It has been a while since my last post. Amongst other things, like making my classes super awesome for next year, I have been preparing to give a talk at Nine Worlds 2015. If you don’t know what Nine Worlds is, and are too lazy to click the link, it is basically a festival of all things nerdy. It is looking to be a great weekend with lots of amazing panels, so if you wanna join us, click here and get yerself a ticket.
If you do manage to go next weekend, please come by and say hello. I’ll be giving a talk about the problem with ‘adult’ games. This talk is partially in dialogue with my recent Analogue Game Studies article, and partially part of my larger research on sexual content in games. As much as I’d love to make this blog post all about the fun and interesting things I have discovered through hours of reading, writing, and playing, this is really a post about cosplay. Well, a love letter to be exact. You see, when I was preparing for this con, I noticed something interesting. I noticed I was spending incredible amounts of time, energy, and money preparing my cosplay when I really should have been preparing my talk. [Note: the talk is prepared now. It is awesome and not last minute and please don’t judge me!]
Each time I would sit down to my open Powerpoint presentation, I would immediately run through a checklist in my head of whether or not all parts of last year’s LonCon faun costume survived the move. In addition to the normal and expected procrastination techniques which accompany academic work, I found myself rather obsessed.
Now, there’s no denying that the faun costume is fantastic. Chaos Costumes is both a creative genius and a master of technical execution. I own a few pieces by her now and I have to say that the goat legs are by far my favourite. But aside from the fact it is super cool and I had fun last year on the Tube telling children I was heading to Narnia to meet Mr. Tumnus, I am obsessed with cosplay because I am obsessed with costuming.
Unlike Nicolle Lamerichs’s account of cosplaying in the Game Love anthology, and it should be promptly noted that this is in no way a critique of Dr. Lamerichs’s data set, my interest seems not to be bound within the pleasure of being recognised as a character from a film, game, comic, or anime. Dr. Lamerichs does a good job in highlighting the multiple pleasures of cosplaying a character and you should definitely read her chapter in the book. To pay homage to her argument (or to bastardise it, if you like), it can be summarised thusly: to feel so drawn to a character you spend vast amounts of resources on costuming is certainly about more than media fandom. It is about finding some aspect of that character desirable enough to want to not only dress like them, but to embody some other aspect of them- be it their confidence, their wit, their humour, their mischief… I know many cosplayers and costume makers who would find resonance with the experiences of Dr. Lamerichs and her participants, but I didn’t. Well, not quite.
Allow me to be clear: the aforementioned are all wonderfully fun reasons to cosplay. But these are not the reasons I do it. I don’t cosplay to demonstrate my fandom of a particular character, show, comic, book, or even genre. I don’t cosplay because I find something particularly admirable about a character or character-type. I also don’t cosplay to demonstrate the creative skill (or conspicuous wealth) required to construct amazing outfits. Maybe I don’t really cosplay at all. Maybe I do something completely different.
The reason I cosplay- if we agree to call it that- is because it looks cool and there aren’t enough opportunities to wear cool-looking stuff in public. Sure, you have LARPs, reinactments, Halloween, goth clubs, masquerade balls (which I assume is a thing, but I’ve certainly never been invited to one), and other socially-sanctioned chances to dress up, but not nearly enough opportunities to look a damn fool in a Pikachu onesie in public. So, any chance I get, I take.
This brought me to another point on the playfulness of dressing up. Of course there are many academic sources generally on this topic, but of particular interest is the idea that dress up must be sanctioned for adults. I am thinking here of the recent work by Sebastian Deterding on the alibis we make for adult play. The general idea is that for grown-ups to dress up, there must be a socially valid reason- such as the events I’ve listed above. Taken another way, as the comedian Lewis Black said to great laughter and applause:
“If you are an adult planning to wear a costume on Halloween… don’t. […] I don’t know why it was deemed to be a necessity among a group of adults who, for some reason, did not grow out of childhood. It is not an adult holiday.”
Obviously the statement above fits Mr. Black’s humour and works in the context of the stand up set. I am not about to attempt some deconstruction of a joke because I have better things to do with my time (like prep my other outfits for next weekend), but I decided to include the quote nonetheless because it encapsulates well the idea that dress up= play= childishness.
Following this train of reasoning, cosplay is kinda punk rock. Well, punk rock in the sense that it in some ways rebukes the social expectations of what is ‘adult’ and what is ‘childish’ in terms of both clothes and behaviour. Also, it can be punk rock because it looks cool. Fact.
Alright, its about time for me to wrap up this long-winded and round-about love letter by saying that cosplay- or just wearing costumes if you prefer- is awesome because it allows for a diversity of pleasures. From embodying desirable qualities to demonstrating skill, to advertising fandom, to rebuking social expectations of adulthood, to just looking really ace- cosplay is the bee’s knees. I love you, cosplay (orwhateveryou’recalled).
Until next time,