Are you the kind of person to immediately fall in love with any fictional world your brain encounters? If so, you’re not alone. As you probably know, there are a lot of people out there who are obsessed with tons of imaginary people and places — including me. But why does this happen? How come when I was seven years old I read The Lord of the Rings books, and have never looked back since? How come I spent years of my life drawing different characters from the realm of Middle Earth, and then after that attempting to write my own fictional stories about that universe? To this day, those novels and movies still follow me around everywhere I go. Every time I see something it reminds me of that universe, but why? Why do our brains decide to base more than half our thoughts each day on a universe that doesn’t even exist? For some people it’s not necessarily The Lord of the Rings — I know quite a few people who are obsessed with Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Doctor Who (including me!), Star Wars, Game of Thrones… All sorts of fictional stories! But again, why? Is there any scientific reason behind this, or could it just be us trying to escape the blandness of our own everyday lives by emerging ourselves in a better, more interesting one?
First of all, although many people deem it as an attempt to escape our cruel reality, when you think about it, this is sort of impossible. Most of the things we tend to get caught up in aren’t nearly perfect; they often involve lots of violence and emotional pain, practically just as much as our own world. Think of all the wars! The deaths of your favourite characters; how is this escape of our ‘cruel’ world if their’s seems to be much more evil? So the answer can’t be that it’s an escape… But then what is it?
From even a young age, humans are able to easily put themselves in other people’s shoes. It’s quite an ability as no other species, not even our close relatives, are capable of this. It’s an ability we start to see as soon as we begin our lives; small children play pretend all the time! It’s easy for them to put their small minds into another fictitious world and spend all day thinking and speaking as if they’re actually there. So in a way, we don’t really grow up. Maybe it’s laziness of the mind, but instead of playing pretend like we used to, we just get completely enamoured with someone else’s pretend universe. But that still doesn’t answer the question, why do they affect us so much?
And maybe there really isn’t a definitive answer yet. One thing we have found out, however, is that it definitely does affect our real life. People who tend to expose themselves to more fictitious problems usually have a higher amount of empathy, and they actually help us to prepare to deal with tough situations in real life. Think back to when you used to play pretend as a young child. I know I used to pretend I was a spy defeating an evil mastermind, a horse lost in a huge jungle, or even a ferocious dragon attempting to take gold from my enemy (who was, in fact, played by one of my best friends). Even though my play-pretend stories weren’t exactly the same as most children my age, who had played ‘family’ where they acted out a fictitious alternate universe much more alike to our own, all of the stories dealt with roughly the same thing: Morals that we, as humans, face each day. My stories dealt with corrupt characters, being lost (which is probably every child’s worst nightmare…) and greed. The other children’s stories dealt with the same thing, but showcased them in a more realistic way. Oftentimes the child being the daughter of the family would deal with a forsaken love, corrupt parents, greed for objects such as jewelry, or even running away. All of these situations help us to deal with more realistic problems that we face each day, and learn from everything that happens. The same thing could be the reason as to why we immerse ourselves into fictional universes; to learn from them.
Some people even believe this theory can be applied to dreams because essentially, they encompass the same things. Although dreams might make even less sense than our pretend stories as children, they do still follow the same rule. Usually in a dream you’re thrown against some form of evil and must figure out how to defeat it. The theory is that this is just another way our brains try to prepare us for future situations. But who knows? Maybe dreams are visions into the future, as some people believe. Maybe fictional universes are just alternatives to our own that certain people were inspired to create because of some divine force, and they do actually exist! As of right now, we don’t have enough evidence to point out directly why some of us become so obsessed with pretend worlds, but more and more people are becoming aware of the strange power fictional stories seem to hold over our generation — and more and more people want to know why. For now, however, I think I’m just going to stick to rereading The Silmarillion and crying over Boromir’s death. It was the ring’s fault, okay? He didn’t deserve it!