Game of Thrones has become something of a TV event over the past six years – the last season attracted more than 5m viewers per episode. On the face of it, the attractions are obvious: large helpings of sex and violence, bolstered by a serpentine storyline said to be inspired by the War of the Roses, one of the bloodiest periods of English history.
Yet, I think the series meets deeper, more fundamental human needs than just a romp through the bedrooms and battlefields of author George R. R. Martin’s imagination. With colleagues Luca Visconti of ESCP Europe and Stephanie Feiereisen of Cass Business School, I conducted a series of semi-structured interviews with 55 people from 14 countries to get a more detailed picture of what the psychological needs are that narratives like Game of Thrones satisfy.
We found five motivations for consuming stories varying from Game of Thrones specifically to other books, documentaries and films, to paintings and frescos, to music and novels. These are: understanding the outer world, understanding the inner world, investigating the outer world, forgetting the inner world and looking after a lonely and suffering self.
1. Understanding the outer world
Game of Thrones provides insight into the lives of people in other places in other times, like the Scandinavian vikings (portrayed in the series as the Ironborn from the Iron Islands) as well as Genghis Khan and the Mongols (represented by Daenerys’ time with the horse-obsessed Dothraki). We get a glimpse of the Slave Coast of Africa with Slavers’ Bay while the various Free Cities in Game of Thrones – Lys, Braavos, Pentos, Norvos, Myr – can be found in our history books as various trading cities of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East (Alexandria, Baghdad, Constantinople, and Tyre, for example).