Are You Living Vicariously Through Movie, Drama, or Game Characters? Why Shows and Games Can Set Us Back in Growth (and How to Deal with That)
Have you ever been addicted to watching a show or playing a game before? Have you ever thought about why you were (or are) addicted to it?
Most people perceive addictions to shows or games to be a result of the enjoyment we get from watching or playing them. While this is indeed true, this is the surface-level reason. There is a reason, a deeper reason, as to why we enjoy doing these activities, and this reason may not be obvious at first sight. To illustrate what I mean, I’ll use a personal example.
Projecting Inner Desires Onto Reel Life
My Interest in Rom-Coms
For the longest time ever, I was a big fan of romantic comedies (also known as rom-coms). I was never a fanatic, but I would gravitate toward such films if I ever watched movies. When watching action movies or TV dramas, I would be especially intrigued by the romance subplots, even if they weren’t the main highlights of the shows.
I never thought much about this interest. I just thought it was a regular girl thing. I mean, there’s a reason why they call rom-com films chick flicks, right? Most girls adore the typical romance storyline where boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, both face obstacles in the course of their relationship and they eventually overcome them to be with one another. Marketers know it, film executives know it, and this is why rom-coms are released every year with great results, despite the fact that most share the same plot line and at times, the same actors.
An Underlying Reason
However, there came a point when I was curious as to why I—or most girls for that matter—had this special interest in rom-coms. After all, if there is anything I have learned from my work in personal development all these years, it is that there’s always a reason for everything.
So, I asked myself: “Why am I usually interested in rom-coms (or shows with romance storylines)?”
The replies I got were quite revealing. I realized it was partly because I wanted to have the kind of romantic encounters and interactions that the characters would have. I also wanted to be in a fulfilling relationship that the female leads would usually end up having toward the end of the shows. My interest in the rom-com genre and the typical boy-meets-girl plot line stemmed from my desire to have a fulfilling, romantic relationship in my life.
Hearing this from my subconsciousness made me realize that I was subconsciously playing out my innermost desire whenever I watched movie/TV characters meet, fall in love, and get together on screen. Sometimes I would even re-watch past films and shows, just to relive the memory.
While I would feel happy each time I watched these shows, looking back, I can’t help but feel that this was only a false, feel-good factor. Watching the shows did not change anything in my reality, for my world was exactly the same before and after watching. While it might seem like a harmless pastime, in actuality, I was deferring my life with every show I watched and every character I attached myself to. Seeing the characters happy and together with the person of their dreams made me feel happy, fulfilled, and satisfied, but the truth was that this was an intention I had yet to realize for myself.
Deciding Between Living Through the Reels and Living in Real Life
This then brought up the following question in my mind: “Would I rather watch characters play out their love lives on the screen and live vicariously through them, or would I much rather work on creating my own story that was way more fulfilling and exciting than that of the characters’?”
The answer was obvious. The former would only lead me to live my life through others, and these were not even real people to begin with. (Not that it would matter even if the shows were based on real-life people and real-life stories.) The latter scenario would fulfill me more than the former ever would.
Realizing this helped me to shake out of my dependency on rom-com shows, because I was merely using them to feel good about myself. It also got me to start approaching love in a more proactive manner, rather than think about it in a reactive fashion. Whatever happens after that is a separate thing altogether and not something I hold any expectations toward, but the most important thing is at least I take some action about it.
Why We Enjoy Certain Movies, Dramas, or Games (The Danger of Vicarious Living)
Now, I’m not trying to put down the activity of watching shows or playing video games. I actually think they make for good recreational AND educational activities. Many shows and games do carry some pretty meaningful messages and values that we can learn from. I have personally learned a lot from watching shows and playing games as a child. Even today, I continue to learn a lot from them.
Not only that, shows and games can also be great ways for us to learn about human relations, the world, different cultures, and so on. Before I traveled to US, my main exposure to the country was from movies and shows. Many Hollywood movies tend to be set in New York City (or some urban, fast-moving city), while drama series I’ve watched before (such as Buffy and Charmed) were set in the west coast, in California.
Of course, shows and games are always good ways to unwind when we just want to kick back, enjoy, and relax after a long day of work.
