Database for Animation Studies


The Gollum Problem: Empathy and Digital Characters in Cinema

In her article ‘The soul factor: Deception in intimations of life in computer-generated characters’ (2009), Kathryn S Egan argues that digital characters in cinema have no soul and are incapable of being empathized with. For evidence, Egan assesses the character of Gollum from Peter Jackson’s adaptations of The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001–2003, NZ, USA). This article finds, however, that there are many who have empathized with Gollum, in direct contradiction to Egan’s findings. The author argues that Egan produces academic scholarship rather than phenomenological research, and that there is an opening for empathizing with and relating to digital characters such as Gollum. He posits that further research is required in the area of mediated characters and relationships, and that more precise language is required around terms like ‘empathy’ to accurately communicate the nuance in relationships between real people and digital or artificial characters. In addition, he suggests a term, ‘directed empathy’, to evoke the kind of empathetic relationship that exists between digital characters and viewers.

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Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal
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