When Cosplay Gives You Stockholm Syndrome

At its heart, cosplay is just another kind of fan art, a way for people to show their love for a character or a series. But sometimes, the costume comes first and the love comes second — a kind of cosplay Stockholm Syndrome that comes from inhabiting a character’s skin for a day.

Ardella Cosplay by What A Big Camera

Cosplay is one of those things that takes an amazing amount of effort — from actually making your costume to researching how your character poses and acts to getting up early to applying a face full of makeup to actually wearing it for a whole day.

It’s something you don’t want to get into unless you really love the character or design, but it’s also a process that makes it easy to get attached. You’re working on one character, one costume, sometimes for upwards of six months. The process consumes you. You get obsessive.

Flashback to last year — it’s no secret I was pretty keen on last year’s kitsch teen horror Until Dawn. But like many people, I hated just as many of its whiny teens as I liked. Emily is a straight up bitch, while Jess seems to have no greater aspirations than to be ‘the other girl’. I hated her — and then I cosplayed her.

There were a couple of reasons I cosplayed Jess in particular. I wanted to play with some fun, prosthetic wound makeup, I already had the wig and her clothes were pretty generic. It was an easy two-day costume like I expected it to be — but I honestly didn’t expect to be so attached to Jess the next time I fired up Until Dawn (my opinion on Emily hasn’t changed, however).

Hayley Elise by What A Big Camera

A lot of this attachment comes from the research process, a surprisingly under-appreciated aspect of cosplay. Leading up to the convention I watched every gameplay video I could find, taking screenshots and noting anything that would make for a good photo or video. It really gave me a sense of appreciation for the finer points of Jess’s character, and playing the game later with other people (who sadly lacked that same appreciation) I found that I would defend her to the ends of the earth, if I had to — I had walked the literal mile in her shoes.

Cosplaying a character tends to blind you to that character’s flaws, especially when said characters end up being criticised by the fanbase at large. UK cosplayer Hollita describes herself as becoming “a major white knight” for anyone she cosplays, and I can’t think of a more fitting description for the protectiveness that cosplayers develop for ‘their’ characters.

Back in 2012, Game of Thrones hype was just getting real, and Season 2 was looming on the horizon. Daenerys was one of the standout characters of the first season, inspiring a veritable legion of Khaleesi cosplayers. As the second season continued on into the third the formerly strong character floundered, however, slowly becoming one of the less popular characters on the show. But if you’d told that to someone in a Daenerys costume, well… you would have been best not to try and tell that to someone in a Daenerys costume.

Hayley Elise by What A Big Camera

Cosplayers are a bit like amateur actors (emphasis on the ‘amateur’ — sorry, cosplayers) where we get into a character’s head and justify their actions, movements and personality. Hell, I’m sure even Joffrey cosplayers hold some fondness for their inspiration (though I pity them for how many ‘can I kill you for a photo’ requests they must get).

FTK Cosplay by What A Big Camera

Cosplay can make you (really, really) like a character — but why would you cosplay a character you don’t like in the first place? One of the main places you’ll find cosplay Stockholm Syndrome is in group cosplays. While huge groups look awesome together as a whole, the more cosplayers you have involved, the more people are going to have to play minor characters. But hey — you’d be surprised how many people are now obsessive over that one guy who appears in that one episode of that show.

Photo by Pireze

Other cosplayers said they had cosplayed a character that their partner liked (whether for a couple cosplay or as a special surprise), or because they particularly liked the design — the only common thread is that every cosplayer I’ve spoken to seems to have experienced this phenomenon, though no one seems to talk about it. The latter may be a matter of public perception, the fact that some think you should already love a character and know everything about them before you put on their clothes.

I’ll always be the first to admit that despite my popular Cammy costume, I’ve never picked up a Street Fighter game seriously in my life. But since a friend asked me to cosplay Cammy (who I’m pretty sure I only knew of as ‘that butt character’) to pair with the Chun Li costume she had planned, I’ve read her story a number of times, watched all her cutscenes and even the terrible Kylie Minogue movie.

In the end, Cammy is just one of many costumes that has drawn me in with a cool design and an interesting concept, only to leave me obsessing over a character I once barely knew. It’s just a part of the unique appeal of cosplay — and likely one of the reasons why cosplay itself is so addictive.

Have you ever experienced cosplay Stockholm Syndrome? Tell us about it in the comments!

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