A Greater World: Why you should put forward the idea of a greater world in your game
Most commonly in Role-Playing Games, a key instance being the Elder Scrolls Series by Bethesda; we have objects in the game that suggest a greater world beyond what we experience is present. In the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for instance, we find numerous books, many of which have next to no game-play relevance, some of which have next to no relevance to the region we explore in the game; yet their existence within the game is valuable for a different reason. When I speak of a greater world - I refer to the idea that there is a world beyond that which the game allows you the player to explore via game-play. The game may allow you to interact with a greater world - such as with Trade Ships in 'Banished' by Shining Rock Software; however those regions remain relatively inaccessible during game-play
Books in the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and their part in building the greater world of Tamriel
By adding these books - we have a vision of a 'greater world' being present in the game itself. We know that, although we clearly cannot escape the boundaries of the map we have available, there is so much more out there to explore; and this is not even simply talking about terrain, locations and vistas. The books discuss various topics; cultures of peoples in the surrounding lands, and training manuals for combat. Some are even presumably fictional stories within the fictional world itself. All these suggest that the world, similar to our world, is filled with living, breathing inhabitants, many of whom live a similar life to ourselves, if significantly different in conditions.
Although one might ask - does everyone read every single book? Will they not be useless assets that took precious development time if ignored? Not necessarily. I admit personally, that I did not read every single book in the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion; however their presence added to the game regardless. The knowledge that they are there for me to read, to learn more about the world, or even to see what the inhabitants of the world enjoy reading, helped add to this idea that this was a world in it of itself. There was also a sense of entertainment gained from collecting the various books around the world, and organizing them in a player home. A mixture of two elements of the game coming together to add to the experience. The fact that I could collect various books throughout my travels, place them in a place I could call home within the game, and read them if I so desire, helped in adding an element of familiarity to what one may do in their real life.
Again what is the benefit?
For those who play games to explore, inhabit and experience a world beyond our own - elements that suggest and talk of a greater world beyond the region that can be explored offer a means to experience the world at large. It also provides a means for you, as the developer, to add to the game's backstory, lore and world history - without having to dedicate ample resources to create new characters, maps, objects, and so on. This can help to maintain interest with some players, and for many players, could potentially add to the experience in some way or another.
The means through which one can suggest and allow the player to explore a greater world can vary depending on the game itself. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion makes ample use of books; however one can also use dialogue, newspapers, maps, codices, and ample other narrative assets. Some players may prefer to listen to the history of a region over reading it, however one can also collect books and display them in their player home. Choosing the right way to achieve this goal will vary based on both the game, resources you have available, the player and also the objective as to why you are doing this; among other possible reasons that do not come to mind for the moment. It could be worth putting into consideration what exactly one wishes to gain from implementing a system such as those mentioned in this post; there may very well be a unique way that can be used within your own project that could be worth implementing!