“Fiction is an ancient virtual reality technology that specializes in simulating human problems.” - Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal
What role does Fiction play in our lives? Perhaps the answer is inherently subjective. But I think there is one major reason why we are drawn to stories: because they simulate life experiences.
Each of us is limited by the number of things we can experience. I think that's why we're so eager to consume compelling stories. When we read, watch, or listen to a good story, our lives become richer.
So maybe it's worth defining what a story actually is. Most stories seem to revolve around a conflict, which certain characters must confront and try to overcome.
Telling stories is an ancient tradition that goes back thousands of years. Epics like The Odyssey can teach us virtues such as courage and bravery. And Greek myths offer powerful cautionary tales, like that of Icarus flying too close to the sun.
Stories serve to educate and entertain us. The best ones seem to both capture our attention as well as communicate valuable lessons.
If we hear a hundred stories of characters extolling virtues, then hopefully we will learn to become more virtuous. If we read a hundred books about people surmounting adversity, then maybe that will prepare us to face challenges in our own lives.
And I think we should admit that good stories can take many forms. Whether it's a sitcom, video game, or podcast series, there are many ways to communicate and appreciate a worthwhile narrative. So I don't think it's necessarily a waste of time to watch a show or play an RPG. As long as we can extract some value from these stories, then they are beneficial to our lives.
As George R.R. Martin wrote - “I have lived a thousand lives and I've loved a thousand loves. I've walked on distant worlds and seen the end of time. Because I read.”