Unfiction: Parasocial Artforms

An increasingly relevant phenomenon in online media is the idea of “Para-sociality” and para-social relationships. Parasocial relationships are relationships that are 1 way and are unreciprocated due to the medium. For example, a creator can show vulnerability or express genuine appreciation, in turn, the viewer connects with the creator and feels more intimate with the creator despite the creator knowing nothing of the viewer. This breaking down of walls within the medium is often used derogatorily as an insult because it is seen as unhealthy and inherently unreciprocated. On the contrary, I would like to examine how this phenomenon can be used in art to enhance viewers' emotional investment and deliver experiences unique to this medium.

The specific art I would like to examine is the “Un-fiction” Genre on YouTube. “Un-fiction” is a type of media that portrays itself to be like a typical piece of content on the platform, (vlog, let's play, hobbyist, etc.). when secretly it has been planned out as an art project and is at least partially staged.

The “Un” in un-fiction is due to the fact that they appear to be really participating in the medium as if they are just another user making content sincerely. The viewer who is informed will soon recognize (due to supernatural, unlikelihood of events, or general intuition) that this is fictional and the creator on screen is a character within the narrative. Despite this knowledge, there is a level of intimacy that is formed that enables suspension of disbelief slightly more than your average film or other forms of media.

This intimacy, I argue, is the para-sociality breaking down viewer and author barriers; if done correctly the viewer may have no barriers at all as they will sincerely believe what is shown to them. This relationship is complicated as often the author of the project is distinguished from the character within the narrative.

In YouTube, these channels often present the main character (sometimes the author themselves) as owning the YouTube channel and sincerely experiencing the events that occur. They often request help from their community or explain to their audience the events that occurring as if they were a normal user of the platform.

These are often horror and played sincerely but they leave some ambiguity about how real the content is. Since the call to action is done directly in character and they never break character; there is some leveraging para-sociality to make the narrative more unsettling. A great example of this is the unfinished series “Seventybroad”. A plot summary of events can be given here at this link from the channel inside a mind Summary of seventy broad



The beginning of the series is portraying a young man who has committed a murder and is now on the run. The author midway through the series breaks the sincerity of the project as the creator of the project says he was being kicked out of university for having a gun in the video. To make matters worse he then becomes homeless and is living out of his vehicle and has a mugging in the live stream.

This is where the authenticity gets questioned again as viewers began to wonder if the project was actually suspended or if the author breaking “kayfabe” was also a part of the project and this depiction of the author was indeed a character as well. This suspension of disbelief induced by the para-sociality being ripped away can be quite jarring as it becomes impossible to ascertain the motives of the creator. This allows the viewer to become unsettled and more prone to discomfort as their trust has been violated, leaving them more on edge than if they had merely watched a horror film sincerely. It is the meta-ironic limbo that calls attention to the fact that it is Un-fiction that enhanced seventy broad so intensely.

One nonhorror example of this is "Diminish" a web series about "a game for my brother" as it says on the title screen and the main character (Will) plays this "rage game" platformer in the format of a “lets play”. Honestly, for some people, this may even be a spoiler to understand it as an un-fiction project because it is very convincing. this series is amazing and I highly suggest it if you have not watched it. Here is a link to the playlist you should start with Diminish - Act 1, Ep 1 - YouTube


This narrative is from the perspective of Will playing an extremely difficult platformer named “diminish” this game we later find out was made specifically for him by his sister Theo who passed from leukemia just before participating in the Olympics as a star swimmer. Will plays through the game as if he is processing his grief. The creator of the un-fiction project has independently discussed the project as an art project and that it was indeed not created by his dead sister.

The intimacy of the medium and the let’s play format allows one to get more invested in the emotional roller coaster and processing of the grief as it feels more “real” despite being explicitly fake. This para sociality is weaponized to emphasize emotional beats and when Will's gameplay mimics his progress emotionally, the effect is felt as if will the creator is going through it. Theo will hide dialogue where she is talking directly to Will and pushing him to grow as well as dark thoughts she has as she grapples with her own impending mortality.

The viewer treats the experience as a typical let’s play at points allowing for the normal parasociality involved with a let’s play to set in. In addition, Will’s progress in becoming a better performer (in character) as a live streamer and adding in better editing skills shows his emotional growth. As a viewer, the Parasocial relationship with Will enhances these triumphs and deepens the sorrow.

There is an added layer with Theo being the game developer, as Will, the creator created the game in reality. The game itself is almost a character of Theo which adds another layer of deception that the author is trying to portray. The character will (played by the author) is playing a game made by his sister (made by the author). These levels of the distance involved make the simplest solution when experiencing this is to suspend the idea of the project being unfiction entirely and to submit to parasociality.

Overall, the stigma attached to Para sociality is understandable however it can also be a tool to enhance art development and offer rich complexity to narratives that were previously impossible due to medium constraints.

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