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On Shared Wonderlands

A wonderland is a place where we escape from reality. It’s a place where tulpas sometimes live, building it brick by brick with their imagination. Wonderlands are imagined worlds, as small as a couch, as big as a universe.

We want to enjoy living, even though, at times, reality doesn’t bring us enough of that joy. At those times we escape the world and dive into our wonderlands, to the places, carefully crafted to our liking.

We are not alone there. The worlds live, inhabited by ghosts of people, animals, talking furniture and whatnot. Our imagination brings them to life. For some people, wonderlands live even when they don’t focus on them specifically.

Wonderlands are also a place where hosts and tulpas commonly interact, do things they’d enjoy doing in real life. Chat and have fun.

Yet, sometimes, we want a company of another “real” person in that perfect mental world of ours. Someone we don’t know as intimately as we do our mental co-habitants. But the wonderland is secure, hidden in our mind. There’s no way to invite someone over unless you start to think of telepathy or astral projection, which most people don’t believe in. So, there’s no way to share those amazing experiences. Or is there?

I came to talk about shared wonderlands today. Both me and my hostey like to read a lot, diving into fiction like there’s no tomorrow. Reading favourite books over and over, to re-live the experiences, even though we know exactly how they would end.

What makes books so different from TV shows? Books trigger our ability to imagine much more, as we can’t physically see what the camera operator decided to show us. We enjoy painting the worlds from the books inside our minds, follow the characters on their journeys. For some, those characters become so real that they turn into walk-ins, much like tulpas.

Books contain words that we process through one of the senses—be it a vision for most of you, sound for those ones preferring audiobooks, or even touch for those one using their fingertips to feel braille. We focus on one sense as a carrier and bring in the world full of life in our mind’s eye.

One of the major concepts in fiction writing is “show, don’t tell.” The writing is typically way more pleasant to read if there’s enough space for imagination. Read this line:

Jane was nervous, she didn’t know the answer to the final question and the time was running out.

You can imagine a girl that is sitting behind a desk, trying to cope with a test. But compare it to this:

Alexander nibbled his pencil again, leaving a few more teeth marks on its wood. He threw a quick glance at the wall clock, then returned to his paper. A drop of sweat fell from his forehead right below the square where he had to write the answer.

This gives you a similar context, but now you can actually imagine Alexander’s body in greater detail. You know how he feels based on how his body reacts.

How is this important in the wonderlands? Imagination is easy when you operate on a grand scale. You can try imagining a sad man, and you’ll see him in your mind’s eye. But what makes him sad? As you focus on specific details, you can drill down to the tiny body triggers that the brain processes as being sad. You don’t need those details to know the man is sad, but if you focus on them, the image is more vivid, more alive.

Roleplaying was a thing for ages, well before modern tulpamancy came to life. People imagined they are someone else, wearing armour and fighting with swords while someone else would film that. Women played male roles, men played aliens from outer space. If you’re into sci-fi, you might know how a person from Vulcan is going to behave. Yet, can you imagine in great detail how a Vulcanian would think? Some people could.

I’ve seen writers in tulpamancy community that would base their stories on their wonderlands. They just wrote down their journeys in mind, telling us what they experienced. I did the same with a few of my own stories, and I felt it was the easiest way to write any fiction. You don’t need much, just make sure you can type quickly, spell words in ways that would connotate exactly the precise meanings, and you’re all set. You can share experiences with other people.

But would they join you? After all, the image of the world is there, in your head. And this is where we get to books again. Books create worlds in the minds of readers. You can create worlds in the minds of others. And they can respond, creating the worlds with you. Context gives everything else. Let me show you.

I take you by your hand and open the door into a dimly lit room.

Is it big? Is it small? You don’t know yet. I do, though.

I flick a switch on the wall and the room brightens up, lit by a few electrical candles, mounted on the walls. The light is dim and is flickering slightly, but it’s enough to see an old bookshelf of dark wood, full of different books, a massive table and a leather chair in front of it.

The world opens itself in your mind, and you can be part of it too. Go, grab a random book from the shelf!

I giggle. “Quantum physics—what a peculiar choice.”

What was the book you took? You didn’t know until I told you. But now you know. It became heavy, sturdy in your hands.

I get to the table and pull out a pen and a sheet of paper, scribbling something on it.

Curious? Want to see what I’m writing? Come one, lean over my shoulder and check it out!

I shift a bit, feeling your breathing behind my left ear-

-but you thought you were on the right of me! The immersion is destroyed immediately, as now we are on different pages. Our world became two distinct worlds that are in conflict with each other. In my mind, you’re on the left, in your—on the right. How to save the imagination from falling apart?

The best thing is to provide just enough context. I could never proxy the side specifically, and you’d know you’re close enough for me to feel your breath. Does it matter if you’re on the left, or on the right?

The other thing is to believe in a dream. You know how some things in the dream never make sense? We walk down a hall, open a door, and suddenly are swimming in the pool. Those moments are so logical to us when we dream. Some try to teach the mind to react to such mishaps, to recognise that they are dreaming, to become lucid. Just like that, we can train the mind to auto-correct minor mistakes, let it smooth out some things that don’t fit together. Make it a pleasant experience for all the participants.

Sharing a wonderland is an act of trust. We believe in others to play by the rules, and we play by the same standards, as anything else ruins our immersion, tells the brain that it’s not real, destroys the dream. We tend to be cooperative for the sake of our own enjoyment. We study others, learning how they act, what they say, and how they react to common things, building mental images of them to use those later to prevent a “communication lag.” As I’m being advised, this is somewhat similar to client-side prediction (gosh) in the video games—when games draw some interaction in multiplayer mode anticipating the action from the other side, even if the data didn’t reach the client over the network yet (yes, I hate those computer analogies with passion too, but this fits great).

The more you understand the process, the more you trust your visitor, the deeper and better is the immersion. You will notice you use fewer and fewer words, knowing their action in great detail, hearing them giggle before the chat client delivers a new line of text.

Try it. Enjoy it, even if it’s not as perfect as your visualisation. And enjoy the life.

Oh, the note?

I move my palm away, revealing the text:

Ever tried. Ever failed.
No matter.
Try again. Fail again.
Fail better.

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One thought on “On Shared Wonderlands

  1. Oh I like this. I’ve done something similar for a few years now, though I’ve never thought of using the term ‘shared wonderlands’. But in a way, it really is. My host and I often roleplay with others online – just simple, superficial things at first. But after a time, with a few people I grew to trust, I started incorporating my mental refuge into the stories. A large, moldable, unstable universe where I throw my ideas. We had a few favored planets that remained a constant, but it was mostly populated with places that changed on a whim.

    Then we took to roleplaying and surprising things began to happen… suddenly my RP partner and I were making planets together in our interactions. Adding her own touch to something that was originally mine alone. I opened the doors for someone else, and my paracosm is a much more vibrant and alive world because of it, filled with a varied beauty that one can only get from multiple minds working in unison, things I could never hope to imagine up on my own. And I have no intention of ever getting rid of them, no matter how silly a few of them are. If, for some horrible reason, we all eventually part ways, there will always be these places to remind me of the wonderful times we had together.

    I was reluctant at first, but my ‘inner life’ has been made better for it.

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