When I was in school, I read a massive fantasy series which I followed over the course of a number of years. The books had a number of characters in them, a number of sub plots and different scenarios that came and went and although I enjoyed all of the stories, I had one favourite character, the character I couldn’t wait to read about. I’d skip bits, read the sections with this character in and then come back to the original time line that I had abandoned. Then, in a not unforeseen twist, this character died halfway through the series and, although I had suspected that it might come (I’ve always had a knack for feeling where a story was going to go) the blow was still a very hard one. I remember sitting in my room, crying my eyes out. My mother, who was use to dealing with a somewhat stoic teenager who never really showed any emotions, was shocked because I never cried about things that happened to me in Real Life. I was told that it’s a book but I found in that one sentence my mother missed a fundamental point. You see, even though the character didn’t have a corporal body or even a soul if you will, that character had become very real to me as the world had and the death there hit me almost as hard as a death would here.
You see, I had come to love and admire the character. I think it’s a very difficult thing to explain to someone that doesn’t really read or immerse themselves into other media but the fact is that the emotions that we feel while reading is real. I made the mistake when I was still barely a teenager to write a major character death into one of the stories that I was working with at that stage and the blow of that struck me so hard that I went mute for a week. I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that it would bring up inside me, from the other characters in my heart that had witnessed that. The story might’ve been written down in the crooked drawl of someone who never really bothered to decide whether she’s right or left handed and the grammar might’ve been terrible – but the world and the emotions were very real. I learned something that day and then again the day when I saw my favourite book character die and that is not to underestimate the impact that a virtual world and reality can have in our lives. I also believe that authors shouldn’t underestimate that either in this day and age where it’s so easy for the fans to get touch with them.
I read another series a couple of years ago called ‘The Hollows’ by Kim Harrison. To me, the books were amazing but then again, I started reading them in a time that I was under and immense amount of social stress. My mother had taken gravely ill and I had to come back from England either to be there when she died or to help the family and her put back the pieces if she survived. I found the Hollows during that time and I think due to my wish to escape my real life, I leapt into that world full mind, heart and soul. I fell in love with the characters and was so impressed with the author because she did what very few other people had done well. She wrote in a sexual tension between two characters that she confessed later surprised even herself. The thing was that these characters weren’t actually the ‘main’ couple and at some point I believe that the author realised that she was going to have to do something to get rid of that or to try and resolve it. By the seventh book, the sexual tension had gone, leaving in its place a hollow between the characters that once again broke my heart and made me put down the books series. I had loved the characters too much to see them move away from what I had hoped would be an inevitable happy ending. My love for the series didn’t die but it was left hollow and bitter.
And then of course, there was Mass Effect 3 – the story which I spoke of in length in my previous post. Along with millions of other fans, I completely immersed myself in the world. I worked with the characters, walked with them saw their trials and felt the love that they portrayed so well on the screen. They became very real to me because I carried them around in my head where I had no ‘walls’ to protect me. I’ve been thinking about this for a few days and I’ve realised that books, video games, even television programs are actually quite dangerous to someone like me because they penetrate through a barrier that physical people can’t. I am very hesitant in my emotions in my real life and I always feel as if I stare at people over a kind of chasm. I watch them do what they do from a distance but very few things actually touch me. It’s a safety mechanism naturally. In school I was the tall, awkward red head with a book under her arm that had to suffer through more bullying than I ever would admit. If I ignored people and refused to let their emotions touch me, I would be safe. And, I’d be safe in the realm of books and games where I felt these emotions that I struggled with in my own personal life so acutely. Mass Effect 3 was like a reality check, the realisation that I’m not truly safe from my own emotions anywhere. And, perhaps that immersing myself in different world is no protection from them. Like the character’s death had touched me, the ending of Mass Effect 3 did so as well. The difference being that the character’s death in the book series was not only foreseen but it was explored, handled and dealt with in the world that created it. I went through a mourning period where I didn’t touch the books but then, when I was ready to pick them back up again, I could see how the character’s death affected everybody, how they went through their own mourning period and emotions. That all gave me a way to move forward and enjoy the books again. The problem with Mass Effect was that they didn’t close it properly. I’ve mentioned this before but I feel that it’s such a crucial point that people should take note of.
Humans are fascinating creatures as we live on hope. The hope that things will get better, that there is an ending and that there is justice. There’s a reason mythology portrays that hope is the only emotion left in Pandora’s Box. It’s what allows us to put our current circumstances aside if they are less than savoury and allows us to carry on, in the hope that tomorrow will be better. Mass Effect 3 ended that hope because all the stories, all the lives were left mid stride. And yes, they are fixing it now after fans demanded it but the writers should’ve done so from the beginning. I think something all writers, whether they do so for games, or books or television, should be aware of is the impact and perception that people have of their work. They must bare in mind that for every teenager hauled up in his bedroom with a controller, there’s one adult sitting out there, playing a game because it allows them to deal with some personal trauma. I read a story of a man whose mother played Mass Effect because she was suffering from cancer and the game took her mind away from the pain. Another woman wrote of how the game allowed her to deal and move forward after her son’s suicide. For myself, I played it after I was attacked in November of last year. I couldn’t sleep and playing the kick ass character of Commander Shepard helped me get my mind off of that man with his knife. Like the characters are a part of a story, so are those who read it or play it or watch it. And, with a world as immense as Mass Effect, it’s only natural that everybody will find something with which to associate. You owe it to people to give them that closure because they are those who cry for your characters.
Very well written. As I get older and spend more time in my own company, the worlds and people in books become a very welcome escape for me. I feel the emotions a good writer is able to evoke in a reader. I’ve cried when some character I loved died. I’ve gotten mad when they were not treated well. I too read the Hollows and had to stop because of the turn in the story. I just can’t help feeling it was done to improve the sales and make more money. It hurt so I’ve left that universe for good.
Good books are supposed to connect to our souls at an intrinsic level. If not, they failed.
Well said, Alyss. 😉