Agents of SHIELD and us.
On may 4th 2012 the worlds of a lot of people altered forever. Phil Coulson’s, for example. He died. But also that of a lot of fans, me included, because suddenly a lot of people decided, that nope, Coulson was not in fact dead. We’re fandom.
We have experience with that kind of thing. Getting together, meeting each other, for a common goal. Getting stuff done. We made it a thing. And called it #Coulsonlives. It’s all Tumblrs fault, really, and Twitter’s. It was fun.
Then Kevin Feige showed up with a #coulsonlives shirt at New York Comic Con. And we had made it. We were so happy, so relieved and so proud. We had willed him back to life! We had moved heaven and earth and used every means possible to bring him back. Through sheer refusal we had brought him back.
And then came the show. We like the show. It needed to grow on some of us first, but hey, #coulsonlives. And Tahiti is a magical place. A magical pla. . . “What exactly IS Tahiti?” we began to ask ourselves. We wanted answers! We damn well wanted to know. And again, our wish was granted.
In a beautiful buildup the show took us to Tahiti, and showed us, how Coulson lived. And that was, I will forever admit it, one of the most brilliantly executed reaches across the fourth wall, I have ever seen and I’ve seen all seasons of Supernatural.
How the show made Fury the stand-in for the fans, who, through sheer refusal to accept the facts, brought a man back to life, was brilliant. A great nod to the fans, but it was the way, it was executed, how it connected the basic starting point of the show (#coulsonlives and thus, us) with the extreme trauma, betrayal, pain and loss, that beloved character had to go through, that did something in fandom and to fandom, that is exceedingly hard to achieve: a direct connection from the fans to the show and what is happening to the characters.
I have been participating in live action roleplay for more than ten years now and have played a number of none player character roles, as well as my own characters and acted as game master on a number of occasions. And along the way I have had myself studying some of the psychology of roleplay and especially immersion in the game. One of the most important factors of a good immersion experience in any character, any game or situation, is emotional investment. Feeling with your character, or rather, having your character feel for you, making others feel with their characters, as their characters. But you can’t force this, you can only lead them along the journey, you want to take them, lightly interfering here and there to get them, where you want to have them. But they always have to walk themselves.
A creepy dungeon is supposed to be creepy. And believe me, a hand touching your shoulder in the dark will freak you out. But to get them there, and subtly, is hard work, a lot of guessing and a real good feel for the right amount of sensory input. They wont go into the dungeon without a good reason. And they wont be scared, without it being scary. Without the right surrounding, the right light, sound and atmosphere. And you absolutely can have the best atmosphere in the world, if people don’t want to bring that investment, if they don’t want to enter that world, there is nothing you can do.
This is actually what made the fan response to Tahiti so absolutely brilliant. We have started on this path, by refusing to believe Coulson is dead and we have been led on, by having been told, he wasn’t dead. We followed willingly, guided by our own curiosity, to Tahiti, only to be crushed by the truth of it. . . . . . and the subtle understanding, that we, the fans, by our refusal, our prideful, ignorant refusal to accept his death, have put him through this.
Fury was the stand in for the fans. He was the one who put Phil through this horror, this unspeakable pain, this absolutely inconsiderate thing. But the fact is. . . it was us. We willed him to live, no matter what. We refused to accept reality, moved heaven and earth. . . and he does live! Isn’t that nice. Only. . . what happened to him, that broken, destroyed creature, that thing. . . that was us. And I have never ever, believe me, felt guilty for putting a fictional character through something like this. I have put alot of fictional people through a lot of pain during the years. Not surprisingly, I’m not the only one.
Tahiti is a magical Place. It was. For usm because, let’s be honest, for a moment there. . . shit got real. real! It was not just us, feeling with a character, it was us being responsible for what was happening on that screen. That pain. That horror. That was us. Feeling like we had direct, real influence on a show! And that was magical. Painfully so. Very painful. And. . it still hurts. Sorry, Phil! Next time, you may stay dead, OK? Sorry!