Realism and logical reasoning in Sci-fi /fantasy games

(Apologies if this topic seems redundant)

I’m currently drafting a game set in an unknown future, and as I came to write major plot details, I wondered; just how important is realim, or even a semblance of logical reasoning in world settings, specifically fantasy settings? Do players feel more immersed if there are explanations regarding the world in which the PC resides in? How much do you care abut the background, especially when the setting is fundamental to the themes of the game? Would things like foreign city names and obscured cultures be better received if the game even briefly explained them?

Or is setting (and all aspects/technicalities within it) nearly irrelevant, prompting players to simply “go with it”?


I think it depends. :slight_smile:

My favourite type of sci-fi is that which explores social issues. I’m also very fond of young adult sci-fi.

I’m not actually that bothered by the specifics of how technology works. I’m happy to suspend belief on some things, especially in light of a good story. Of course other inaccuracies might end up really, really niggling at me.

I’m not fond of huge info dumps. Explain what’s relevant. Let the world talk for itself otherwise.


As long as the world is immersive, the inner-workings of the world do not matter to me as a reader.

A glossary or almanac in a stats page format is a great help if there are terms I don’t get or understand (foreign, made-up, names, etc)

I am a huge history nerd so I love lots of background and info outside of the immediate narrative. @Cataphrak does a really awesome job of making a living world that I can totally get into in his stories.

So, the story itself doesn’t need all the cool and great things listed but it adds a lot when done for readers like me.


I would say that realism and even logic aren’t all that important if you’re going for soft sci-fi (i.e. not The Martian, but pretty much anything else). What’s important (in fantasy as well as sci-fi) is consistency. Don’t add new rules just because you need them for the plot (or if you do, go back and make sure everything prior was consistent with the new rules).


On the contrary, I’d say that verisimilitude in soft sci-fi is just as important, it just requires different focuses.

Soft sci-fi is about people and societies the same way that hard sci-fi is about technology and physics. That means your characters have to fit the society they live in, and act rationally in accordance with their worldviews (read: “realistically”) the same way a matter/antimatter reactor would have to obey the laws of physics in hard sci-fi.

Arguably, that makes worldbuilding even more important: you’re not just crafting technologies and grafting it onto our own societal biases: you’re working from the ground up, using theoretical technological advances to determine how society changes, and if that society isn’t believably related to our own, then you may not have a story.

Unless, of course, you make it about an entirely alien society, in which case you have my pity and admiration, because that sort of work is hard.


I think it helps to a great extent if you’re trying to immerse the readers into a story or a universe; nearly everything in the real world has an explanation or a backstory, so having a fantasy universe with a similar level of immersion helps people to connect better with the story.

This topic in particular is why people have developed such a love for series like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (before Lucasfilms declared it all non-canon) and partly why they’ve gone down in history as they have; the extent of the extended universe they have helps people to feel that the world they’re in has weight, and feels less like a fictional one that that has little explanations.

Obviously it’s extreme to the point of ludicrousness to ask a writer to go to the depths of LOTR and Star Wars, but I feel the principle still remains; the more there is in a fictional universe, the more people connect to that universe. At least I do, anyway.

Actual logical reasoning obviously has less of a place in fantasy universes, but realism in the sense of fantasy usually stops being ‘what is logical’ and starts being ‘what is a good explanation within the universe’. I wouldn’t expect a writer to come up with an explanation for everything in the universe that’s inkeeping with the universe as a whole, but disregarding anything as irrelevant or not warranting an explanation is quite different than not explaining it. As long as something isn’t explained for a different reason than ‘I couldn’t be bothered’ or ‘I didn’t think it relevant’, then I can kind of go along with it better.


Sorry, I was speaking purely about the scientific side. Obviously, the characters and societies should be realistic in soft sci-fi, but then I would hope that that would remain true in just about any genre. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


I love world-building lore, just ask any of the authors around here, but mostly @Moreau @Cataphrak @Havenstone and @JimD. Fleshed out lore makes the setting really feel like a living, breathing place to me and it definitely helps with immersion.
Still not every author is or even wants to approach Jack Vance and I guess in the end a finished project would be more valuable than one abandoned halfway through.

Again it depends I like some good speculation on possible future and divergent technology that may even be backed up by popular science as I understand it. I’m not a real scientist or engineer though and I can certainly swallow some things (like say practical, manned FTL travel) if they are necessary to make a good story.


“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” - Elmore Leonard.

If the backstory’s relevant, then it has to go in one way or another.

If it’s neat but not relevant…well, I think it’s a distraction. Sure, it’s cool that women traditionally wear green in springtime in the Free City of Festerton, but if it’s not springtime, we’re not in Festerton, and we don’t know any Festertonian women, why mention it? Especially in the interactive fiction realm, where I think being concise is a virtue.