However, I’ve noticed that if we’re not careful, we can fall into a trap where we use movies, dramas, or games to live our lives. As we see onscreen characters grow, achieve their goals, and hit life’s biggest milestones, sometimes we can mistake that as us growing, achieving our goals, and hitting our lives’ biggest milestones, when none of that is happening in reality.
This is known as vicarious living, where we attach ourselves to the onscreen characters, imagine us as them, and then assume their emotions, actions, thoughts, revelations, accomplishments, and lives as ours, when they aren’t.
Vicarious living is dangerous because it gives us the illusion of growth and achievement, when none of that is happening. We become wrapped up in a mental illusion that we are achieving a lot in our lives even though we might be doing absolutely nothing every day. We get this impression that we are pursuing our goals when all we are doing is merely watching the characters pursue theirs. And we might even think that we are living highly fulfilling and purposeful lives when all we are doing is just living our existence through other people—fictional characters, no less.
It’s possible that people live vicariously through real-life people, such as reality TV stars (the Kardashians, anyone?), celebrities, singers, actors, famous people, and so on. That makes the situation no different than living vicariously through fictional characters. Your sense of growth, fulfillment, and accomplishment is all but an illusion.
In the more severe cases of vicarious livers, people might even think they are those characters. Think crazed fanatics and people who obsess about a certain movie, drama, or game beyond the levels of a regular fan. These people dedicate their lives to that very movie/drama/game or a particular character in the movie/drama/game, to the point of worship and idolatry.
When you remove those items or characters of worship, what do you have left though? There’s nothing that’s left but hollow souls, because those people have basically built their entire lives around others, rather than themselves. (Read more about finding yourself: Finding Your Inner Self)
Solution: Create a Life that’s More Exciting Than What You See in Movies, Dramas, and Games
Ultimately, the reason why you would want to live vicariously through the lives of others, be it a fictional character or a real person, is because you find others’ lives more interesting or exciting than yours. Your interest toward them is a clue of something that you want for yourself and your life, but have yet to fully achieve that yet.
For example, someone who regularly plays RPGs (role-playing games) to fill his/her time might be doing so because he/she yearns to live a more purposeful life like that of the characters in the game, but isn’t doing so at the moment. Someone who is always watching drama serials might be doing so because he/she is lacking progress in his/her life whereas there seems to be so much drama and action going on in the characters’ lives. Someone who watches idol dramas endlessly might well be looking for (more) love in his/her life like the lead characters in the dramas are getting, but isn’t getting it him/herself.
So if you want to tackle this issue, if you want to break out of the invisible lull of movies, dramas, and games and start living a conscious life in reality, what you need to do is simply to create a life that’s so exciting, so much more exciting than that of the characters’ in the movies, dramas, and games, that you want to be in it 100% of the time.
Here’s how you can do that, in just two easy steps:
- Identify what’s so exciting or interesting about the movie, drama, or game. If you want to watch this show or play this game, there must be something enticing you about it. What is that? This is precisely the reason why you would rather spend time in that reality than in your present reality. Identifying this is the first step.
- Figure out how you can start realizing this in your life today. By bringing that into your reality, you are realizing your desire in the real world, rather than in reel life. This marks the point where you break out of passive living and actively manifest what you want into your life.
Example #1: Desire for Social Connection
There were times in the past when I would get engrossed in Let’s Plays (game playthroughs with commentaries by the players themselves). Besides my interest in the games themselves, I found that this was because listening to the players’ commentaries (which were often times quite funny) made me feel like I was in the company of a friend, a close friend.
Hence, I was actually drawn to the videos because they provided me with a sense of social connection which I would not get if I were to, say, write or work.
This was then a clue that I was not having enough social activities and I should increase my level of social activity every week. So I did just that. I began to arrange for meet-ups with my close friends, as well as friends I had not been connecting with for a while. Every week, I made sure that I had at least three social appointments. At the moment, I’m averaging about (at least) four to five meet-ups every week, and it’s making me feel absolutely awesome and energized.
Subsequently, my desire to watch such videos has decreased, save for instances where I’m just looking to kick back, relax, and enjoy after a long day of work.
- ‘How Do I Meet Like-Minded People?’
