Why do we relate to fictional characters?

“If Tsubaki was here, he would call this a ‘depression’ type game.  – Kouhei”

So I was finally getting to the end of Aeka’s route in Yume Miru Kusuri. The above scene happened after Kyoka tries to get her boyfriend to rape her, resulting in a hostage situation , which , sooner or later, led to this scene where they both strangle her at the same time. While I was really, really, happy indeed – truly happy – to see her eyes turn white and see her lose control of her bodily functions, I was sad to find out that she did not die at all. I was confused – how could she have survived? If I was Kouhei I would stab her eyeballs with that knife, or toss her body across the fence and claim she committed suicide, or something along those lines. . .

..and then something else confused me – why do I care so much about a pair of fictional characters?

Yume Miru Kusuri: A Drug That Makes You Dream

Image via Wikipedia

Of course, it’s not like they could have done any of the above. After all, they’re nothing more than 2D characters voiced by others and programmed to do particular actions and say particular things at pre-programmed times without any deviation. It’s not like they could have stabbed her in the stomach just because I wanted them to.

Similarly, it applies over all media. We feel sympathy when one of our favourite characters dies in a soap drama, or for ‘victims’ of compulsive gambling, as posed by actors in anti-gambling commercials. We even , like aforementioned, wish for the characters we support to do what we want, instead of what had just happened. Person A might want Actor A to break up with Actor B, since Actor B is cheating on Actor A, yet she doesn’t know this, and et cetera.

Taken from gamefaqs.com

Yet , being sane and rational human beings (for the most part), we are compelled to relate, and perhaps, even place ourselves into the ‘shoes’ of the character itself. But we know that these characters do not exist. So , paradoxically, we feel and treat them as real characters – and yet, acknowledge that they do not exist. How do you explain this?

Peter Cave, associate professor at the Open University , UK and Chair of the Humanist Philosophers of Great Britain, writes in his book, “Can a Robot be Human?  33 Perplexing Philosophy Puzzles”:

“….perhaps the emotions are not directed at the characters at all. It has been suggested that fiction leads the audience to have the fear, the pity, the joy -and so on- at real people (not the fictions) who have the relevant characteristics.”

Simply enough, we relate because we link what happens to the fictional characters to what happens in real life. I know it sounds clear and obvious, but there’s more to it than that. He goes on to further elaborate that “the very thought of things can generate emotions, without the need for full belief or disbelief [is] perhaps, [enough] for handling this puzzle.” What this suggests is that the thought of a particular character in Situation X is enough to make us feel emotions for the character, never mind whether we believe the character exists or not. We can’t feel emotions for a thought, we feel emotions for the characters involved in that thought itself.

For instance, Romeo & Juliet , Cinderella, and various other stories – we feel emotions for the characters. We feel the pain in Romeo and Juliet’s tragedy, and we feel happy to see Cinderella triumph over her wicked family.

We suspend our belief as we watch the show, and soon, we start to relate and truly enjoy the show. It’s impossible to enjoy a show if you’re too realistic, and this is probably why. We watch the show, we suspend our belief, let our thoughts flow along with the show, eventually taking the character’s plights, ups and downs to be akin to ours, and soon ,we relate.

So next time , you know why you want to reach out and hug that protagonist of your choice, simply because it’s been a hard time for him or her, and why you would like so very, very much to see Antoinette choked to death by Aeka.

tl;dr Yume Miru Kusuri might be the best H-game ever.


Cave, Peter. Can A Robot be Human? 33 Perplexing Philosophy Puzzles. 1st ed. Oneworld Oxford, Print.

Vermecule, Blakey. Why Do We Care About Literary Characters?. 1st ed. Print.

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23 Responses to Why do we relate to fictional characters?

  1. Ming Xuan says:

    That might explain why I find those night-time dramas boring…probably.

    Best ever? Really?

  2. Azure Hoshizora says:

    I can relate to your post about relating to fictional characters.

    Though I’d also like to point out that you just blatantly admitted to playing a H game despite being under 18; not that I haven’t done that either, lolol

  3. Carillus says:

    You are probably one of the first anibloggers I have ever seen using a proper reference to research papers.

      • kluxorious says:

        Not really because like you said, we get emotionally involved with them. We feel for them: anger, jealousy etc, thus it doesn’t cleanse us from emotional burden.

        What I mean by escapism is the fact that we are sometimes too absorb with the characters we forget that they aren’t real. You left the real world behind and allowed yourself to be part of that 2D world. At least that is what happened to me though

        • Valence says:

          I suppose it’s not escapism per se, but I guess you’re right in the sense that we get too absorbed. It’s like an out-of-body experience, where we transport ourselves from one world to another. We relate and treat them like they exist, even if they do not.

  4. hiroy_raind says:

    Hey you played Yume Miru Kusuri 😀
    I only finished the student council prez route years ago, and haven’t managed to find time to play the rest.
    Can’t really say much bout her story, but her ending put a smile on my face.

    • Valence says:

      Her route is the only one I haven’t actually completed yet. I finished
      “Nekoko’s” route, and of course, Aeka’s route, and both of them actually surprised me in more way than one, that’s for sure.

      I should get to finishing Mizuki’s route soon.

  5. Baka-Raptor says:

    I am a fictional character. Of course I can relate to one. Though I will say that relating to characters is overrated. I prefer watching characters who do stuff I’d never think of.

    • Valence says:

      Relating to characters is crucial when it comes to drama and emotional scenes. If not, those scenes would not have been effective at all.

      But of course, watching characters do new things is great, but it’s still possible to relate to them in the end….

      • Yeah.

        In my case on my first playthrough through any game like this, I just like picking the most absurd choices to see the Tsundere’s, if present, reactions. Sometimes It’s better than getting the girl you want. 😉

  6. Yi says:

    This game looks really depressing and dark. 😦
    “We suspend our belief as we watch the show, and soon, we start to relate and truly enjoy the show. It’s impossible to enjoy a show if you’re too realistic, and this is probably why.”
    Very true!!

    • Valence says:

      Well, it’s just this route that seems …much more depressing than the others. Otherwise the story is really good – nice drama here and there, it has the works.

      And I guess that’s why I started to like K-On – I just relaxed and watched the show.

  7. Nopy says:

    I think it would be strange for someone not to be able to relate to fictional characters. As a social species, we need to be able to feel for other people, but we can only get an idea of their situation through observation or communication. Considering fictional characters are portrayed to us either by observation or communication as well, it makes sense that we would feel for them too.

    • Valence says:

      And that’s what interests me. Why are we, as fully functional human beings, relating to fictional characters upon instinct?

      I suppose what you are saying is partially correct in its own right, but doesn’t explain why we paradoxically, acknowledge their non-existence yet ‘communicate’ with them.

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