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One of the most frequent issues to come up in any fandom chat is “shipping”.
For the uninformed, shipping has nothing to do with Moby Dick, live cattle or Internet shopping.
Shipping is the fandom art of guessing which characters will become romantically involved with each other – a derivation of the word relation-“ship”. It can get pretty volatile – the finale of the Aang arc of Last Airbender, for instance, had fans going nuts when female lead Katara didn’t end up with enemy-turned-ally Prince Zuko.
And ever since long-time favourite Misty left the cast to be replaced with a new girl in each successive arc, Pokémon fans have been having a tussle on multiple fronts as to which of these girls should end up with main lead, Ash Ketchum.
Seriously, the Internet can be a dangerous place when discussing the love lives of fictional characters.
Despite being a geeky fangirl myself, I never really got into the whole shipping scene and I viewed it with confusion at best. Then I went and got myself a copy of Fire Emblem: Awakening for my 3DS, and my sanity has steadily gone downhill from there.
For those who don’t know, Awakening is the latest instalment in Nintendo’s long-running Fire Emblem franchise, a turn-based strategy game with role-play elements and a fantasy setting. One of the main draws of the game is that all of the units are unique individuals who can be killed off permanently. Winning the battle is easy, but the real challenge is getting all your characters through the battle alive. Even better, characters can build their relationships with each other and get married and have kids.
Half the time I spend on the game is not so much level-grinding as it is playing matchmaker.
There are guides out there that advise you on premium pairing for the most powerful offspring possible, but eventually I went for the pairings that I simply thought were cute, sacrificing optimum game-play for what made simply me ‘squee’* the most. My favourites include Ricken with Nowi, Olivia with Henry and Brady with Cynthia, to name a few.
Okay, so I’ve fallen down the slippery slope of shipping and I’m not climbing back up soon. But that just begs the question – what the hell is it about shipping that makes it so damn fun?
The knee-jerk reaction is to accuse shippers and geeks in general of being unattractive losers who can never get a date and thus live their lives vicariously through these fictional characters.
However, if you go through the archives of NotAlwaysRomantic.com you’ll find plenty of stories of couples for whom video games and comic book movies are a bonding exercise. Heck, many of these geek couples will compare themselves to their favourite ships.
I’m admittedly not in a relationship myself, but that’s mostly by choice. The point is, saying that shipping is some kind of crutch for the romantically unfulfilled seems to be a weak argument. Instead, I think the good feeling we get when we see characters getting all smoochy originates not from a romantic instinct, but more a paternal one. Have any of you ever helped a senior cross the street, or maybe helped a busy mum with her shopping? Well, I have, and I kind of get this buzz from it. I get the same kind of buzz when I see my little baby cousin enjoying her toys, or when people coo over my dog – or when my mum finally perfected that gingerbread recipe. I get a buzz from seeing people happy, we all do, well most of us. We’re told so often that the law of nature is “survival of the fittest” – that we forget that part of humanity’s success as a species is that we care and support each other, and seeing others happy is part of that.
The thing is, our subconscious brain can’t tell the difference between real human beings and fictional characters. So, when we see Tony Stark and Pepper Potts getting all cute and awkward with each other, we react in the same way we would if we saw a guy propose to his girlfriend in real life. Of course, by the same extension, when fans get stroppy about a ship they don’t like, they’re reacting the same way they would if their best friend was dating a complete tool.
I can’t say for sure if this is the absolute truth of shipping, but that’s the way I see it, anyway.
A word of warning: if you wander out onto the net, do not ever say that Harry should have ended up with Hermione.
Seriously, just don’t.
*Squee – a noise primarily made by an over-excited fangirl (Urban Dictionary)