Starting this out with a disclaimer that this topic may get rambly and disjointed. I’ve been trying to think of the right words to say what I’ve been thinking for several weeks now, and I still don’t know if I’ve got them, but here goes nothing.
Recently, YouTuber Markiplier (who I’ve talked about before) reached over 8 million subscribers, and the fan community made a tribute video for that, and in turn he made a reaction video (and there were many tears from both sides, but that’s beside the point). In the video, there were pieces of fan art that were showcased, many of them showing Mark with characters from games he’s played. On that same note, another YouTuber by the name of jacksepticeye posted a video a little more recently showing gifts that fans had given to him at a con he had gone to, several of which were of characters from games he had played.
I have been thinking this for a long time, but these two events were what got me to really think about doing a blog post about it. That is the importance of characters for people – not just characters, though, but art in general. I’ll talk about the character aspect of this first, though, as it will be the easiest to explain.
When I was a kid, I had imaginary friends, as many children do, but they weren’t something I made up on my own. All my imaginary friends were characters I liked from shows and movies and games and comics and things like that (granted, they were my idealized versions of those characters, but you get the picture). I always felt like I was cheating in that way because kids were supposed to be creative and make up their own imaginary friends, but I had never done that. The idea of that seems strange now especially being such a character based author like I am, you’d think I would have been able to create my own characters/imaginary friends even back then.
Even my first story ideas started out as what were essentially fan fictions with some names changed and perhaps the setting altered a bit. That’s how I get a lot of my story ideas, actually. But the difference is, the more I work with them, the more they change and evolve to become something unique and wholly their own, different entity. While they may bare similarities to what they were originally conceived from, they are no longer resembling a fan fiction of that thing.
People need art. Artists need art. It’s not just for entertainment, but also for inspiration and ideas of your own. Yes, it may start out looking too much like the thing it was inspired from, but you can’t just let people tell you that it’s cliche or ripping off the other thing, because then you’ll never give it room to grow into something new. This works for art of any kind: paintings/drawings, sculptures, stories, movies, games, etc. But let me go back to the character aspect I started with.
People are kind of given a bad rep for having imaginary friends to begin with, but it seems like in our culture today, people have a different sort of imaginary friend that no one will admit to it being such. These people are generally referred to as “fangirls/fanboys”. If you absolutely love a specific character (let’s say in the Marvel universe for instance, like Iron Man or Captain America), you get emotionally invested in these characters and act like they’re real people, and moreover people that you know personally to some extent. Maybe you don’t go the whole mile of talking to them and feeling like you’re friends with them, but it’s essentially the same sort of concept. Fictional people being made to seem real to you and you get emotionally invested in them and wanting to physically be with them.
Going back to the idea with the Let’s Players, they play games with iconic characters that either they really like, or their fans like to see them interacting with in-game. There’s lots of fan art of these gamers with different game characters. There are even fan made games about these gamers that will sometimes feature these characters because they do have such a connection.
I once saw someone talking about fan fiction and how they didn’t think it was good or productive. They said that you shouldn’t be wasting time writing fan fiction when you could be making your own original content, but also that it was like tearing away what was close to the original creator’s heart and “ruining it”. I disagree with this idea. For one, if you’re putting your art out into the world for everyone to see, it no longer belongs exclusively to you. Art is for everyone to enjoy, and if someone else enjoys it enough to create something off of that, you should feel flattered, even if they get things “wrong”.
If someone loves something so much and they keep it that close to their heart, you shouldn’t be degrading them for it. You should be happy that they’ve found something that’s brought them such joy. Just because you don’t like the thing doesn’t mean other people can’t. There is beauty in art, and in the characters in stories that art can tell us. What’s wrong with holding onto those characters even if they aren’t “real”?
Sometimes the most insignificant of stories could have the biggest impact on a person, and even safe their life. Don’t ever doubt the power of art or stories. Don’t ever doubt the impact that fictional characters can have on a person’s life or way of thinking. Just because something or someone can’t be physically there doesn’t mean they’re any less real or important.
(Once again, apologies if this post was disjointed and rambly)