The Persistence of Hobbits

So ….

I play some video games.  Mostly RPGs, or hybrid RPG/shooters.  I also play an MMORPG (online RPG) based on the Lord of the Rings.  Obviously, no one is allowed to play any of the title characters; all of our "characters" are in the background of the wars in Middle Earth, helping to push back the hordes of Sauron + allies.  The game developer, Turbine, has gone to great pains to replicate the Middle Earth world, flavoring it with lore, critters, and locations faithful to the world Tolkein developed.  The maps, paths, and locations are almost flawless reconstructions of the maps drawn for Tolkein’s books.  Not only that, but the game features areas that are not overly described by Tolkein in the books.  The Ice Bay of Forochel is one such area.  Populated by an Innuit-like people, it is mentioned in only one or two places in all of Tolkein’s writings.  Yet it is featured in the game as a fully playable area.

This is remarkable to me.  Not that Turbine built a lore-consistent area from just a brief mention but that they would want to.  The power and draw of Tolkein’s work is such that people are not only willing to meticulously research the man’s writing and pore over the appendices and indexes for information – but that there are legions of players who jump on any discrepancy and mercilessly blast the game developer over it.

Star Wars is another example.  Maybe not as an MMO (the one SW MMO was a moderate failure, though another is in the works) but how about the absolute multitude of fiction written about the Star Wars universe?  Has anyone read it all?  Could anyone?  Somewhere, there are people who track the canon of the series and mock the books that don’t follow.  There have been other non-MMO Star Wars games that were quite well received.  Massive merchandising.  Characters that are household names.  Quite an accomplishment stemming from a single movie written by a young director – a movie that at the time, was by no means a guaranteed success.

Star Trek?  Multiple TV series, movies, and book upon book of technical specs (seriously, did Gene Rodenberry ever ponder how a phaser really worked?) that long since outstripped the scope of the original show.  For Christ’s sake, there are actually published books on the Klingon language! All based off one crappily-produced series of 70-80 episodes.

This is a measure of a work’s persistence – that people love it to an extent to model it, study it, learn not just the story but the essence of what the author wrote, and add to it.  When a work has persistence, it becomes nearly open-source – if not in terms of copyright, then in terms of the sheer number of tales, games, products, and ideas spawned by it.  It acheives a near immortality.

Contrast this with other products.  Somehow, I don’t see people twenty years from now writing fan fiction of Eragon or Avatar.

It would be awesome to achieve that kind of persistence.  Even if I never saw a dollar for it, I’d be pretty tickled if people were still enjoying my work and writing their own spin offs twenty years after it’s published.

What’s that?  Yeah, I know – I actually have to get published first.

Serious buzzkill, man ….


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