If you’re a regular here, you won’t be shocked to know I think worldbuilding is pretty great. But you might be surprised that science can back this up! The benefits of worldbuilding are broader than you may realize.

And it’s not just good for your intelligence – worldbuilding can enhance your happiness, your social life, and if you’re hoping to one day publish, experts agree that worldbuilding can make-or-break your product, too!

The benefits of worldbuilding for mental health

Worldbuilding is not just a creative outlet; it’s a beneficial exercise for mental health. The process of creating and developing fictional universes involves deep creativity, activating your imagination, and requiring you to think outside the bounds of everyday reality. And really, it’s an exercise in individuality and self expression. When you immerse yourself in crafting detailed landscapes, characters, and societies, you engage in a form of storytelling that’s deeply satisfying and mentally stimulating. It also allows for the expression of ideas and emotions that might be difficult to articulate in other forms. And all this creative engagement can give you a great sense of accomplishment and pride, boosting self-esteem and overall mental well-being.

(Psst! If you’re looking for a sense of accomplishment, check out our Worldbuilding Competitions and Challenges!)

Worldbuilding also offers a valuable form of escapism. Our world – Earth 1, if you will –  can often be stressful and overwhelming, and diving into a fictional universe provides a temporary respite. It allows you to step away from any daily struggles and immerse yourself in a different reality. Of course, this escape isn’t about avoiding real-life challenges, but finding a safe space to relax and recharge. The act of escaping into a world of your own creation can be a powerful tool for stress relief, providing a mental break that can help you return to your live feeling more refreshed and equipped to handle the challenges that face you.

And these days, the benefits of worldbuilding are being recognized in more formal therapeutic settings, too. Therapists and veteran support groups now use role-playing and worldbuilding as tools to explore the self, bond with others, and even unpack difficult experiences. In these settings, worldbuilding becomes a medium through which individuals can safely confront and process personal issues. It provides a distance from real-life traumas, allowing for a safer exploration of sensitive topics. The shared experience of creating and navigating a fictional world can also foster a sense of community and support, which is crucial for mental health. This aspect of worldbuilding demonstrates its powerful capacity not just for individual creativity and escapism, but also for healing and emotional growth.

Worldbuilding makes you smarter

And, of course, worldbuilding is not just a creative endeavor; it also develops your cognitive faculties.

Part of that is the power of flexing your problem-solving skills. When constructing a fictional universe, we worldbuilders must constantly consider how different elements of our worlds interact and affect each other. This requires a detailed understanding of complex systems, whether they’re political, ecological, social, or magical. Creators must envisage the consequences of certain events, the evolution of societies, and the intricacies of characters’ interactions. This demands (and helps you develop) a high level of critical thinking and foresight, like solving a multifaceted puzzle. This mental exercise to ensure the coherence and plausibility of their world sharpens problem-solving skills and intellectual abilities.

Worldbuilding also involves making complex connections between elements and ideas, enhancing cognitive flexibility, which is a key indicator of intelligence. There’s also evidence that engaging in a creative hobby like worldbuilding helps reduce the risk of dementia and preserve memory. Worldbuilders draw parallels and integrate concepts from different domains to construct a cohesive world. For example, worldbuilders often find themselves integrating bits of history, fragments of scientific theories, and snippets of cultural practices to create something entirely new and original. This ability to connect disparate ideas is a hallmark of creative intelligence. In essence, worldbuilding isn’t necessarily just a fun hobby or artistic pursuit; it can be a comprehensive mental exercise that nurtures a smarter, more creative, and interconnected way of thinking.

And worldbuilding also ignites a sense of curiosity about our real world, driving us to explore various subjects and ideas (I’m sure you, like I, have lost hours on a wikipedia-dive)! A well-developed fictional world often requires a deep understanding of real-world concepts, from geography and history to sociology and physics. This drive to create a believable and rich world compels us to research and understand a wide array of topics. As well as being fun, this helps us become more knowledgeable and well-rounded. And, you guessed it, smarter too. Continuous learning is crucial for intellectual growth, keeping your mind active and engaged.

Worldbuilding is vital for the success of your book, game, movie or anything else!

In a recent article in the Guardian, author Tom Shone states:

“In the world of IP creative content and branded franchises, the world-builder is king. Thirty-two of the 50 top-grossing movies of all time are films that belong to identifiable fantasy universes – Pandora, Oz, Narnia, Middle-earth, Hogwarts, Neverland, Wonderland – luring moviegoers into theatres with the promise of return to a beloved fictional world, like a tourist returning to their favourite spot.”

In recent years, storytelling in all its forms, and especially in film and video games, has increasingly shifted towards elaborate world-building, creating detailed and immersive universes that extend beyond the confines of a single release or narrative. This trend, exemplified by top-grossing films like Avatar and huge game franchises like The Elder Scrolls series, represents a move towards creating richly detailed imaginary worlds. These worlds are not just backdrops for the plot, but are integral to the story, offering audiences an immersive experience. The depth and complexity of these universes allow for expanded storytelling possibilities, including sequels, spin-offs, and transmedia narratives that can be explored in books, games, and other media.

This evolution in storytelling reflects a growing audience appetite for detailed and believable alternative realities. In creating these worlds, storytellers go beyond just telling a story, and instead invite their audiences into a fully realized universe with its own rules, history, and culture. This immersive experience can create a more engaging and emotionally resonant narrative, as audiences become deeply invested in the world and its characters. In short, worldbuilding is becoming increasingly important for financial success in creative media. Audiences expect it, and comment on it.

Worldbuilding is good for your social skills and connecting to others!

One of the most important things in worldbuilding is understanding people’s perspectives. The fact that the people are imaginary makes no difference; in fact, it might even be helpful. But as we figure out why King Dragar went to war, and how the space-peasants reacted to the Workers’ Riots of 2398, we’re actually flexing our EQ (Emotional Quotient, or Social Intelligence) as well as your IQ (your Intellectual Quotient, or intelligence).

And it’s not just worldbuilding. Some extraordinary studies by Dr. Raymond A. Mar and others (expanded in Scientific American), have uncovered the secret superpower of reading?

For example, did you know that reading a short story, as opposed to a short article, significantly improved social skills? Another study showed that fiction readers were better at perceiving emotion and correctly interpreting social cues. Interestingly, these findings do not seem to be reflected in those who watch a lot of TV, and are reversed in those who play a lot of video games: something about the way fiction books are written – possibly the closeness of the reader to the characters’ perspective – seems to have a unique effect.

However, Tabletop Roleplaying games ARE a powerful tool for developing social skills. A study carried out in 2020 by the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology reported that roleplayers showed a decrease in anxiety and an increase in social skills after playing a virtual Dungeons and Dragons game. And in person games have an even bigger impact. In fact, some non-profits, like Game to Grow, have developed therapeutic RPG games and focus on sharing game-based strategies for community building and wellbeing.

How to get more serious about worldbuilding?

If you’re looking to get more serious about your worldbuilding, one of the best things you can do is find the right worldbuilding tool for the job! World Anvil is the leading worldbuilding software, used by professionals and best selling writers around the world, as well as plenty of people who worldbuild for fun. Whether you’re looking to support your novels, worldbuilding for a video game or tabletop RPG game, or just worldbuilding for the sheer joy of it, World Anvil is the best place to create, store and – if you choose – share your worldbuilding!