The ominous question

Fantasy is all around us. It is not just present in stories, books, movies, etc., where fantasy takes the form of a physical artefact, mostly designed to keep us entertained. Fantasy transgresses those boundaries, as it surrounds us in everyday life as well. We are constantly confronted with choices and possibilities, having to place ourselves into scenarios and decide which path we want to take (according to our, or others’ best interests). However, the choices we make leave a big number of other life paths untaken. Whether it is a date you didn’t go on or a cookie you didn’t eat, you will simply never know what would have happened…

This is usually the moment we ask ourselves the ominous question. Come on, say it with me!

What if…?

I believe many would agree with me that What if? is one of the most dangerous questions a person can ask themselves. That is, when we are talking about past real-life scenarios. If you get stuck in a loop of constantly questioning what you should have done, you will never be able to move forward.

That being said, fantasizing is not about living the imaginable and dreaming about the unimaginable. It is about diminishing human boundaries and playing with the possibilities of our own minds. Generally, adults are capable of doing so but have difficulties staying detached from reality for a longer time. Placing ourselves in someone else’s shoes who is non-existent or believing superpowers are real, hence, believing life to be fictional, is more of a child’s thing to do. In this case, for kids, asking What if? does not sound so scary. On the contrary, children use fantasy to colour everyday life when all they have to do is play. Usually, there are no serious consequences to children’s choices. Unlike for adults, kids have much less to consider when making a decision. They do not have to keep their heads cool and straight all the time, yet living life without any serious worries or regrets. That is the biggest difference between the realization of adult and child fantasizing.

Usually, these imaginary roleplaying games derive from a fictional tale they have heard or seen before, or something they got from the real world. At least, that is what I used to do. My cousin and I were major Harry Potter fans. In the summer, we used to pretend that we lived in the wizarding world and that we were characters from the world famous story. Near my family’s cottage house, there is a field with big rocks all over it that looked like the battle field where the wizarding war of the seventh book took place. He was Draco Malfoy and I was Ginny Weasley. We grabbed our wands (chopsticks) and capes (tablecloths my mom let us use) and spent entire days shouting gibberish spells at each other in the middle of a meadow. No one had to ask or answer the question Why? we only had to ask ourselves What if…?

Obviously, that was a long time ago. Even though I would love to do it again, I know it would not be the same. I wouldn’t know how to disassociate myself from real life to that level anymore. I find that ability of childhood amusing. (I know there are exceptions in adulthood, but let’s not focus on those today). I recently spoke with my nephew Ezra (E), who is three years old, to learn more about his interests and motivations for acting out imagined situations.

(I also had some help from Ezra’s mom (M), my sister, in phrasing the questions in a way that my nephew could understand.) Excuse the interview script’s sloppiness; after all, the interviewee was only three years old.)

N: Ezra, do you know what fantasy is?

E: No.

M: What do you always play in the living room? Who are you then?

E: Spiderman.

N: Why do you like to be Spiderman?

E: I am Rider from PAW Patrol.

N: Why do you like to be Rider then?

E: Because he is very-very fast.

N: And would you, Ezra, also like to be very-very fast?

E: Yes.

N: And when you are Rider, are you actually that fast?

E: Yes.

M: And what about Spiderman? Why do you like to be him?

E: Because he is extremely cool.

N: Do you want to be extremely cool as well?

E: I like to be Spiderman when we are being spikey with Noa [his 11-months-old little sister].

N: When you get into a fight?

E: Yeah…

N: Who or what would you want to be if you could be anything?

M: Who do you want to be for Halloween?

E: A dog. Because they can fly.

M: He is probably referring to Sky from PAW Patrol.

This is as far as I could keep Ezra’s attention on fantasy. Hearing his words, I think it is obvious that our imagination, while playing, just like dreaming, can always be connected to something from our memory of the real world. Ezra saw a superpower on TV and simply adapted the skill to himself. If he wants to be fast, he just pretends to be Rider from PAW Patrol and bam! he becomes fast. It is as simple as that.

That is the proper application of the question “What if?”. Because the past cannot be changed, there is no benefit to imagining what might have been. Thinking ahead, dreaming of the future, where one wants to go, what one wants to achieve, and what kind of person one wants to become are all worthwhile questions to ask. Wondering about these questions and letting our imaginations run wild with them can be a lifesaver and inspire real-life decisions. Even if you cannot spend your entire career as a wizard, you can still be a magician. Adult fantasizing can add colour to everyday life and spark new interpretations of reality. We simply need to remember how to activate our imagination again.

Designed by Giulia Cristofoli

Do you want to double-check the information you just received? Here are the sources the writer used.

Elizabeth Chapin’s TEDx Talk: “Why Fantasy Matters”

Interview with Ezra Havas Kardos (3, male)