‘Arcane’, worldbuilding & my own fictional world

*Originally published on Jess’ Pen

Arcane: League of Legends is a stunning display of animation, storytelling and worldbuilding. Extremely impressed by the latter, I decided to delve into what makes the worldbuilding in Arcane so incredible, drawing on three ideological frameworks and ultimately applying what I discovered to worldbuilding in my own novel.  

How I analysed ‘Arcane’ 

Researching the concept of autoethnography enabled me to conduct textual analysis of Arcane. Watching the show, and then identifying the elements that I personally enjoyed, enabled me to determine how I could enthral my own readers.  

Defined as a combination of ethnography and autobiography, autoethnography centres on sharing research through story. Rather than using purely scientific data, the researcher will participate in the field site they are investigating, noting their experience framed by how they think and feel, and what they see, taste, touch, smell and hear. This may also involve (respectfully) “lurk[ing]” in online communities to observe what other people are saying about the research topic. Virtual chatrooms, comments threads and hashtags are all valid ways of gathering discourse and are often used as a means of categorising data. Finally, while autoethnography is an academic endeavour, it is not limited to ‘serious’ topics – something like an analysis of one’s favourite video game is perfectly legitimate and will lead to nuanced commentary about modern society.  

For the sake of time, I was unable to thoroughly autoethnographically analyse Arcane – the notetaking and recording of experience was limited. However, what I did manage to do was record all my favourite elements of its worldbuilding (Figure 1) and observe some of the comments made in a video essay.

Figure 1

Understanding what evoked excitement in both me and other viewers provided insight into what might draw readers into my own fictional world. Notably, I was drawn to Arcane’s magic system and used the Hexcores/Hextech as inspiration for the magic system in my own novel. This developed over the course of a writing vlog and wouldn’t have occurred if I didn’t think critically about why I enjoy Arcane so much.  

The purposes of story & worldbuilding  

The purposes of story and worldbuilding intertwine – you cannot have one without the other. Gaiman articulates the purpose of stories as means to generate empathy and equip readers with “skills and knowledge and tools” to conquer everyday life. Similarly, Gottschall describes story as both “escapist” and a means for the author to make a moral statement about the world. In this way, story isn’t mere plot – it’s instructional and entertaining, benefitting the lives of its readers.  

Therefore, as the vehicle for which a story is told, worldbuilding must serve the same purpose. While fictional worlds can, and are, set in the real world, the act of worldbuilding is associated with the creation of fictional worlds. Creatures, geographies, ecologies and cultures are all created from scratch – an act Tolkien equates with elvish magic. According to Tolkien, secondary worlds are constructed purely from the author’s imagination. They draw inspiration from the Primary World (reality) and reside within it. Thus, authors are sub-creators, pulling together different elements from God’s creation (God being the ultimate Creator) to form something completely new, providing more than a landscape for the story.  

The world in Arcane is one such secondary world. It is influenced by an early 20th century steampunk aesthetic and serves to upskill viewers in a knowledge of power imbalance, compassion for the oppressed and valuing of sisterhood. Furthermore, the fantastical elements of Piltover and Zaun pull the viewer from the viewer’s own reality – my fascination with the Arcane magic system is one such example. Understanding how the story and world of Arcane embodies the purposes of these very things has provided an example that I can reference when crafting the story and world of my own novel.  

Participatory media culture  

First theorised by Raessens, participatory media culture was initially used to explain how players interacted with video games. However, it is transferrable to all forms of digital media, including video game paratexts.  

Raessens’ framework describes three techniques and three types of participation. The former embodies multimediality – the many media modes of a text – virtuality – the prospect of a game creating multiple, exploratory, fictional worlds – and interactivity – the ability of a player to command the game’s happenings and conclusion. The latter contains interpretation – how different classifications of players interpret a game media text – reconfiguration – how players are given in-game agency through a set of pre-established options – and construction – the creation of new parts or modifications of a game. From this framework comes further media research into Bruns’ “produser”. Audiences are now active, and can convey their own stories, produce their own media content and construct fan cultures around existing media creations. In addition to League and Arcane, Minecraft, and sandbox games more generically, are examples of this dynamic.  

Participatory media relates to Arcane through the inter-relationships between the players of League of Legends, the viewers of Arcane and both their creators at Riot Games. The creation of Arcane gave Riot Games (also players of League) agency to expand on worlds only described in external lore, modify existing lore, create new character backstories and craft a cultural object with which fans can make content around. The fashioning of my own fictional world achieves similar results. However, I only draw inspiration from Arcane and are instead writing a story reconfigured from “the cauldron of story”.  

How I created my own fictional world  

Informed by all this research, I originally decided to craft my own fictional world from scratch. However, I later realised that it would be more enjoyable, time effective and applicable if I focussed developing the already existing world of my novel (Figure 2).

Figure 2

This way, I would have more time to edit my manuscript and would be working on a creative project that would eventually reach audiences in its entirety – I didn’t want to start on a project purely for academic purposes.  

The worldbuilding process was conveyed through a series of two writing vlogs (Figures 3-4), posted on YouTube, and accompanying promotion on Instagram (Figures 5-8).

Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6
Figure 7
Figure 8

The first vlog showed a haphazard research morning, as my analytical framework wasn’t solidified. However, after beginning this research, receiving feedback from my peers (Figures 9-10) and writing numerous blog posts on analytical ideas, I eventually refined my framework (behind the camera) to the three concepts detailed above.

