Cosplay Has A Highlander Complex

Cosplay Has A Highlander Complex

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.

Photo by Black Rabbit Photography / Hayley Elise

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.)


    • They’re all also highly talented, passionate and dedicated – physical attractiveness is probably the least important thing here

      • “physical attractiveness is probably the least important thing here”

        But it’s not, is it?

        Being highly talented, passionate and dedicated is super important for the person building the costume. No one is debating that. But the person wearing the costume? That depends entirely on the physical attributes of the person (even if it’s the same person who made the costume). After all, once you’re wearing the costume you’re a model and nothing more. Proof is simple. Get a girl with the same height to weight ratio as a washer/dryer set and put her in an actual functional zero suit. Now get a beautiful blonde model and stick her in a blue leotard. We’ll then put it to a vote. Who’ll be named the better cosplayer?

        • My view is if the cosplayer is skilled enough they can make anything work because they will build the outfit accordingly to match themselves. It’s one thing to make a mirror image of a character, it’s another to own that character and make it look like it’s something that ‘could be’. The skill at this point would be the focus rather than the attributes because it would work. It might be harder for some due to their physique, but this is all down to the skill of the individual to overcome it.

        • I think what Hayley Williams is saying is, “Please notice the whole package. Cosplay is a presentation of everything you see, not just the human inside the costume”

          I do agree with That_Guy_ that attractive people will, more or less, get the spotlight. It’s basic animal instinct to be impressed by the nicest feathers.

          It’s unfair, it sucks for a lot of people, not everyone will care about the costume itself.

          I’ve worn cosplay before. But I don’t have the budget, the creativity, the ingenuity, the talent, or the absolute dedication that these people have to build all of that from scratch, and because of that I’m always heavily impressed by their work.

        • I think what people are trying to tell you is, bluntly, nobody cares about your boner. You can totally appreciate how beautiful or attractive a cosplayer is, but consistent comments about hotness devalue everything else that person is. The cosplayer is hot in or out of costume, but the costume itself reflects innumerable hours of dedication and love.

      • Probaby going to be stating an unpopular opinion here but I will have to disagree with the ideal you’ve raised. I can appreciate the sentiment and maybe in perfect world after a few hundred generations of social evolution we’ll get to the stage where your sentiment holds genuine weight.

        However the reality of it as humanity presently stands how you look; dress; smell; speak will always have a larger impact in any human interaction over the level of talent; passion and dedication you bring to the interaction. I would argue that the physical attractiveness of the person wearing the costume is equally as important as the talent/dedication of the person making the costume if the end goal is recognition and tribute.

        On that note just because social structure currently exists like this as the norm; itdoesn’t mean people can’t make a personal effort to aspire to new standards; after all that’s basically how evolution works =]

        • I can agree with what you’re saying but I think she means it’s not what’s important here, where here is the subject of the article. Looks are obviously important to cosplay, I’d say it runs way deeper than just hot or not, but the only significance these women’s physical attractiveness has to the topic of competition between cosplayers is the pressure to best match Samus’ physical attractiveness.

  • ….aaaaaaand here’s the problem. While the cosplay community is about the art, they represent a tiny fraction of the audience – most of whom come for the t&a.

    Which is why all the ‘best’ cosplayers in mainstream press are slim white or asian girls, preferably well endowed.

  • I remember being blown away by all of those Power Armour Samus’ and still am.

    In the book Self Made Man (An excellent read, definitely recommend) the author dresses as a man for about a year and experiences the differences of their cultures. The most interesting thing to me was the way the different genders (generally) deal with competition.

    Men were much more open to helping their opponents become better so they had a better opponent to compete against, whereas women were much more likely to keep things to themselves and not help out the competition to get a better advantage.

    Obviously this is all very generalised and one persons opinion but I thought it was really interesting, and this article made me think of that, mostly because the topic dealt with here is primarily female cosplayers. Is it the same for male cosplayers? Or do they tend to be more buddy-buddy about competition?

    • I haven’t encountered much of a difference along gender lines in cosplay – I know both male and female cosplayers who are wonderful and helpful to other cosplayers, and I know both male and female cosplayers who withhold ‘their’ cosplay secrets to make sure they get ahead of the (supposed) competition. Of course there’s always been a bit of an uneven gender ratio in the cosplay community, but I think it generally comes down to the way people think about cosplay, rather than their gender.

