Building Beyond: Truth Serum

• 4 min read

In Vino Perfidus

Building Beyond is an ongoing series of conversations about how much fun worldbuilding can be. Building a world doesn’t have to be hard or scary. Let’s give it a try, together.


The only way for a human being to achieve an inebriated state is via dishonesty: We get drunk on lies.


Vicky Hsu is a lawyer-turned CEO of Habitica, an app that turns your to do list into a game you can play by yourself or with friends. She doesn’t get to write the fun bits at work as often as she’d like.

In a world where inebriation only occurs via dishonesty....

Live non-musical entertainment sorts itself into two categories.

The first is performances that only tell the truth, carefully presented. Humor is still possible here, often moderated through timing. You can always tell how much a raconteur has stretched the limits of truth, however, by the length and sobriety of his overall performance. Standup comedians are the A-list celebrities if they can refrain from stealing each other’s jokes and presenting them as their own.

Theatre as we know it is drastically different, as performances can only be as long as the actors are able to maintain the appearance of sobriety. (There are performance artists who push the limits of their livers by lying outrageously, but this is less interesting to most people who aren’t hepatologists or pop culture academics.) Films continue to be made, however, as camera setups and company moves allow for a cadence of recovery between drunkenness-inducing scenes between actors pretending to be other than what they are. The unions make sure that the breaks are enforced, and that on-camera talent has the opportunity to recover.

Teetotalers generally are known to be almost completely humorless individuals, but incredibly valuable negotiators and diplomats as they have had the most practice expressing themselves without resorting to little white lies to lubricate social interactions. The arsenal of talents they deploy include the ability to phrase the truth in such a way as to not cause offense, without resorting to omission or misrepresentation.

Individuals stuck in intractable situations can sometimes be identified by their near-constant inebriation. It is particularly difficult to rehabilitate them because the drunken state feels like both an escape from their circumstances and a reward for surviving them.

There is no sarcasm.


Hester J. Rook is an Australian Shadows Award-winning and Rhysling Award-shortlisted poet, fiction writer and co-editor of Twisted Moon Magazine. They are often found salt-scrunched on beaches, reading arcane tales and losing the moon in mugs of tea.

Gailey: What does party culture look like in this world?

Party culture splits into two. Party competitions abound around who can spin the biggest story and still remain on their feet. Role-playing games and theatres are on fire. Games of werewolf have people on the floor. Chambers of parliament stagger their way through and politicians (and Murdoch Press journalists) go home each day hungover. Kindergarten teaching (or any other area where the world must be simplified so that the audience can understand it) becomes a high-risk occupation. The wildest parties have people sitting in a circle, being brutally honest, to see how long they can experience the world entirely sober.

Gailey: Is sobriety possible?

Yes, but it takes work. People learn how to talk around untruths, stating only facts but omitting statements carefully as needed. Asking direct questions becomes impolite, or a manipulation technique: can you answer this without giving yourself away? Those who lie more frequently become masters of 'holding' their intoxication, become less affected by their own words. Those who believe in what they say at all times are seemingly immune.

Gailey: Can this be monetized on an industrial scale?

Of course. Whole industries are built up around ways to manage intoxication. Pharmaceuticals and quackery are developed that claim to lessen the effects of intoxication, purge it out of the system faster, delay the time it takes to kick in. Wellness industries offer courses teaching people radical honesty or, at least, how to successfully talk around a topic so that they are unaffected. Cult leaders, however, have just an EXTREMELY bad time.


My drunken dishonesty would be leveraged for immense entertainment purposes. Every professional event would start with a game of two truths and a lie, just to get everyone loose. It would also be impossible, in this world, to intoxicate someone without their consent; entering into an altered state would be entirely in the control of the liar. Unfortunately, this also means it would be impossible to prevent intoxication via external measures — prohibition is impossible to enforce when someone can get drunk simply by pronouncing over and over again that the world is flat. As a result, buildings would be low to the ground to prevent death-by-falling; safety nets and railings would abound; and of course, cars would be nonexistent.

All of these possibilities are just beginnings. Vicky's built a world in which rehabilitation for addiction requires, by definition, honest confrontation of oneself and one’s circumstances. Hester's world has immense space for the subjectivity of truth — convincing oneself of a lie may, in that world, make it easier to pass it off as truth. My world is built to keep people safe, even when they aren’t entirely safe from themselves.

How would your society function when getting drunk is as easy as telling a lie? What kinds of cocktails might you mix up?

Do whatever you want with these questions. You can write something down in the comments or on social media or in a notebook nobody will ever see. You can draw or paint or sit down a friend and talk their ear off about your ideas. You can stare at the horizon and imagine, letting the infinite landscape of your mind unfold just a little farther than it did yesterday. No matter what you do, take pride in the knowledge that you’re creating something that has never existed before. You’re building a little corner of a whole new world.

That’s amazing.


If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to this newsletter. The subscriber community is a wonderful and supportive one, and we’re spending 2021 finding new ways to stay connected and share experiences.

No matter what you do, please find ways to support Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, support Black people and communities, and participate in local mutual aid.

In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.

—Gailey

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