That said, I think it’s important for YOU to sketch out the backstory to the level you want. In sci fi/fantasy, consistency is hugely important. Sketch it out. But no need to show your work unless/until the story demands it. I would not just do a ‘data dump’ for the sake of a data dump. Far better to let the characters explore the background, and let them learn about along the way, no? Leave them wanting more.


Personally I like everything to seem plausible or believable. It doesn’t have to be possible in the least but the author should be able to make it seem like it makes sense. So high quality bull#@*# will suffice.

That said if something makes no sense at all I find myself losing interest.


@Cataphrak and @ParrotWatcher

Just having a look at your thoughts on soft and hard sci-fi, and I catch myself thinking about certain sci-fi stories I know, and just how they would be classified. The three that come to mind for me are: Dune, the Mass Effect series, and ‘The Forever War’.

Because on the consideration that these are soft sci-fi, and deal far more with ‘society-in-space’ than ‘technology-in-space’, Cataphract would be right- but then… ‘The Forever War’ was written in 1974 and was advanced enough it could well have been written yesterday, and could easily have been considered hard sci-fi during its time, the science in it not being so ludicrous as to seem campy by today’s standards. So too Dune, where the cosmic scale of the worldbuilding lends itself to this one little planet that seems in some ways almost more Fantasy in setting than Sci-fi. And Mass Effect? The science is never much discussed, but is everpresently ‘there’ from the Normandy to the Reapers. These are, yes, soft sci-fi? On the flip side, you do have the soft sci-fi that doesn’t take itself seriously- Red Dwarf, old Doctor Who… And these don’t suffer for the lack of the versimilitude, at the same time as the aforementioned three draw and gain incredible strength from it.

Also, that last comment you made about sci-fi based on an alien society, Cataphrak- first thing that pops into my mind is the Faded Sun series by CJ Cherryh. Stylistically… it’s just so different from usual; it’s like comparing Ursula LeGuin’s -style- to the majority of fantasy literature. It’s like being native to a different language, except, writing style.


@Shawn_Patrick_Reed Just an aside: in MASS EFFECT, the backstory (incl. scientific details of the universe not mentioned in the dialogue) is there for all players to read, in the in-game Codex. And, for the most part, the stories are reasonably consistent with what’s in there. That sort of ‘online encyclopedia’ could be one way to let your players read details about the universe that didn’t make it into the story, if they really wanted to.

That would be pretty laborious, though, if you don’t have a team of writers and developers on staff like Bioware does. :wink:

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nods I intended my point to be that the science doesn’t interfere with the story. It doesn’t information dump, and thus comes across as a soft sci-fi despite the combat involved, because the story- plot and characters and setting, are the central focus.

But imagine trying to translate Mass Effect into a book. You’d need to describe what Quarrians, Turrians, and so on look like… because the imagery which can be picked up at a glance with the game, is intuitively enmeshed into their societal structures. To make it still feel like Mass Effect, there would be some necessary information dumping. Even if it isn’t ‘realism science’ - ‘the mass effect’ is explained well, but is still, fiction. It’s just that it’s probably hard to have a sci-fi -without- ‘science’. And likewise, without fantasy.


You don’t really have to imagine since Mass Effect novels exist. Yeah, most of their readers have probably played the game and know this stuff, but they’d want the descriptions in to avoid alienating a (science-)fiction reader who just stumbled onto it.

I like @Snoe’s phrasing. High-quality bullshit’s my favorite type of world building. I don’t mind when authors do their research, of course, but I don’t like glossaries. It puts me in a less than ideal mindset when I jump into a book with the idea that I’ll have to refer back to a mini-encyclopedia to understand the story. I feel like if information’s relevant to the story, the context should explain it, and if the context explains it, there shouldn’t be a glossary. There’re people who enjoy reading codexes. Not me.


I like that phrasing too. ‘High quality bs.’ A dash of realism and a sprinkle of imagination. Viola! Sci-fi. :smiley:


Very much so. While the reference material is nice for the people who want it, the worldbuilding in the text itself should be able to stand on its own feet. Detailed and innovative worldbuilding is a double-edged sword, and having to rely on expository passages or reference materials to get readers to understand the basics of the plot is the edge that’s most likely to bury itself in your gut.


On point - Vonda McIntyre’s first pitfall of writing scifi:

I don’t know about you guys but I remember reading Dune and it had a a mini encyclopedia in the back and that was vital of course and you learn all of the meaning quarter through the book. But I thought that was a useful tool to get me into the mindset of the characters personally it allowed me to understand what they were talking about without the exclamations. Hey you have a glossary in your series sir. It’s a great tool and Beyond awesome refresher from the long periods of sequels to jog my memory.

Mind you, Dune is a notoriously hard read. If I could ever reach that level of mastery, I might consider writing something that needed a reference guide to understand too,

As supplementary material and a refresher, codices work great, less so when they’re a requirement to understand the plot.

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And Dune’s sequels pretty much dump codices and indexes entirely, while managing to get more opaque!