Game of Thrones, also known by its series name A Song of Ice and Fire, gripped readers for numerous reasons. We were drawn in the by characters who, when we spent more time with them, went from being interesting to being full-blown emotionally complex beings in their own right. The story which spanned continents and was made up of hundreds of small, moving parts that all worked together to create one cohesive whole. Yet when we crunch the numbers and boil everything down to data, can we find out why these books tugged at readers so much? Writer Amanda Kooser discusses the study that brought so much attention to the importance of human connection in this groundbreaking book series in her c|net article.
George R.R. Martin has published five of the books in this expansive series now, with at least two more promised to be on the way. In the five books currently available for reading, Martin introduced readers to roughly 2,000 named characters. A group of mathematicians, physicists, and psychologists came together to see how the connections between all of these characters contributed to an even richer reading experience.
This group published an article aptly titled, “Narrative structure of A Song of Ice and Fire creates a fictional world with realistic measures of social complexity,” that details their research. The writers provided the following explanation that outlined the significance of their work: “We use mathematical and statistical methods to probe how a sprawling, dynamic, complex narrative of massive scale achieved broad accessibility and acclaim without surrendering to the need for reductionist simplifications. Subtle narrational tricks such as how natural social networks are mirrored and how significant events are scheduled are unveiled. The narrative network matches evolved cognitive abilities to enable complex messages be conveyed in accessible ways while story time and discourse time are carefully distinguished in ways matching theories of narratology.”
Readers may have noticed the significance that human connections have for this series, but this study puts it into concrete terms for fans. This team of individuals was able to show in their study how the relationships portrayed in Martin’s books mirror those that we experience in real life.
While there are over 2,000 named characters in the series thus far, this study states that “…this is facilitated by clever structuring such that each chapter is told by different POV characters, endowed with social networks containing only around 150 individuals… the story reflects experiences in the everyday social world and therefore does not overtax cognitive abilities that are evolved to match these scales.” Martin found a balance in his series that made it possible for an expansive story that involved a vast wave of social connections that did not overwhelm the reader.
The team was able to identify that the deaths of characters often occurred in a way that, for the most part, was realistic and did not strain a reader’s suspension of disbelief to an extraneous extent. Additionally, the events of the plot do seem to be random, much like how the real world seems to be plotted across a span of unpredictable events, the plot of A Song of Ice and Fire emulates a similar patterning. As concluded by the writers of this study: “Ice and Fire is very carefully structured so as not to exceed the natural cognitive capacities of a wide readership… At the same time, the storyteller has manipulated the timeline of the story in such a way as to make it continuously more appealing by making significant events seem random so as to heighten the reader’s engagement.”
Essentially, we enjoy this series because of the human relationships that each character partakes in, and because we see something of our own world in the world that the story inhabits. Granted, the story was partially based off of historical events, the fact that the important events in the story, though planned, seem to occur naturally.
To gain a full understanding and appreciation of the work that these individuals did for this study, definitely check out their article here!
Featured image via CVLT Nation