, and to give guidelines for what I look for. I am not declining your cultural submissions because I think you have shitty cultures. On the contrary, I WANT to see more cultures.
But when you have a culture in the Official Section, it means that they are part of Altera, that they have lasted the test of time, and that I endorse them as an option for new players to join the server as. That's really a key point as well. These cultures are what new players join with. I don't want them to make a character with a dead culture, and find that they leave because they picked a culture whose players left a week after making the post. I also don't want region owners to try and use a cultural submission for their town recruitment, because cultures should be about more than just the creator's town, as that's just unfair. That's what settlements and House forums are for.
So.... that's about it, yes.
I may make a follow-up post about language guidelines, if people feel like they'd like to read that as well. I welcome folks to discuss, and if you'd like to debate some bits, I'd be happy to read the counter arguments.