How do cultures develop? If you have ever asked that question, it seems unlikely you would ask someone to define a culture or subculture. As a gamer I create and explore worlds unlike the dominant culture all the time. When developing a world you do not begin by describing, defining, and structuring the cultures, religions, or other social constructs. First, they are just that – social constructs. Thus they develop from and through environment, interaction, climate, changes, and any influences having even the smallest impact. One of the first stages in an in depth world is the geography. You may start with other ideas or maps, but you need geography and geology to develop the culture. Whatever social construct is there in the early stages must be open to develop and change as you flush out the details and expand the world and the history. This is actually a good view of the development of a culture, and a sub-culture is still a culture, simply one divergent from the regional dominant culture.
Let me look at an example using the geology I mentioned before. A location with no metal to be mined will have a different development. Science, technology, military, and economy will be based on other things or they will focus on either trade or expansion to obtain the materials they need. Religions developing in this region will also be impacted, thus further influencing the culture and science. Developmental stage of neighbors encountered and the political climate as they expand will further impact every aspect of the culture.
What does this have to do with Steampunk? Let’s look at the period it reveres for a minute. The Victorian age was a time of expansion, colonization, empire, and rapid development. Economy grew at alarming rates to crash in many places. Expansion to obtain material, power, and land was happening at a furious pace. Religion was on a precipice from war and expansion causing middle classes to turn to new faiths, thus an explosion of sects and religions occurred. Science and technology was exploding in wild directions and new things showed up frequently. Production and development was growing faster than cities were prepared for and pollution and exploitation ran rampant in places like London. Luxuries and entertainment were increasingly available to a broader section of society – a segment that was beginning to have increased impact on society. What would you expect of a culture arising from this?
Who defines the rules in a setting like that? Individualism was on the rise. Imperialism was dominant, and people wanted change, new, better, shiny. Brass and wood are not war materials but are practical for finery, many technological needs, and handmade developments. Constructed materials were showing up, there will always be a divide on what should be developed and what should be discarded. Here is where we see Steampunk arise. What should we have developed? Where should we have focused? What science would have served us better? What technology would have been more attractive, efficient, effective, entertaining, and socially constructive? What should the focus have been and be now? What-if is what Steampunk is all about. This brings me back to my discussion from several days ago that Steampunk will remain divers – as it should. Each of us brings our influences, our preferences, our education, our experiences, our fears, our needs, our hopes, and our aesthetic to Steampunk. This does not confuse the issue and damage the genre; it strengthens it, develops it, expands it, delves into the unexplored aspects of it, and reaches our hearts and minds.
This being said, I need now to explore details of Steampunk and where I fit. Knowing myself and my work, I will say up front – that depends on the day and what I am working on.