Have you ever been saddened when coming to the end of a game you truly loved? The other day I was having a conversation with a friend who told me he just couldn’t make himself finish The Witcher 3. He has connected to the character and doesn’t want to let it go. He explained to me that he has had the same problem with a number of games he felt greatly immersed into. I have experienced this many times when reading. I get very invested in the characters of the books I read and when I get to the end of a new series I’ve grown to love the last pages tend to sadden me. I know I can reread the book but unless I know more of the same will be released I cannot be satisfied because I will never have new experiences with these characters again. It turns out however that caring about the disappearance of a fictional character is normal and even healthy according to scientists.
During the television writers’ strike of 2007–2008 a study called “How Do We React When Our Favorite Characters Are Taken Away? An Examination of a Temporary Parasocial Breakup” was carried out to examine reactions to the many television shows taking temporary breaks in their airtime. Moyer-Gusé (assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University and co-author of the study) said the results of this study suggest that the relationships some viewers have with their favorite television characters are indeed like what they have with real friends.
“While some participants felt real distress at the loss of their favourite TV shows, the distress is not comparable to the distress that comes from real breakups,” she said. “There are some aspects of relationships with TV characters that may be comparable to real relationships, but the intensity is generally much lower.”
What happens when we immerse ourselves in these fictional worlds is that we form real but parasocial relationships with these character who are not real. Strange, huh? A parasocial relationship is a one-sided relationship where one person extends some level of emotional commitment, interest, time or effort whilst the other person remains unaware of their existence. These parasocial relationships are most common with celebrities and even organizations such as sports teams.