  • The time and effort that are put into some of these costumes still amazes me.
    I had no idea how competitive it was, I thought it was about people just sharing a love and having a good time. Turns out its a lot deeper then I thought!

  • I love seeing the truly amazing costumes, but I enjoy the mashups, and clearly ‘home made’ ones even more.
    The ‘Summer Soldier’ this year was one of my faves.
    They’re all also highly talented, passionate and dedicated – physical attractiveness is probably the least important thing here

    Except that the only ones featured in your article also happen to be stunningly physically attractive, and that is often true of featured cosplay in articles, you own articles don’t feature any of these…

    I love cosplay, I like the bit of competitive feeling that makes you want to do better each year, and I don’t think there is really a problem. Walking around the floor, you see a huge range of shapes, sizes and skill levels, and lots of creativity outside of the ‘making a technically perfect recreation’. I think the only people who have the problem of being over competitive, are the ones that let themselves get caught up in it. The rest of us just do our best, have fun and enjoy it all.

    • Haha where did you see that Summer Soldier? It’s brilliant!
      Mashups, or original takes on characters are always great to see because it shows a lot of creativity.

      I think when it’s no longer Cosplay but becomes CosWORK, it spoils the fun of it all.

  • Ohhhhh, THAT’S why you looked familiar! I think I remember seeing that costume at one of the first conventions I ever went to.

    I know I’m totally guilty of this though. I’ve always tended towards more obscure characters to make costumes for, I mean primarily I’ve always said it’s because it’s more enjoyable to go to a thing and only have maybe half a dozen people recognise what you are and get super excited about it than it is to go as something everyone recognises but doesn’t really care. I mean that’s basically how I feel when I go to these things and I see a costume of something I totally wasn’t expecting anyone else to have even heard of. But at the same time I can’t deny there’s a sense of competition there, and that I just don’t want to end up being there in the same thing as someone else, so then I can avoid the whole comparison thing. Hell even just the other year at PAX I took my Manny Calavera outfit along, then on the day I went in regular clothes I spotted another Manny there. And smugly grinned to myself thinking “ha, mine was waaaay better” 😛

    • Yeah, I saw Elizabeth’s this year and thought “Eh, mine was better”.
      However, when you come up against a cosplayer that is truly amazing, I know I feel jealous. Really, my tearing down someone else’s cosplay, is just my attempt to stop myself feeling like shit. It is definitely the wrong attitude to have and I am trying to work on that.
      On the other foot, I am incredibly happy to help others as a semi-competent cosplayer. I like to help others enjoy themselves, but I am human. Flawed as I may be.

  • I think Samus in particular is a lightning rod for this stuff. There’s a huge level of craftsmanship involved in making the costume itself. There’s a very clear image of what it’s meant to look like so you can measure it really closely. It’s a lot like Iron Man or Boba Fett in that you end up wearing a replica prop. There can be a clear victor when you compare Iron Man A to Iron Man B.
    It also disconnects the comments from the cosplayer a little. I can say ‘oh, this Samus costume looks way better’ without feeling like I’m hurting anyone’s feelings because I’m referencing the costume not the person inside it. Meanwhile if I say ‘this Princess Leia looks way better’ I’ll feel like a jerk because the costume is too simple to be judging by anything other than the person inside.

  • When I see 4 or 5 of the same cosplay I just assume the multiverses have come together

    I love going to Supanova and seeing multiples of the same character being cosplayed, they all have their own identity regardless. There have been times when I think “well that person wore it better” but in the end who cares, as long as the people have fun. I cosplayed the penguin from Batman Returns last year in Brisbane and it wasn’t great but it was mine and people were nothing but positive.

  • As an “old lady cosplayer,” I really love and appreciate this point of view. Everything has been done before and will be done again, but nobody is going to do it the same way. And that’s the lovely aspect of it.

    The problem with the “best” type articles is that they value looks over nearly anything else – even if the cosplayer commissioned the costume or spent 1000 hours on it. Sure, it’s nice to be told that you’re pretty, but when it comes down to it, that doesn’t come close to acknowledging the effort that brought that costume into existence.

    • Something that really annoys me and it happens in the Melbourne cosplay community a lot. People are like “It’s my first time with Worbla!” And show a picture of something perfect.
      Not only is it discouraging for new people when thiers turns out nothing like that, but it is downright misleading.
      Worbla leaves you with burns and there’s lot of errors that can be made. Not everything ends up looking like Kamui Cosplay

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