Season 4 of Game of Thrones begins in a few hours. Being in a country where I don’t receive HBO, I think I’m one of the few cases where piracy really is justified. If I had the money and the availability, I would pay for the privilege, promise. I cannot wait for 4.30AM local time, when the episode lands upon the shores of a certain Bay in Sweden. I have my alarm set. I’ve read all the books now- I finished A Dance with Dragons a few weeks back(Also pirated, but I swear if I had the money I would buy them. Pinkie promise!). Not only that, I’ve read the preview chapters of The Winds of Winter, so I can’t wait for 2015 either. All this anticipation has got me thinking: for ten weeks starting April 6th, the only thing occupying my mind will be Game of Thrones. Counting actual screen time, only during 10 of those hours will I be face to face with a cinematic imagining of Westeros and the Known World. Ten hours that will stick with me for the rest of my life.
Of my nearly 22 years of life, I’ve spent a total of about 160 hours (ridiculously generous estimate) reading the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Adding time spent thus far watching Game of Thrones (30 hours first-run, 10 hours rewatching season 1 when I “got” the scale and detail of the world I’d invested in and maybe another 5 watching and rewatching the Red Wedding scene) makes 205 hours. If I count time spent reading supplementary material, surfing wikis, reading/watching the theories of fans crazier than myself all over the internettubes and perusing maps and the like (which, it might surprise you, accounts for almost half my supplementary time) it comes up to maybe 250, max. 250 hours, out of approximately 191,544.5 (accurate to withing a couple of minutes as of posting this) of my life thus far. Yet those 250 hours have gone on to become a part of me, to define who I am. When faced with a situation, one of the first questions I will ask myself is “What would Jon Snow do?” I look at episodes of my life, situations I find myself in, and I immediately compare them to something that happened in Westeros. Gee whiz, that news story plays out rather like the Florent/Tyrell tensions. So, money rules our world, right? Just like gold rules Westeros? That treacherous bastard. He must have some Bolton blood in him. Yet none of those places, none of those people, none of those situations are real! They’re all just figments of the imagination of some guy who lives in Arizona whom I’ve never even met!
And all this is just with one fictional Universe that’s relatively new to me – I first got into it when I watched season 1 of Game of Thrones around mid-2012. Imagine what it must be like with universes and franchises I’ve been invested in for far longer and have consumed much more material from? Star Trek, Doctor Who, the Foundation series, heck, the granddaddy of them all, Warhammer 40,000! I have spent so much time: physically through the page, virtually on the computer screen, for 60 brief minutes multiplied more times than I can count in a feature film and in the scapes of my imagination, I’ve lived more in the worlds of Warhammer than far too many human beings do in our physical universe. At times I feel like Warhammer is my life, a metaphor which extends itself into reality by the fact that the handle I use for most of my Internet presence – Enter_Skitarii – is itself based off something in 40k. And being the recluse that I am, it’s obvious that I live most of my life on the Internet.
It always blows my mind, the influence that fiction has on our lives. Yet it shouldn’t, really. Our propensity for fiction is just an extension of our love of stories. All through human existence, our primary mode of gaining first experience of something has been through the telling of tales. Folk tales, inganekwane in my native Ndebele, told by the fireside have been the primary mode of instilling wonder and curiosity at the world for thousands of generations. The stories brought by the visitor from three villages over have been the primary method of gaining knowledge of the world at large since time immemorial. The tales of the old, grizzled and scarred hunter or warrior have been the source of inspiration, as well as the warning of the dangers of the trade to those who wished to follow in his footsteps.
Looking earlier still at our evolutionary history, looking even at our cousins who haven’t quite found it in themselves to leave the cosy, warm jungles, heck, looking at nearly every species on earth, we can see why (causatory why, not epistemological why) the desire for stories was coded into our genes. Other primates have their calls, elephants have subsonic rumbles transmitted through their feet and the ground, bees have the little jig they do. One creature passing information to another has been one of the things that have allowed species to survive, by creatures sharing with each other information about the whereabouts of food, the presence of predators and other factors that could affect their survival.
As we learn more and more about the nature of memory, we learn that we actually really don’t remember things as objectively as we think. Our perceptions and prejudices colour our memories, things get added on and altered as other memories jostle for position. We add elements from our own imagination in an effort to make the story more interesting or impressive and, if we tell the story to others and ourselves enough, we become unable to tell the interlocution from reality. Hell, I took a few liberties with this post to make it more interesting, and I can feel one or two of those starting to insinuate their way into my memories. I notice this most clearly when I rewatch movies that were iconic in my childhood. They’re often wildly different from what is contained in my memory. I used to think this was an effect of things I’d experienced as a child. But when I recently reread HorusRising (WHICH I BOUGHT WITH MY OWN MONEY BECAUSE IT WAS AVAILABLE AND I COULD!!!) after about a year and a half I found several elements of the story that were different from what I remembered. Given half a decade, I can see how it could be quite considerably different.
It’s not just with made-up stories, but with things that have happened directly to me, to which I was a first-hand witness as well. Totally sober experiences with my friends will come out differently when told individually by each of us. Not just emphasis, but details, what someone was wearing, what they said , what they did, which direction they ran when the grumpy old man finally caught us, whether he had a gun or his penis half-visible through the robe he was or maybe was not wearing. Different as they are, each of those stories is true.
So this makes me think: if personal experience can be so subjective and prone to deviation from what actually happened, is it really any different from fiction? The stories we weave, both from things that have happened to us and from the infinite reaches of our imagination are, qualitatively, not that different. They are all equally valuable. Stories are the true currency of human experience, and there is no false coin.