Why Do I Cosplay? Let Me Count The Ways

Why Do I Cosplay? Let Me Count The Ways
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The past couple of weeks have run the gamut from disheartening to encouraging, but predominantly enlightening. I’ve learned lessons about others, about myself, and about the industry and hobby I pour my heart into. I feel that I’m a stronger individual and professional coming out the other side.

Despite the turbulence, I’m incredibly happy with the calibre of discussions that ignited from my blog, as visibility is important to facilitating change in both the game industry and the enthusiast cosplay community. That being said, after a few initial bullet points the game industry aspect of my original post isn’t at the heart of what I’d like to tackle today.

BUT FIRST…

I’d like to quickly get a few follow-ups out of the way:

  • I am not a model. I am also not a professional cosplayer. I am a Community & Communications Manager at a game studio, and prior to that an Associate Editor at Game Informer magazine. I’ve worked in the game industry since graduating from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Graphic Design and a minor in Journalism & Mass Communications. Cosplay is a passion, not an occupation. And while I love the collaborative and creative nature of modelling, I’ve made it clear that I’m not interested in making money or a name for myself in that particular industry. My heart is, and will always be, in gaming.
  • On a related note, some of the backlash from my blog was due to an accusation that speaking out was a ploy to further my “cosplay or modelling career”. I can’t prevent this line of thinking from individuals who judge my worth exclusively upon a photo they pick that speaks to their agenda. In reality however, I have a personal policy against monetising my cosplay endeavours, or imparting a competitive component to my hobby. Selling photos or charging for appearances could help recoup some of the massive costs associated with constructing costumes, but I fear that incentivising cosplay with money could detract from the real reason I do what I do. I don’t take any issue with those who make money from their passion projects, but it’s not an approach I personally take.
  • Yes, I’ve openly admitted that cosplaying may to a degree adversely influence my professional career in the game industry. Happily, most professionals I meet enjoy that I cosplay, as it is often seen as an external representation of my fandom and passion for the gaming culture. Others find it harder to take me seriously when a Google search reveals my costumed capers. That being said, I made a conscious decision years ago to continue cosplaying, as it would be disingenuous to who I am to stop. I’ve written more in-depth about this decision here.
  • In regards to the unfortunately common “stop playing sexy dress up time if you want men to treat you as a person” line of thinking, I fundamentally disagree with this perspective. How one dresses shouldn’t determine the degree of dignity and respect you impart on them. Period. That being said, I want to clarify that I don’t often mix my career and cosplay. All the aforementioned instances of harassment from my blog took place at professional game industry events, where I dress in a professional manner. So to those who implied that my bare midriff inspired the CEO to express his interest in impregnating me – it was covered. I don’t make a habit of wearing risqué clothing to work. But even if I had made a decision to show a bit of skin, the comment wouldn’t have been more deserved, or less repugnant.

The above line of thinking directly ties into the root of this blog, which is a means of rebutting one of the most common sentiments expressed in response to my original post. Ready for it?

Cosplayers dress up for the singular purpose of attracting and satisfying the male gaze.

There seems to be an impression from those external to the cosplay community that the hobby is sexual at its core. Can cosplay be sexy? Absolutely. To assume that sexy is the endgame for all who participate, though, is very misguided. Drilling deeper, the belief I’m seeing echoed is that we craft costumes with the ultimate goal of being objectified by male strangers. This line of thinking is reductive in the most basic sense, as it boils the pool of participants down to heterosexual females or homosexual men. In reality the motivations for cosplaying are as diverse as cosplayers themselves.

Why I Cosplay

I cosplay for many reasons, none of which are to attract sexual attention. So what motivates me to dress as fictional characters for fun?

