Why are we so invested in fictional characters?

Hiyo, everyone! Today, I’m going to talk about something I’ve been thinking about for a while – and, as a result, I’ll be making my first ‘philosophical’ post in quite some time! Why do we care so much about fictional characters?

The obvious initial explanation is that most of us are capable of empathy. Although we probably haven’t been on the sort of wild adventure many fictional characters experience, we’ve all faced our own struggles in life, so we’re able to relate to characters who are going through anything at all similar. But what I want to discuss is something a bit deeper than that. Something that may be common or may just be a quirk of mine. You see, I find myself often more attached to fictional characters than real people.

That’s a surprising outcome, to say the least. After all, you can’t really interact with fictional characters, They’re almost without exception not as thoroughly fleshed out as real people. So I’d like to explore a few reasons our (or, at least, my) interest in them is so strong.

To that end, I’ll list some differences between being attached to real people and to fictional characters.

  • Fictional characters exist to entertain. To do that, their writers find ways to show us as much about important characters as they can. The point of building up a character with a hidden past is to eventually reveal it. That’s not something you can say about the real world. Everyone you interact with in your daily life has their own personal issues to deal with, and they often won’t tell you all the details, if any. As a result, some of them will forever remain enigmas to you. There’s also the fact that, once a series involving a character is complete, they’ll never surprise you again. You don’t have to worry about them having interests you find unpalatable. They can no longer disappoint you when their stories are over. I expect that, to some people, that stability is appealing.
  • The fact that there are so many gaps in our knowledge of characters can actually make them more relatable. That’s because we can project ourselves – or whatever else we want – into those gaps. Many characters are written to face challenges broad enough that a wide variety of people can see connections between themselves and the character facing them. Think Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. There’s a reason the song ‘Let it Go’ was so popular. While I doubt any of us are harboring hidden ice magic, many of us have thoughts, experiences, or feelings that we feel the need to hide from others. By putting her fear behind her, Elsa delivers vicarious catharsis.
  • As humans, we’re curious about a broad range of emotions, but many are not ones we welcome into our own lives. No one wants to experience overwhelming guilt, or the grief of losing a loved one, or the devastation left in the wake of a catastrophic event. By letting characters have those experiences for us, we can explore those scenarios without anyone ‘real’ getting hurt. Tension that would turn to panic in real life instead becomes a source of entertainment when fictional characters are exposed to it. That’s why media like Game of Thrones are so compelling. Instead of worrying about how imperiled characters’ predicaments will unfold, we’re able to look forward to what will happen next.

All of that largely boils down to one truth: People are driven by conflict. Without some conflict, however minute, life quickly becomes boring. That’s why it’s such a central component of stories made to entertain. We yearn for conflict, but we want to experience it in a low-risk way. Stories can give us our fix of it without jeopardizing the relatively harmonious lives many of us wish to lead.

Anyway, that’s my initial take on the matter. If you guys are interested in this topic, I’d totally be willing to think on it further. For now, I’m curious to hear how others feel about it. Do you share my feeling of heightened interest in fictional characters, or have any thoughts of your own on the matter? Are you interested in seeing more posts like this? Please let me know in the comments below. Until next time, I hope you find stories that seize your attention!

One thought on “Why are we so invested in fictional characters?

  1. Hey, great post! I love your three points. In addition, I must say that character designs/appearances also contribute to our investment in them! Perhaps we get attached to certain actors/voice actors as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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