Figure 9
Figure 10

This development coincided with my decision to develop the world of my novel, and so my second vlog was formed around these iterations. While I had originally planned to share my new world through a creative piece on my website, the changed projection of my project suggested that I should create a novel editing vlog. Both these videos performed well quantitatively (Figures 11-12), and their success boosted my confidence in my ability to produce video content. Additionally, the data from my first vlog (Figure 13) prompted me to create a second vlog that was more engaging and had a more specific theme. This was successful as my average watch time increased (Figure 14).  

Figure 11
Figure 12
Figure 13
Figure 14

Ultimately, my intention is to share a creative piece, detailing the magic system of my fictional world, on my website. Ideally, I was to publish this near the end of October, but I discovered that such a deadline is too soon. Worldbuilding, and creative writing, is a slow, intricate process and I wouldn’t be able to deliver a polished piece in time. I have begun (Figure 15), but it won’t be done for a time.  

Figure 15
How I applied my research  

How I have benefitted from this process 

Researching worldbuilding within the realms of video games and their paratexts has expanded my knowledge of story in a different direction. As a writer who pens prose, my analysis of texts is often restricted to novels. However, researching Arcane: League of Legends has illuminated how worldbuilding (and storytelling) can be achieved visually, something that promotes creative innovation when applied to the written novel. This process has been invaluable for me as a writer and, in sharing it, I hope to impart some of its value and excitement to other writers.  

List of Hyperlinked Sources 

Atlıhan Onat Karacalı 2022, ‘Fictional vernacular architecture as a worldbuilding element: Structure samples from the World of Warcraft video game’, IDA: International Design and Art Journal, vol. 4, no. 1. 

Bruns, A 2007, ‘Produsage: Towards a broader framework for user-led content creation’, In Proceedings Creativity & Cognition 6, Washington, DC. 

Caliandro, A 2018, ‘Digital methods for ethnography: Analytical concepts for ethnographers exploring social media environments’, Journal of contemporary ethnography, vol. 47, no. 5, pp. 551–578. 

Comerford, C, 2021. ‘Coconuts, custom-play & COVID-19: Social isolation, serious leisure and personas in Animal Crossing: New Horizons’. Persona studies, 6(2), 101-117. 

Dinning, J 2021, ‘Star Wars & the Human Audience,’ Jess’ Pen, weblog post, 2 March, viewed 19 October 2022, <https://penofjess.wordpress.com/2021/03/02/star-wars-the-human-audience/>

Dinning, J 2022, ‘How I want to marry literature theory & game media studies,’ Jess’ Pen, weblog post, 19 August, viewed 19 October 2022, <https://penofjess.wordpress.com/2022/08/19/how-i-want-to-marry-literature-theory-game-media-studies/>

Dinning, J 2022, ‘‘Arcane’ & Raessens’ Participatory Media Framework,’ Jess’ Pen, weblog post, 14 September, viewed 19 October 2022, <https://penofjess.wordpress.com/2022/09/14/arcane-raessens-participatory-media-framework/>

Dinning, J 2022, ‘How I plan to analyse ‘Arcane: League of Legends’,’ Jess’ Pen, weblog post, 14 September, viewed 19 October 2022, <https://penofjess.wordpress.com/2022/09/14/how-i-plan-to-analyse-arcane/>

Fiske, J 2010, Understanding popular culture, Taylor & Francis Group: Florence. 

Gaiman, N, 2013. ‘Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming’, 16 October, The Guardian, viewed 24 August – 18 October 2022, <https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming> 

Gottschall, J 2012, The storytelling animal : how stories make us human, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston. 

Hogeweg, S, 2021 ‘How the Arcane show connects to the League of Legends universe’, 10 November, Game Rant, viewed 7 September – 18 October 2022, <https://gamerant.com/league-of-legends-arcane-show-connections-jinx-vi-vander/>  

Jones, C, A 2021, Arcane is the BEST thing that came out in 2021 | An essay, online video, YouTube, viewed 18 October 2022, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AsLRW-C8ifw&t=83s> 

Landay, L 2018, ‘Persson’s Minecraft’, in The Routledge Companion to Imaginary Worlds, Routledge, pp. 410–424. 

Moore, C 2020, ‘BCM215 Game Media Industries – textual analysis,’ YouTube video, BCM215, University of Wollongong, viewed 3 August 2022.  

Pink, S, Horst, H, Postill, J, Hjorth, L, Lewis, T, Tacchi, J, (2016) ‘Researching Experience’, in Digital ethnography: Principles and practice. Sage: Los Angeles. 

Raessens, J, 2005 ‘Computer games as participatory media culture’, in J. Raessens & J. Goldstein (Eds.), Handbook of computer game studies (pp. 373-388). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 

Tolkien, JRR, Anderson, DA, Flieger, V, 2008 Tolkien on fairy-stories Expanded ed. with commentary and notes., HarperCollins, London. 

Winter, R & Lavis, A, (2020) ‘Looking, But Not Listening? Theorizing the Practice and Ethics of Online Ethnography’, Journal of empirical research on human research ethics Vol. 15(1-2) 55 – 62. 

Wolf, MJP 2012, Building imaginary worlds: The theory and history of subcreation, Routledge, New York. 


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