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Setting as a Character

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"Sometimes I feel like my only friend
Is the city I live in, City of Angels,
Lonely as I am, together we cry..."
Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Under the Bridge"

In most works, the setting is static. A backdrop against which the world itself is painted. The world affects the characters, but it doesn't interact with them. These works are different. Sometimes the setting itself is a character in the work. It interacts with the characters. Reacts to what they do. It's almost like the setting understands the characters, and is one itself.

This is most likely when the setting is some kind of ship. Spaceships and large boats are good for breaking down at inopportune moments, then starting right back up after the mechanic sweet talks them. It's also common, especially in Film Noir and stylistic pastiches thereof, to talk about The City as a being which, much like a living organism, is made up of millions of subsystems going about their own business to form an emergent whole. Any sort of setting that functions as a character in the narrative works though.

Note: This is NOT Genius Loci, a location that actually is a living being. The landscape isn't actually alive, it just acts like it at times. When the setting is a space ship, don't confuse it with Sapient Ship (a ship that thinks and talks) or a Living Ship (an example of Organic Technology).

See also: Companion Cube.


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     Anime and Manga 

  • Space Battleship Yamato: the Yamato is the main character of the show. It is the ship's fighting spirit that enables their amazing victories.
  • One Piece: the Merry Go is was considered a character. It has been featured on the title page (a spot reserved for the Straw Hat Crew), crew members have caught brief glimpses of a shadowy spirit-like figure fixing it(self), and, at one point, came seemingly out of nowhere to save the crew from certain doom. It even had some last words to say to the crew just before it died.
  • The eponymous air force base in all adaptations of Area 88.

     Comic Books 

  • Sin City is the main character of the series according to Word of God. The protagonists refer to the city as a living being metaphorically, mentioning how she thinks and acts. The city is also said to have a negative effect on peoples' state of mind.
  • Many Batman comics have the characters (especially James Gordon and Batman himself) discussing the city in their narration. They tend to treat it as a person (usually a 'she') and talk about their love/hate relationship with it and its affects on them and everyone else.
  • Astro City is the happier version of the above example. The city inspired much more hope and awe, mostly due to being a City of Adventure.


  • Event Horizon: the eponymous spaceship went To Hell and Back and has become an Eldritch Location. Though it doesn't appear sentient, it seems to act as a malevolent force.
  • In The Hangover 2, people keep saying of a missing person, "Bangkok's got him!" One of the main characters wonders why people keep phrasing it that way.
  • Screenwriting guru Syd Field argues that the main character of the 1976 movie Network, is the network.


  • Discworld:
    • A sailboat has proved "alive" enough to have an actual post-death existence.
    • Ankh-Morpork would definitely count as well, especially in the Night Watch books. Various characters have described the city as a Brilliant, but Lazy Loveable Rogue, who is utterly filthy, has a love/hate relationship with royalty, and shies away from conflict so it can defeat enemies via either bribery or assimilation.
    • Lancre itself is a much more overt example of this trope, yearning for a king.
  • In Dragon Bones, Castle Hurog is Powered by a Forsaken Child, Oreg, who is the castle. That was done intentionally, by an evil sorcerer. However, the surrounding lands were magical well before that, and reacted with a series of natural disasters when a dragon was slain. Hurog also has a negative impact on the inhabitant's minds, with which Oreg has nothing to do. (It could be the magic of the place reacting to the cruelty that was done to him, though, that's not clear.)
  • Codex Alera: Captain Demos' ship, the Slive, is one giant wood fury; as such, Demos is able to manipulate it to give himself an advantage in nearly any fight that occurs on it.
  • In Lois Lowry's Messenger, Forest, an actual forest, is discussed as a character with a capitalized name. It kills people, seemingly at random, sometimes with a warning afterwhich the person can't enter without fear of death. It also changes and can grow plants very fast.
  • In The Slow Regard of Silent Things, everything in the Underthing is referred to as a character, from the rooms to an old belt buckle.

     Live-Action TV 

  • Firefly: Played with in the final episode when River tricks the bounty hunter Jubal Early into believing that Serenity, the ship which is constantly anthropomorphised throughout the series, is actually alive, and that she has become a part of it.
    • The metaphorical meaning also applies - Whedon considered the ship to count as a main character (just ahead of River's feet).
    • One of the DVD collection's special features is titled "Serenity: The Tenth Character".
  • Stargate Universe: Destiny, the Ancient ship that's home to the main characters. While it's not actually sentient (we think), it had enough quirks and foibles to fall into the category within the first few episodes. For the first season, the ship navigates on its own and runs 90% of functions without the crew's input, based on parameters set by the Ancients that the main characters can't figure out. In season 2, we learn that the ship can affect brain waves to cause dreams and hallucinations.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: USS Enterprise, NCC-1701, was a big part of Engineer Scott's appeal as well; he served as her advocate amongst the cast and was most directly responsible for her life-saving bursts of energy.
  • The Streets of San Francisco: Series creator Quinn Martin said that the city of San Francisco was "the third star of the series", after Karl Malden and Michael Douglas (who played the two cops who were ostensibly the leads of the show).


  • The Protomen, refer to The City as a character, in both Act I and Act II. A city that's asleep and in darkness but that will be woken up. It doesn't wake up though.
  • The Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under the Bridge", a love song to Los Angeles... and heroin.

     Video Games 

  • Silent Hill: "Silent Hill" seems to have a personality, doubled by the fact that it bases its forms by the heart of those that enter.
  • The city of Kirkwall grows and changes over the course of Dragon Age II, though it's a particularly dark example in that it seems to actively resist Hawke's attempts to make it a better place.

Alternative Title(s): Ship As A Character