You know: there can be only one. In the geek community, there is an unfortunate phenomenon that stipulates cosplayers have to be 'the best', or else they get lumped into 'the rest'. For a hobby that is so creative, cosplay can also be incredibly competitive — and not just when it comes to organised competitions. Cosplay has a problem, and it needs to change.
Here's a story for you: back when I was 16, I made a Zero Suit Samus cosplay (that, somehow, I am still quite well known for). It was a pretty good time for me as a newish cosplayer — I had my photo taken by photographers who had actual DSLR cameras (where previously almost all my cosplay photos had been taken on my mum's old point-and-shoot), I performed in my first cosplay skit on stage and I even appeared in one of Good Game's first cosplay segments.
Things were looking up for 16-year-old Hayley, and it got even better when someone linked an article on my DeviantArt page that proclaimed something to the effect of: Hayley Elise Is The Best Zero Suit Samus Ever. Obviously it was great news. Me? The best? Maybe I can put this on my resume! Of course, it could never last. Little did I know that this was during the period that some deemed to call the 'Samus Cosplay Wars'. It was a golden age of Samus cosplay, with a shiny new costume turning up every week from all corners of the globe. But as it turned out, there could only be one.
It would have been barely two weeks later when a new post came up on my feed: This Cosplayer Is The New Queen Of Samus Cosplay (again, an approximate title — but you get the idea). Just like that I had been dethroned. It didn't seem fair that I only got to be number one for such a short time, so obviously the only option was to begin plotting my comeback. A new Samus cosplay, extreme and exciting photoshoots, anything that would get me back up there at the top. It was a Samus obsession — which, if you know me, is really nothing new, except that it was a Samus obsession for all the wrong reasons. I just wanted to be better than the other guys.
Photo by Pixelninja
This instance has probably stuck with me the longest because there was an unusually high number of 'This Samus Cosplayer Is The Best' 'No This Samus Cosplayer Is The Best' articles and debates popping up during that time (and yes, even Kotaku was guilty of this), but this Highlander complex was — and continues to be — a big problem in an already problematic community. It's a constant 'who wore it best' between cosplayers, which is only made worse when you're basically guaranteed to be cosplaying the same character as at least one other person (and anywhere up to half the population of the convention if you're cosplaying as Elsa or Daenerys).
Even five years after the infamous Samus Cosplay Wars of 09/10, I'm still running into this way of thinking in the community — both from cosplay enthusiasts and the cosplayers themselves. The simple act of sharing a talented cosplayer on my Facebook page is often enough to spark the debate that no one asked for. "Another cosplayer wore it better" claims one commenter, "I'd rather see YOU cosplay this" says another with misguided loyalty, completely missing the point.
Photo by George Wong
What's more, the problem can be even worse when it's perpetuated by cosplayers. Some people may consider themselves unable to cosplay a character they like, simply because their friend called dibs on it first. Others still decide that someone has done them a great injustice simply by having the gall to cosplay their character — as though having other people make the same costume somehow devalues the experience for all of them. This great age of geekdom is seeing multiple international and highly regarded cosplay competitions being hosted across the globe, from the World Cosplay Summit to our very own Madman Nationals - so why can't cosplayers keep the competition to the stage?
Recently, all-around legend Amy Schumer was seen on Twitter calling out the outdated question of 'who wore it best' on the red carpet. In the unfortunate absence of an Amy Schumer in the cosplay community, I'm just going to say it: Can we please stop pitting cosplayers against each other?
Because, you know what? Those Samus cosplayers whom I was determined to beat back in the day? They're actually pretty damn amazing. You've probably seen Yukilefay's stellar Samus cosplay if you've been anywhere near the internet in the past five years, but her costume is only made better by the fact that she made it all for under $350. You can hardly even buy a modern console for $350, yet this resourceful cosplayer has built herself an entire power suit on that budget.
Pixelninja was another one of the unwilling participants of the Samus Cosplay Wars, who's done at least four different iterations of our favourite space heroine. She even built herself a swanky purple Gravity Suit — presumably hindered by the need to explore extensive underwater areas — which to the best of my knowledge is still the only one of its kind. Not many are game to brave the vibrant purple colour palette.
More recently, amazing Samus cosplayers have continued to pop up, despite the eight year drought of Metroid games (yes, you read that right) — and each have added something new to the character. Take Phavorianne for instance, who somehow turned 8 bits of Metroid classic Justin Bailey into a stunningly well realised costume, green hair and all.
Or Maddi Mcfly Cosplay who turned up to PAX Prime this year rocking a retro sci-fi Bombshell Samus design straight out of George Jetson's wet dreams.
Photo by David Ngo
Take any of the cosplayers who've put together an amazing Samus cosplay - Zero Suit, Varia Suit or otherwise. When it comes right, right down to it, no one would bother with the huge investments of both time and money that cosplay demands if they didn't love the source. As it turns out, these Samus cosplayers were never really knocking each other off the No. 1 spot on the podium. They were building on each other's successes, and contributing to the fandom of a series that is already sorely lacking in art where Samus is clothed at all.
If you look past the all the hyper-competitive language, we are all just geeks who want to pay homage to our favourite badass lady bounty hunter by donning her outfit and snapping some cool pictures. Instead of arguing over who's the best, we should all — whether cosplayer or fan — just bond over the things that we obviously share a great love for.
(And yes, I did take this opportunity to fill an article with Samus cosplayers. You're welcome.)