Culture and Transportation - The Art of World Building
Jun 252020
 
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Transportation may not seem like a cultural element, but it is. Some cities, like Los Angeles, are known for their cars, while another might be known for motorcycles. Venice is known for gondola boats. Cities are known for pedestrians, bicyclists, and traffic jams, not to mention extremely limited parking. Residents and visitors take this into account; sometimes, they plan their lives around it. A science-fiction setting might similarly be known for certain types of craft.

There are subcultures that trick out of their cars with all sorts of aftermarket accessories. The same can be done for motorcycles or spaceships if those are personally owned. With a little imagination, perhaps we can do the same with wagons, horses, or even dragons and the gear we use to ride them.

The existence and state of public transportation can also have cultural impacts such as whether a settlement is known for people having to walk everywhere because public transportation doesn’t exist. Or maybe it’s free, or really expensive, either extreme impacting the willingness to travel. Crime with public and even private transportation (think of unlicensed taxis or services like Uber) is also on everyone’s mind. What kind of security is typical in the culture we’re inventing? It depends partly on the wealth available for police and infrastructure to deal with criminals.

Long distance travel is another concern. In SF, this is almost a given, but in fantasy settings, many people can’t do long-distance travel. Here, the horse or wagon are the typical methods of getting around, but they’re not the fastest or most comfortable way of doing so and necessitate either camping or staying in an inn. Both offer dangers depending on how safe the landscape is. In our modern world, we tend to assume that we can go on a hike without being mauled by an animal or killed (depending on where we live), but this isn’t true in a fantasy setting. Traveling over land poses risks, which come from other humans, species, monsters, animals, and possibly even plants, whether those are predatory or just poisonous.

If only a few people do have personal experience with distant cities or lands, those people might be admired. This can also cause people to lie about it. Significant ignorance or simply false information about faraway places could be prevalent in society. This can mean that word-of-mouth and rumor predominate. It can also mean that those who officially travel in some capacity, whether sanctioned by the government or knights errant, are looked to for news of the outside world. This, in turn, could lead to “street criers” hanging out near the city gates, collecting information from incoming travelers, and then going to the town square to disseminate that at specific times, like morning or evening, when people are drawing water from a central well.

In volume two, we covered calculating travel distances and times, but here we’re looking at the impact on culture. In a fantasy setting, many roads and paths are dirt—mud when it rains—more so in a village, less so in a town or city. The likelihood of muddy feet can impact footwear, dress hems, and pants cuffs in an entire region if rain is common; details of where steady rain is likely is part of Creating Places (The Art of World Building, #2). This, in turn, can impact culture, such as people staying indoors during the rainy season. Perhaps going barefoot becomes common and it is part of culture to wash one’s feet on arrival inside somewhere, and locations are expected to provide the opportunity. The same could be done in dry climates, but now it’s the removal of dust that is a concern.

Is it customary to have somewhere to stable a horse for visitors? What about a parking space for vehicles? Do people double park and is that expected or an irritation? Imagine what sorts of issues might arise with SF vehicles that can hover or outright fly. Then decide what is considered customary and courteous; the ways people react to violations are likely similar to road rage here on Earth.

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