- 10 Useful Tips To Make New Friends | Manifesto version
- The Secret To Meaningful, Fulfilling Social Relationships (How to Remove Social Anxiety)
Example #2: Desire for More Action in Life
Another example is someone who loves action movies and spends a big chunk of his pastime watching them.
When he looks deep into this interest, he realizes it’s because his current life is too boring; too mundane. He works in a job that bores him; his routine is the same every week; he rarely goes out and when he does, it’s the same one to two friends he has known since high school. He craves for a life of more excitement and action and watching action movies helps him to channel that pent-up desire.
What’s the resolution for such a situation then? Simple: Start doing things that actually excite him. For example, finally quitting that job he feels “meh” about and pursue what he really, really likes, which is music; adding more activities into his weekly routine; taking the step to know more people, such as people who are into music as well, while keeping in touch with current friends.
As he does this, he realizes that action movies become less and less exciting for him. Today, he finds that his life is so exciting that he would much rather spend his days writing songs and playing music or hanging out with his new buddies than just watching movies all day long, which is something he used to do in the past.
Example #3: Desire for Romance
A third example is someone who is enamored with the romance movies and idol dramas (like I used to be). Why is this so? Perhaps he/she wants to have more romance in his/her life, but isn’t getting it. Perhaps he/she is in a relationship at the moment, but the relationship isn’t as fulfilling as he/she thought it would be.
What’s the action step for such a situation then?
If the person is looking to be in a relationship, then he/she should take a more proactive approach to meeting compatible people. Personally, I just signed up for Lunch Actually, a premier matchmaking service, because I want professionals to help me out in finding someone compatible, and also because I want to be meeting people who actually are a good match with what I’m looking for (over hitting the pub or bar scene, or going out with the random guy who hits on me on the street).
For others, they might find that online dating works better for them, or getting friends to set them up is a better approach. Different people have different preferences, and it’s most important that you do what is most comfortable for you.
Of course, note that it’s not about going all out just to get a romantic partner, because that might suggest certain fear-based factors at work. Be open to being in a relationship and open yourself up to knowing more people and meeting more people; at the same time, work on your goals and your life, and don’t define yourself by whether you have a romantic partner or not.
On the other hand, if the person is already in a relationship and feels that it’s lacking romance, then he/she should work on that. Perhaps he/she can take the first step in increasing the romance factor by giving his/her partner random surprises, being more physically affectionate, and so on. His/her partner might reciprocate from there. If the situation doesn’t improve, then he/she should talk it out with his/her partner in a amiable, non-confrontational manner.
Example #4: Desire for Familial Connection
The last example is of someone who enjoys watching family dramas or shows where there are positive displays of familial relationships. Reason? Because the person has an estranged relationship with his/her family members and secretly longs for the same kind of relationship with them. Personally, I used to love watching displays of family affection on television for this very reason, as I mentioned in How I Found Peace in My Relationship with My Parents, Part 1: A Child’s Wish.
For such an individual, the next step then is to work on improving his/her relationship with his/her family. Perhaps he/she can reach out to his/her family members. Perhaps he/she can make it a point to do one act of kindness for each of them every week. Perhaps he/she can schedule to have a family dinner every weekend. Perhaps he/she can arrange for some common activity to do with his family, say fishing, going to church (if that’s what they do), going to the park, going on a road trip, and so on.
Read the 4-part series on How to Improve Your Relationship With Your Parents
The end result of your actions is that you’ll now have a life that is so exciting, so fun, and so fulfilling, that you would much rather live in it any time, any day, than do anything else.
For me, I have found that the more I work on realizing my goals and dreams, the less appealing summer blockbuster movies and fancy new games are to me. Whilst I used to spend the better half of my days watching shows and playing games, today I’m more interested in writing articles, recording new web lectures, creating great value content, building my business, connecting with friends, and meeting new people. These things are a whole lot more exciting to me than many shows and games out there today.
I hope you’ve found this article useful. 😉 If you know anyone who might find this article useful, please pass it his/her way.
As an addendum, check out this article I wrote back in 2009: If Your Life Was A RPG, What Type Of Character Would You Be? 😉
Also check out: Top 10 Reasons You Should Stop Watching TV