Worldbuilding with Matt Bell

The ASU Worldbuilding Initiative will endeavor to identify and engage the realists of a larger reality at ASU: students, faculty, and staff invested in imagining stronger communities, more egalitarian societies, truly sustainable economies, more just ways of inhabiting a planet under duress, and other ways of making better futures together.

Why do this? Because, as humans have long known—and as our myths and epics and other records of our wild imaginations demonstrate—that better futures that cannot be successfully imagined will not come to pass. The Worldbuilding Initiative is an attempt to increase the possibilities we have available to us by giving students and faculty a chance to participate in a narrative experience built around wonder, collaboration, curiosity, and problem-solving, putting into practice the modes of inquiry, thought, and imagination that will be essential to the envisioning of our future ways of life.

For more information, contact Professor Matt Bell at

Students watch a presenter standing by a projector screen.

Worldbuilding—the process of constructing a world, often but not always an imagined one—is not one skill but rather the effect of many skills and knowledge bases working together: it is by necessity an interdisciplinary undertaking, even in its simplest form. It is also always deeply rooted in the Humanities. No matter the medium they work in, every worldbuilder is first and foremost a storyteller, describing how people live in an imagined place or imagined time. To tell such stories requires the worldbuilder to alternatively think like a philosopher, a poet, a linguist, a historian, a political scientist, or an anthropologist; such work frequently draws on scholarship from religious studies, environmental and medical humanities, comparative language and culture studies, and every other area of the Humanities. An inherently interdisciplinary exercise, worldbuilding activates every skill and possibility that the study of the Humanities yields.

Every inhabited world, real or imagined, offers a story about how human beings interact with each other and their environment across the past, present, and future. The novelist Daniel Heath Justice says that to tell stories of worlds that do not yet exist is to "imagine otherwise," generating models for new ways of life, new ways of thriving. Similarly, Ursula K. Le Guin said, in her National Book Award acceptance speech, that “Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom— poets, visionaries—realists of a larger reality.”