Do you post long-winded emotional comments on your favorite Transformers message board? Do you spend time at work daydreaming about what Game of Thrones spinoffs are going to come next? Is your wardrobe organized by which fictional characters are most prominently displayed on your articles of clothing?
Of course it is. This level of passionate fandom is the type of thing that probably got you teased in middle school, and may still alienate you from certain groups of people. And to be sure, there are some downsides to being part of a fandom to the point it defines your life—but overall, being a part of a fandom is a good thing.
The Benefits of Fandom
These are some of the strongest psychological benefits of belonging to a fandom that cares about its core subject of interest:
1. Exposure. Have you heard of the mere exposure effect? It’s the idea that the more you’re exposed to something (or someone), the more inclined you are to like it/them. It’s the reason why it’s so easy to build communities of friends when you live in the same household or the same neighborhood. When you participate in a given fandom, whether it’s for something general like anime or something more specific, like Peruvian death metal, you’re bound to run into the same people over and over again—whether it’s on a message board or at a real-life convention. Eventually, you’ll get to know each other, and you’ll have a much higher chance of building a real friendship than you would with a total stranger.
2. Excitement and anticipation. Being involved in a fandom also gives you the excitement and anticipation of frequent new releases—especially if you’re a fan of a still-running franchise. You’ll always get to look forward to the next Marvel movie, or the latest book in your favorite fantasy series. This is important because that all-too-important feel-good chemical dopamine isn’t released in response to pleasurable activities as much as it’s released in anticipation of them. The moral of the story here? Being a fan can make you happier, and give you more to look forward to in life.
3. A sense of belonging. One of the strongest links to depression (and loneliness) is a sense that you don’t belong — even more so than total social isolation. This is why it’s possible to feel lonely even when in a crowd of people; if you don’t feel like you’re a part of the group, your loneliness could be enhanced even further. Being a part of a fandom, and the community surrounding it, gives you that sense of belonging, especially if you’re an active contributor. If you know the show, and can converse with anyone on the topic, you definitely belong.
4. Leisure. Having a fandom gives you something reliable to do in your downtime. Whether you’re re-watching old episodes of your favorite season of TV, posting in a discussion thread, or making crafts dedicated to your fandom of choice, you’ll tend to stay busy. That, too, is going to help you reduce the chance of depression (and other mental health complications), and may improve skill sets related to communication, creativity, and time management as well. You might even get to make some money on the side.
5. Critical thinking. Finally, being a fan improves your critical thinking abilities (and in most cases, your attention to detail). Think about your favorite franchise, and the last book, movie, or episode that came out in it. When you first experienced that media, how did you react? Did you re-experience it as much as possible by re-reading or re-watching? Did you obsess over little details? Did you think about all the ways the rest of the plot could carry out? Of course you did. Your passions have given you plenty of practice dissecting things like personal motives, narrative structure, and probably even design choices. Now, whether you apply this critical thinking to a world beyond your favorite fantasy series is up to you—but the skills are certainly there.
Of course, there’s always the possibility of pushing things too far. In extreme cases, fandom can lead to an unhealthy obsession. For example, in a trend originated by an intentional hoax, dozens of teenage fans physically harmed themselves in an effort to persuade Justin Bieber to stop smoking marijuana. Fans of other franchises resort to trolling, messages of hate, and physically violent threats when their beloved franchises make moves they aren’t fully behind—like when Doctor Who recently announced casting a female Doctor.
Still, for most people, contributing to a fandom and immersing yourself in all its nerdy glory is a good thing. You’ll find new friends, you’ll have something to get excited about, and you might even improve yourself in the process.