In Excess

Gambling, Gaming and Extreme Behavior

Pony Play Station

A brief look at the weird and wonderful world of Bronies

Over the years, I have been contacted a number of times by the national British media asking for a soundbite about whether someone can become addicted to a particular television programme. Some academics have even carried out scientific research. For instance, back in 1997, Dr. Sandy Wolfson carried out a survey amongst Star Trek fans (so-called ‘Trekkies’). I saw her present her paper at a British Psychological Society conference and it got a lot of national press publicity (Star Trek is an addictive enterprise, Trekkies ‘hooked like addicts, Star Trek worse than heroin?). However, as far as I can ascertain, Dr. Wolfson never formally published her findings in an academic journal. At the time, she reported (to the press) that:

“Some of these people are totally immersed in the activity. [The] research shows that about 5 to 10 percent of (Trek) fans meet the psychological criteria of addiction. They show withdrawal symptoms such as agitation and frustration if they miss an episode and develop higher tolerance levels, so they need increasing doses. They see so many positive benefits psychologically from being a Star Trek fan. Loads have met friends and even spouses through Star Trek. People who are normally a bit tongue-tied find it a good source of conversation. People also feel they get a lot of intellectual benefits. It's a very moral kind of show. Each episode has some kind of ethical dilemma which gives people a lot to think about. I would use the term positive addiction for addictions where people feel they have a positive effect. Star Trek does seem to be something people feel has a positive influence on them and society. It makes them happy"

One story that caught my eye recently was the story of 32-year old Luke Allen, an unemployed computer programmer from Albuquerque (New Mexico, US) who “self-medicates by watching animated ponies have magical adventures”. And he’s not alone as a feature in Wired magazine noted that there was a whole adult male fan community – so called "Bronies"’ (bro ponies) – that are fixated on daily watching of the cartoon My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic. Luke Allen noted:

"First we can't believe this show is so good, then we can't believe we've become fans for life, then we can't believe we're walking down the pink aisle at Toys R Us or asking for the girl's toy in our Happy Meal. Then we can't believe our friends haven't seen it yet, then we can't believe they're becoming bronies too. This weird alchemy that [the show’s creator] Lauren Faust tapped into when she set out to make the show accessible to kids and their parents hooks into the male geek's reptilian hindbrain and removes a lifetime's behavioural indoctrination against pink. As a person with Asperger's syndrome, I learned more about theory of mind, friendships and social interactions from this season than I had in the previous 31 years of life." 

Most of us have favourite television shows that we don’t like to miss (The Sopranos, Prison Break and A Very Peculiar Practice being my own all-time favourites). However, My Little Pony appears to be (for many people) an “unlikely object of fanboy love”. The Wired article reported that: 

“Since the show debuted [in 2010] on cable channel Hub TV, it's attracted a growing number of male fanatics. Their love of the show is internet neo-sincerity at its best: In addition to watching the show, these teenage, twenty- and thirtysomething guys are creating pony art, posting fan videos on YouTube and feeding threads on 4chan (and their own chan, Ponychan). They also risk life, limb and being trolled to death on the /co/ board to fawn over a small gaggle of ponies with names like Twilight Sparkle, Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash”.

Another self-confessed Brony, Henri Yount, a 20-year-old male from Virginia who gets hundreds of thousands of hits on TouTube for his homemade My Little Pony mash-up videos said:

“I believe the fan base for this new generation of [My Little Pony] is one of the most amazing/unexpected things to come out of the internet in a long while. When I say "amazing," I'm referring to the crazy amount of content and the hard-working people who produce material every day, which I haven't seen in many other fan bases”.

I had a quick look on YouTube myself and couldn’t believe the number of videos that have been posted and (more unbelievably) how many views they get (yes, I’m jealous). There’s also lots of artwork on the deviantArt website (around 100,000 pieces of art), and there are also a number of dedicated websites (Equestria Daily and PonyChan) being the most popular. Equestria Daily is run by another ‘brony’ (Shaun, a 23-year old male from Arizona, US). Shaun was also quoted in the Wired article and said:

“If someone were to have told me I'd be writing a pony blog seven months ago, I would have called them insane [but] it has, obviously, evolved way past that. The brony hub gets roughly 175,000 page views per day now, up from about 20,000 just a few months ago. I honestly expected everything to die down a bit (mainly so I could finally get a break!), but it seems like the fans are more ravenous than ever for more content".

According to the many fanboys, My Little Pony’s appeal is down to good illustration, good stories, excellent characters or, as Luke Allen puts it, a "perfect storm of '80s nostalgia and cultural irony". It will come as no surprise that there is no empirical research on bronies and the only academic paper I found in my research was one by Walton Wood (in a 2011 issue of the journal Image Text: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies) although I personally found the media articles more enlightening on the phenomena than Wood’s essay. I seriously doubt that bronies will ever be the focus of mainstream psychological research although studying bronies may be useful as an adjunct to the psychological study of fanship (something that I briefly covered in an article on "fanorexia" and whether being a fanatic can be addictive). 

References and further reading

Angel, R. (2012). Adult male My Little Pony fans? Bronies are true rebels. The Guardian, October 1. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/01/my-little-pon...

Hoffberger, C. (2011). Becoming a brony: 1 man’s foray into ‘My Little Pony’ fandom. The Daily Dot, October 12. Located at: http://www.dailydot.com/society/becoming-brony-my-little-pony-fan...

Lelis, L. (1998). Normality…the final frontier. Psychology Today, January 1. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199802/normality-the-fina...

Swain, H. (1997). Drive warps Trekkies. Times Higher Education, June 13. Located at: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=100394&...

Watercutter, A. (2011). My Little Pony corrals unlikely fanboys known as ‘Bronies’. Wired, September 6. Located at: http://www.wired.com/underwire/2011/06/bronies-my-little-ponys/

Wikipedia (2012). ‪My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fandom‬. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Little_Pony:_Friendship_Is_Magic_...

Wood, W. (2011). The Empirical Twilight: A Pony's Guide to Science & Anarchism. Image Text: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies, 6(1). Located at: http://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/archives/v6_1/wood/

Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit in the Psychology Division at Nottingham Trent University (UK).

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