Game vs World
For many, many years I ran games as a way of expressing the worlds I had built.
I ran different campaigns, with different groups of people, all in different places or different times, but the vast majority were all on the same world and in my mind all connected. Not connected in plot, just connected because they were part of the same setting.
Even if I wasn’t running games, the world existed in my mind. I was constantly refining and revising it, though it would be more accurate to say I was exploring it, because as any serious world-builder will tell you it often feels more like you are discovering rather than creating. Just a trick of the brain? Probably.
But now I’ve noticed that I do the opposite. Now I run games, and if I need worlds to provide a context for those games I whip them up.
Game => world, not world => game.
As an experienced world-builder I can build a setting that feels detailed and fleshed out in a very short time so to a certain degree I can make the difference invisible to the players, but the root motivation is still entirely different.
For extra credit extend the concept: it’s not just the GM making the world and running the game, it’s also players and their characters. Is your character a tool to play the game, or is the game your vehicle to play the character you envision?
Naturally you’re asking: which one is the right way? That’s the wrong question. The right question is: what drives each? They may look the same on the surface, so much so that some people in the same gaming group may be doing one and some the other and never realize it, but I think they are intrinsically different activities. Understanding that difference can tell us a lot about why we game.
Which one are you doing?