Twitter Thread: The World-as-Mystery Genre


One of my favorite story archetypes is the “world as a mystery”. I love it when there’s a big unknown about the setting’s mechanics or history that deeply impacts the story + characters. And the story is then structured like a mystery novel.

I love that excitement of learning a setting’s history and, as we learn more, it re-contextualizes everything we thought we knew about that world. Of course, major revelations about the world must coincide with major character moments for maximum impact!

Horizon is an incredible example of this, one of the best stories I’ve experienced. Others:

  • The Expanse
  • The Promised Neverland
  • Stranger Things
  • Danganronpa 1 and 2
  • Mistborn
  • Dragon Age 1
  • Haunting of Hill House

And, to a lesser extent, my fav game: Zelda: Link’s Awakening

By their very nature these kind of “setting as a mystery” stories make you fall in love with their world, so you really want more, AND make it very difficult to ever make a sequel that satisfies in the same way.

Because for it to work it has to have those revelatory moments where it ANSWERS the mystery. That’s how you get recontextualization. Those points where a new piece of information makes you look at the world differently, makes things click. The payoff.

Once you solve the world mystery you can’t go back, and it’s really hard to present a new mystery that is ALSO deeply interwoven into the setting itself.

Some of these stories manage it: The Expanse season 2, Danganronpa 2.

Others don’t even try, and instead shift to new types of stories. Each new season of Stranger Things is basically a new genre – probably because the creators knew that they couldn’t repeat the world-as-mystery structure.

So I’m intensely curious: what will Horizon: Forbidden West do? Will they present a new world mystery, deeply woven into character narrative? It would be really hard to compete with the first one on that!

Or will they pull a Stranger Things, and switch narrative genres?