When I was five years old, I wanted to be strong. I wanted to be like Rambo, He-Man, Hulk Hogan, or someone that exemplified an epic hero. But was it muscles? I daydreamed of being a phenomenal athlete like Michael Jordan or Bo Jackson. I read comics about Captain America and Wolverine and wanted their abilities and superpowers. I envisioned myself pretending to be Arnold saving his daughter from an entire island’s military or Patrick Swayze kicking the butts of bad guys that try to shut down his bar. But was it muscles? Was it the athleticism or the fighting abilities? Not really. I just wanted to be the guy. Why did I, as a five-year-old, feel the need to be the hero? What aspects of the heroes I saw on screen and in fiction made me yearn to be like them?
We need heroes. We look up to these epic heroes because we need someone to look up to. We need someone to inspire us. In literature, an epic hero is the central character of an epic story. The larger-than-life hero pits his courage, skill, and virtue against opposing (often evil) forces. (Cue examples of Luke vs. Darth Vader, Batman vs. the Joker, Rocky vs. Ivan Drago, or even Jesus vs. the Devil.) This yearning to be a superhero or even a larger-than-life protagonist is because we want to be the hero of our own story. As kids, the attraction to pretend to be the hero is to pretend to have power, control, independence, and strength, which do not necessarily exist in the world ruled by teachers, parents, and a basic sense of reality.
But superhero play is not harmful and allows children to explore the deeper meanings of good, bad, death, life, pain, and happiness and do it in a safe environment. Psychologically speaking, the five-year-old me emulates superheroes and epic protagonists from television because of a natural desire to be strong and control my life. Aspects that even we adults feel like we do not have.