Experience-Taking: The Effects of a Fictional World

Today I read an article that really got me thinking. Here is the article in question first of all: http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/exptaking.htm

Now what this goes over is the concept of “Experience-Taking” (an odd sounding term). For those who want the quick version of this concept, here it is.

Experience-Taking is when you become so engrossed in a fictional character (generally reading) that you begin to subconsciously change your mannerisms, thoughts, and feelings to match that of the character, as well as becoming sympathetic towards the issue that the character may be facing.

In a nutshell, this means you lose yourself in the character so much that it effects your real life persona. While the article focuses solely on the effects of this in regards to reading, I think it goes beyond that.

There is, for an example, a phenomena / religion? called Other Kin. In this, people actually believe themselves to be the reincarnated aspects of fictional characters or to be partially nonhuman in some fashion. I used to live with one who believed herself to have several of these “personalities” in her head including a character from the anime Saiyuki. She went so far as to believe that I myself had a personality from that universe in my head.

And no I am not making that up. Here is the wiki article explaining that in greater detail: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otherkin

I think that would be an extreme example of this Experience-Taking, as they believe so heavily in the characters in question that they can at will become those characters in their minds. I have watched people who believe this break down into tears remembering events that occurred to the character as if it happened to themselves.

Lets examine another possible aspect of this Experience-Taking, in regards to online gaming. Those of us who have played MMORPGs know that some people take the game way too seriously. People who play on the Roleplaying servers of these games can get to the point where it becomes hard to distinguish between the real person and the character, going so far as to get married in character in the game. There have been plenty of stories of people losing themselves in these games and even dying from playing marathon sessions. Do they identify with the character that they themselves created so much that it becomes their reality and the rest does not?

Do they even know that its happening?

Even TV to an extent has this effect. The concept of commercials almost directly pulls from this. By making us connect with the people in the advertisements we begin to want the things they want, to feel that we NEED those things. Its one of the reasons I no longer watch TV. I hate being manipulated like that.

I know that I personally have been shaped by what I have read growing up. I read a lot of epic and heroic fantasy, and I frequently identified with the characters. I wonder if my personality was effected in such a way as to make me who I am.

I am fairly certain I know why this “Experience-Taking” occurs. Its basic human empathy. We want to feel connected to each other, even if we claim we don’t. Even if the character is fictional, if we lose ourselves in them we can learn and grow and change. We may not even notice it happening, and would not be able to pinpoint exactly when the changes happened. But if its for the better I am all for it.

All I know is that this concept should be explored further, and see where it leads us. It has the potential for abuse if used in the wrong ways as well.

Just look at the internet. It happens every single day.


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