Grieving For a Character: The Emotional Implications of Crossing the Uncanny Valley

“To say that we shouldn’t react to fictional characters as “real people” is exactly equivalent to saying that we shouldn’t be frightened by the things we meet in nightmares.” – John Gardner Source: flickr One of the things I love most about being a writer is the ability to create something from nothing. I’m not a god though, nor is any other writer out there, no matter how famous they may be. When we place a name to the page, give them characteristics, and build them up, they’re still just words at the end of the day. Characters aren’t real people, right? Whether it’s in a book, a TV show, a movie, or more specifically to our interests, a game, characters build bonds with us. Could it be that they are portrayed by real people in movies and TV shows? Perhaps, but then why do you people cry when they’re reading a book and one of their favorite characters dies? As it stands, there are plenty of people who aren’t emotionally affected by the deaths of characters in any medium of entertainment, but there are also plenty of people who are. Now, let’s narrow our focus a bit here and look at games in particular. We’re not at the point where we have photo-realistic graphics, but we’re getting closer to making these characters look and feel real. Acting and motion capture have helped, plus the rise of more advanced technology, but we’re still falling into something called “the uncanny valley” where those emotional connections aren’t happening as often as they could. So, let’s find out if the PS5 will have your mourning the loss of characters as if they were real people. Why Do We Care in the First Place? The best kinds of characters are the ones that feel real to us. Without considering the additional weight of interacting with and seeing the character in front of you, let’s examine the very basis of a character: their personality. It’s hard to truly replicate the kind of human nature that we all possess, but many authors have managed to do so in books, games, movies, and TV shows. Imagine your favorite movie, TV show, or book. Remember how it made you empathize with the characters? You felt what they felt, and it hurt you in the same way it would hurt anyone else. That’s the key here, if we feel empathy, then the character is real enough to make our brains treat them like real people. Since humans are empathetic creatures, it’s not outside the realm of possibility to think that our brains can be tricked into thinking that someone who isn’t necessarily real is in fact real in our brain’s eyes. An essay by Howard Sklar entitled “Believeable Fictions: On the Nature of Emotional Responses to Fictional Characters,” goes into detail about how and why we grieve for certain characters the same way we would if they were real people. Part of the reason comes from the fact that … Read More