One moment you could be sitting down watching TV, and the next moment you could be panicking, questioning the competence of a writer you’ve never met. All this can happen because of a fictional character on a screen. What makes us so attached to these characters that we might become so conflicted by what happens to them?
Note: I am writing this to spread own opinion on why people become attached to fictional characters, I am not stating anything as fact, but as my own take on this subject
If a viewer stays with a show or game for a long period of time, they’ll become attached to the character. If the character betrays the viewers opinion of them, the viewer may still hold an attachment to this character, because they refuse to believe the character could have betrayed the viewer’s opinion. This is because the viewer is thrown into a sense of denial brought on by the amount of dedication they felt towards said character.
When a character a viewer has grown attached to dies or does something against what the viewer believed them to be, it feels as though a real human connection has been lost; the viewer has lost a friend who never existed.
Similarly, when a character’s life is in jeopardy, we panic and fear for the safety of our favorite, even though they are in no real danger. Because the lives of these characters are put on the line, the show is made so much more terrifying and emotionally draining on the viewer.
On TV, movies, and video games, the characters are depicted by real human beings or animated characters with human qualities that reflect our own. Viewers become attached not just to the character, but to the actor portraying said character. So when the actor decides to no longer play that character in a TV show or movie franchise, the fans become desolate and angry for this betrayal.
People play video games for the sense of achievement brought on by completing parts or the whole of the game and when the player is able to assist a character in a video game, it creates that sense of achievement. In TV shows, the number of hours spent watching the characters progress through their world and the number of episodes and seasons devoured by the show provides a similar sense of achievement; in books and movies too, achievement through dedication to a character is a good feeling.
Warning: spoilers ahead
There are many tricks writers will use to bait the viewer into being interested in a character. One such trick is to give a character some sort of ambition or goal that would be impossible for anyone except this character. Because the writer has given a character a goal to complete, the viewer feels obliged to stay interested until that goal is completed, or the writer kills off the character. By using this trick, the viewer becomes much more excited or saddened when this goal is met or ruined, and if the character is killed off or replaced, the betrayal of spending hours and hours rooting for the character was all in vain. Shows like Lost, and Game Of Thrones are infamous for doing this constantly, as are events in games such as the death of The Joker in Batman: Arkham City or John Marston in Red Dead Redemption.
Writers’ goals are to keep the viewer watching for as long as possible, and making characters that are relatable or unique as possible. Following the trends of modern media, making a character seem human, rather than inhuman, and thus relatable, is the most effective way of raking up viewers and buyers.
Note: I wrote this article to practice writing and any input would be really useful towards helping me a better writer.
Expect a followup to this article in the form of two separate articles going much more into detail on the topic of both television/film and video games.