Reading Kendal Walton (1): Make-Believe


What kind of emotions do fiction films elicit in us? They seem to be different from everyday emotions. We do not really believe in the content of fictions — for instance, that the alien in Alien3 (1993) actually exists. And we also do not react as if the content is real — for instance, we do not bolt when the monster runs towards the camera. This sounds correct. Then why are we so often caught up while watching a film?

In “Fearing Fictions”, Kendall Walton argues that when we watch a film we participate in a game of make-believe with the fiction world. We do not believe, we make believe in what we see and hear. And it is because we do so that we voluntarily watch films like Alien3 despite our resultant horror, instead of simply avoiding its horrific monster.

Make-believe is fundamentally distinct from, for instance, half-belief or the suspension of belief. The latter presupposes an uncertainty that, according to Walton, is absent from make-believe. The model for this process is the children’s game of make-believe. Both activities follow implied rules that are accepted by the player. Both rely on the participant’s imagination to allow an engagement with what is fictional.