  1. I’m a Fan. I love video games. I adore comics. I’m getting drawn deeper into the world of anime and manga on a daily basis. I live in reality. I want to play in worlds where airships exist and magic is real and superheroes take to the sky to save the day. Game developers and comic publishers give me this opportunity. They create incredible playgrounds in which I can let my imagination run wild. The triumphs, tribulations, weaknesses and strengths of their characters turn a mirror to myself and inspire me to be a better person. Specific to video games, I think our industry is a convergent type of entertainment that literally has the ability to change the world. With this in mind it’s no wonder that their work stirs something inside me. It’s no surprise I want to pay tribute to their creativity. Stepping into the shoes of a character I admire is empowering. It’s an incredible feeling to manifest fantasy into reality. This fandom is also why I run Game Informer’s Cosblog and Croft Couture. I want to celebrate the work of others as much as I want to participate. Cosplayers make my world a more vivid, colourful and fantastical place. I expect many of my peers feel the same.
  2. I’m Creative. If I’m behind a desk for too long I’ll start to get antsy. I need to keep my artistic tank from running low or I go nutty. Sometimes I draw or paint. Sometimes I take photographs. Sometimes I weld. Sometimes I make jewellery. Sometimes I model. Sometimes I customise toys. Most of the time, however, I make costumes. Why? Because much like gaming is the convergence of so many entertainment mediums, cosplay is the convergence of so many artistic mediums. Those who imply cosplay is merely about attention look at the hobby as a destination, and not a journey. I’ve highlighted a few of my creative triumphs in the photos above. Though cosplay I’ve learned to make armour from thermoplastics. I’ve tackled leatherworking by cutting, dying, stamping, and finishing raw animal hides. I’ve experimented with wig styling and special effects makeup. I’ve levelled up my meagre sewing skills. I’ve worked with foam and wood and metal and even carbon fibre. I’ve dyed fabric and distressed props and nearly perfected my battle damage techniques. That being said, I still have so much to learn. I want to try vacuum forming. I want to successfully cast objects from a custom mould. I want to try out 3D printing and finally master sewing a freaking zipper on straight. By constructing costumes I’ve expanded my artistic horizons further than I could have ever imagined. The creativity and craft applications in cosplay are only limited by your imagination, and I’m nowhere near tapping out.
  3. I’m social. Not surprising considering my current vocation, right? Cosplay allows me to be social on multiple fronts. I enjoy collaborating on costumes with friends and taking lessons from artisans in order to improve my craft. I love meeting up with cosplayers from across the world as we converge on the same city for a convention. And I love chatting with fellow fans on the show floor about our shared interests. That’s what’s so great about cosplay. You are literally wearing your fandom on your sleeve. Cosplay is an instant icebreaker. Mutual adoration of a character or a franchise gives you something in common with people you’ve never even met. I’ve made incredibly fulfilling friendships through chance encounters while in costume, and am a better person for having those individuals in my life.
  4. I enjoy the attention. Yes, I do appreciate the attention that my cosplay exploits bring, but not in the nefarious way some try to frame it. Attention isn’t the ultimate goal, but rather a really nice windfall. When I invest over a grand and several months of my life in constructing a costume, I swell with pride when others notice my hard work. It makes me feel wonderful to be told that I’ve successfully paid tribute to a universe I love. The attention from franchise fans, fellow cosplayers, and especially creators is incredible. I devolved into fits and giggles more than once when a creator retweeted a piece of my work. When Paul Dini noticed my Lady Two-Face? Died. Notice that sexually charged attention isn’t a motivation for why I cosplay. I understand that it may be a byproduct, and as long as conduct remains respectful I take it in stride. It certainly isn’t a conscious goal on my end though.

Since You Brought Up Sexy…

In response to my previous blog, I was quizzed repeatedly on how I feel when I do get sexual attention from men or women while in costume. The line of questioning was especially aggressive from those who asserted that I was asking for lewd behaviour by dressing a specific way.

To be totally frank, I didn’t much mind sexual attention when I first started cosplaying eight or so years ago. I was also much younger then, and hadn’t faced some of the challenges I’d later come across in my professional career. I’ve become less comfortable with this sort of attention over the years, and as a result have begun to gravitate towards strong rather than traditionally sexy characters.

I’m fairly certain cosplaying as Mad Moxxi is what turned the tide. Borderlands is one of my favourite games of this generation. Dressing up as Moxxi seemed the perfect tribute to showcase my fandom. Not to mention, the idea of stepping into the stilettos of a psychopath seemed like fun. I modified a bit of Moxxi’s design for modesty sake, commissioned part of the costume, and made the rest. When I debuted the costume at SDCC 2010 I had an absolute blast prancing about in it. However, when my photos were showcased on a popular blog the comment section devolved into a discussion about my breast size in relation to the character. We’re talking over a hundred comments. It felt really gross. I wasn’t a person. I was a specimen.

So while wearing Moxxi was fun, it helped me establish my comfort zone. While I still enjoy leggy ensembles or a v-neck top from time to time, I much prefer badass to suggestive characters. I’d rather be complemented on my craftsmanship than my cleavage. If someone does find something I wear sexy (a totally subjective term, as I’ve been called sexy while dressed as Lady Two-Face) I still expect common decency and respect in our exchanges. If I catch someone stealing a glance, I’m not going to make a fuss. It’s when the scenario becomes degrading and dehumanizing that I take issue, and when I have resolved to take a stand.

