The Internet as a Fantasy World

Looking back on the content of this semester, I wanted to see if there was something that drew me in enough to revisit it and go a little deeper. I kept finding myself thinking back to the concept of making a physical map representing the internet and the apps and sites that dominate it. Eventually, I caved in and decided to go with this, as I have access to a fantastic map creating software called Inkarnate. I’m extremely pleased with the outcome, but before addressing that, let’s go through the process of getting there.

As a newer user of this tool, I figured I should get a bit of knowledge under my belt first. I launched up the app and went over to the official Inkarnate YouTube channel, where they have countless tutorials and in-depth creation livestreams posted. I took some time and learned the tools this way, rather than going into things completely blind. Once I felt comfortable enough, I decided to get started on the real project.

The software starts you with an essentially completely blank canvas, dominated with nothing but open ocean. Right from the start, you are equipped with a tool that allows you to draw out land with jagged edges. You can manipulate this tool, changing the size of the brush as well as how smoothed the edges are, along with a whole assortment of other things. You can also turn on “Subtract” mode, which is essentially an eraser for the land you’ve created. The great thing about that tool is that it also can be manipulated, so you can get very rigid or pristine edges for your rivers, motes, lakes, etcetera. I started by blocking in a full land mass without much character. Slowly but surely, I chipped away at edges, cut into certain areas, and got things looking exactly how I had imagined.

Once I had finished the shape of the map, I figured it was time to start blocking in some different types of terrain. Inkarnate has some really great textures, so everything I needed was already directly at my disposal. I didn’t have too much of an idea of what each area would represent other than one specific thing: the dark web. I loved the idea of having a “no mans land” of sorts, with dead trees and a towering volcano, representing this scary part of the internet. The software also has different variations of most objects, allowing for great diversity amongst mountain forms, trees, and everything in between. Once I had developed something I was really happy with, it was time to start placing in things that marked human civilization, whether that be past or present.

Ultimately, I came to this. At this point I had a general idea of what I wanted to do with the different areas, giving deeper meaning to things based on the state of a building or the busyness of an area. Ultimately, I’m quite happy with this alone, before adding labels to anything, as I think it tells some kind of story across this landscape. I was obsessed with the dragons and serpent so I had to put them in, but I felt they were pretty fitting (at least in the case of the lava island). Now came the final step: labeling everything to fully bring it all together.

And there you have it: the completed fantasy map of the internet. I’ll give a quick run through it all in case something isn’t clear or is hard to see, as well as to explain my thinking behind it all. Beginning up at the top, in the rocky desert biome, we have MySpace. The area looks old and decrepit and is essentially uninhabited, which seems very fitting for the state of MySpace today. Going down and to the left is Amazon, represented by a marketplace. Beside that is the pirate bay, which felt fitting to put directly above Stream City. In Stream City you’ll find buildings representing Spotify, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Twitch, Apple Music, and Amazon Prime. None of these buildings necessarily stand out from any of the others, representing the idea that they all fill a specific niche in some way, often working together to build up someone’s entire streaming service library. Headed into the other desert, a more sandy and dune-filled one, you find the ruins of Napster, also purposefully placed near Stream City. Further along you come across a fresh camp that seems to have great ambitions, representing virtual reality, a newer frontier with great potential for growth. If you head eastward, across a bridge is the path to Riot, the gaming company that is taking the world by storm. Up the road, you’ll find the village associated with Riot’s kingdom, representing the different games and projects produced by Riot, consisting of Valorant, Teamfight Tactics, Arcane, Legends of Runeterra, Riot Forge, and League of Legends. Up from there, you enter into the mystical and magical kingdom of TikTok, a bustling town with an incredible and inspiring atmosphere: somewhere you could easily get sucked into and never want to leave. To the east, across a frosted over river, you’ll find the frigid land of Meta, where you may be daring enough to dive into the cave of Facebook, or visit one of the warm lodges of WhatsApp or Instagram. Further along the coast, a small island represents the jungle that is Twitter, with a temple full of many secrets. Headed back inland and to the north is the great town of Gamesville, where you’ll find Steam, Epic, Origin, and Blizzard. This leads us to the final sight on the tour: the dark web. This treacherous terrain is only for the most daring and isn’t for the weak of heart and mind. With a great dragon circling the island’s volcano and a dangerous serpent in the channel surrounding it, this is no place to stumble across. Thankfully, the VPN upstream both keeps in the serpent as well as keeps out any uninformed travelers.

This map took a great deal of thought, time and effort, but ultimately I’m extremely pleased with how it turned out. Thinking of the internet in terms of a fantasy world has given me a completely new perspective on things. I hope that this bit of creativity inspires any of you to take on a similar project, even if it is just for yourselves. There is a free version of Inkarnate where you can do some pretty neat stuff, so if this seems at all interesting to you, I definitely recommend checking it out and seeing what you can come up with. There’s also an explore page where you can look through a gallery of work from other users, so at the very least, I’d take some time to go look at some of the great things others have created with this software.