Let me be perfectly clear. This isn’t an attack on sexy. I actually appreciate both men and women in this capacity. This is rather my personal cosplay mantra, forged from both my unique personality and life experiences. But just as cosplayers participate in the hobby for a variety of reasons, we all have our own comfort zones. Respect should be the rule, not the exception. I hold this equally true for conservatively dressed fans on a show floor as I do for cosplayers who earn cash taking off costumes via paid websites or burlesque performances. A mutual, mature exchange between consenting adults is fine in my book, as long as the aforementioned respect remains intact.

So What Unites Us?

So yes, cosplay can be sexy. I feel strongly that “sexy” isn’t the thread that unites us, however. I don’t pretend to speak for all cosplayers, but throughout the years I’ve been made privy to many motivations.

Some consider cosplay little more than a hobby. Others have transformed their passion into a career and make a living off merchandise, commissions, or paid convention appearances.

Some cosplayers invest thousands and thousands of dollars into their costumes. Others craft outfits out of cardboard.

Some cosplayers collaborate with groups, each playing to their strengths and achieving incredible results. Other prefer to work alone, fabricating every part of their ensembles.

Some cosplayers dress up for the love of the character. Others dress up for the challenge of the costume.

Some cosplayers take on personas that echo their own. Others use dressing up as a chance to step into the role of a polar opposite.

Some cosplayers won’t leave the hotel unless they are covered head to toe. Other cosplayers show skin whenever possible.

So what unites us? In the eight years I’ve spent a part of this community, I’ve found that passion, fandom, and courage are the bonds we share.

Ultimately, the above illustrates my primary objective in writing this blog. Cosplayersare complex. People are complex. While I understand that snap judgments come to us unsolicited at times, what marks you as a better person is making the choice not to act on them. To treat individuals as just that. If you decide to dismiss an entire fandom based on misguided notions like the above, you’re the one poorer for it.


Editor’s Note: This blog post is a response to an earlier piece, which told the story of an interaction between cosplayers and a member of the gaming press at the recent PAX East. It can be read here. This post was republished with permission from Marie’s blog.

Comments

  • It’s really sad how misogynistic the gaming world (and the internet in general) is. Not to say that this sort of thing doesn’t happen outside the gaming world but it just seems so much more prevalent. I guess that’s what happens in a medium that’s traditionally male dominated. I would like to ask these misogynists, why? You do realise that going up to a chick and basically saying, hey, I love your tits, let’s fuck is weird right? Heck, I would feel uncomfortable if a girl came up to me out of the blue and started saying that she loved my cock and wanted to have sex with me. Think about it, she doesn’t know you, she doesn’t know where you’ve been, she doesn’t know if you’re crazy and whatnot.

    The archaic view that women who are skantly dressed are asking for it is a tricky one. Although a small part of me agrees with the reasoning, a lot of me realises that a lot of women dress like that not because of attention seeking but because they like to dress like that (and are confident enough to do so). Have any decent conversation with a girl about it and you’ll see it’s true. Ok, yes, a lot of girls (and guys) do risque cosplay because they like being checked out, but not everyone. We need to get that through our heads.

  • Time for honesty. Most guys will fantasise about banging pretty much every cosplayer they see. But at the same time most of us are smart enough to keep it to ourselves. Its the guys who externalise their internal thoughts that cause the trouble.

    If you approach me wearing anything remotely sexy then yes, im looking and thinking about it. Im just doing my best to make it look like im not.

    • To clarify, there’s a lot of ‘This is the way it is BECAUSE I SAY IT IS SO’ going on here.

      It’s ignorant of the fact that, even though you may disagree, other people will see the same things differently and there are indeed ways to bridge that gap without simply dictating and expecting the world to accept.

      It also requires more fundamental honesty – in the PAX issue, I believe Megan (in an official role) was ‘hosting’ a Tomb Raider cosplay event. In an entirely separate line of consideration from the obvious sexism displayed by the ‘journalist’ the question should still be considered about the role of objectification in terms of generating money for a company.

      If you boil things down, that is getting relatively close to the root of the issues in the gaming sector.

      It requires a certain kind of honesty to examine why game company-hosted/sponsored events tend to have a subset of female appearance on display that doesn’t equivate to:

      a) The ratio of females in society in general
      b) The ratio of females in the gaming community
      c) The ratio of female body sizes in both of the above
      d) The ratio of accepted ‘attractive’ features across all of the above
      e) The ratio of racial stereotypes across all of the above

      and so on.

      At the end of the day, it’s T&A because it sells. And whether you are selling a game, yourself or anything else, you need to be fully cognisant of the full range of issues you draw in when you CHOOSE to employ physical desirability as a sales tool, and the impact on those of differing mindsets who you may impact.

      Which of course also applies to those who find T&A an attractive sales point and to what degree it influences their behaviour in terms of their own actions and those that impact others.

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