A Love Letter to Cosplay

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.

I’m presenting alongside Ewan Kirkland who has written some great stuff on semiotics and Silent Hill. I can’t wait.

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!]

Apologies for the mirror-selfie, but at least my mirror is clean. 😛

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.

or a viking. whatever.
Night’s Watch-ish cosplay from DragonCon 2013. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children, yadda yadda…

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.

Sweaty Pikachu is sweaty.

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,


Utrecht, GameFace, and LonCon3!

Ok, so I am back to Manchester… for a few days. Wow, what a summer! In this post I will try to give a rundown/post mortem of the past 3 events I have been to with plenty of pictures to dazzle the eye.

Utrecht Summer School Games and Play

Working back from the most recent event, the Utrecht Summer School was an amazing experience. Lucky students got to experience 2 weeks of keynotes, workshops, and game jams (which, by the way, had epic results) all related to games studies.

Chiptune + juice + crayons + a Choose Your Own Methodological Adventure book in my workshop.
Chiptune + juice + crayons + a Choose Your Own Methodological Adventure book in my workshop.

I think the key term of the summer school, as started by Frans Mäyrä, was ‘interdisciplinarity’. Many epistemologies, frameworks, and perspectives were represented at the school, but rather than feel overwhelming or stifling, such diversity actually brought a special type of energy. The feeling of walking into the summer school as an outsider who arrived a week late was one of community, eagerness to learn, and a willingness to share.

Well, to share knowledge and beer, of course.

I heard whisperings that the summer school might become a yearly gig. I really hope those whispers become something, because this was a fantastic opportunity for students around the world to connect to one another, build important friendships (which really shouldn’t be underestimated), and expose themselves to other research and other ways of researching games, players, and industry.

Let it be established from this photo that I can indeed stand and talk at the same time.

I think the variety of topics presented, as well as the variety of presenters and their styles, made for an engaging summer school. From the side of an educator and instructor, I think the diversity of keynotes was a brilliant idea which not only illustrates the diversity of games research and methodologies (see Nicolle Lamerich’s post here), but also provides a well-rounded education for students. The specialities of the faculty, along with their unique presentation styles, also meant things rarely got dull. I, for example, jokingly encouraged students to draw pictures of dragons during my presentation if they found the talk boring or too basic. I forgot just how playful game scholars are. I got so many dragon pictures tweeted to me that I began to feel like a certain Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men.

I guess students weren’t too bored though… 😉


Needless to say, I very much enjoyed my time in Utrecht and would love to be a part of next year’s summer school.


On Sunday, 24th August, I was interviewed by GameFace (Fab International Radio) station in Manchester. Whilst most of the questions centred on problematic content in games and representations of gender, we did also have a chance to talk about Superbyte and chiptune. Eventually, you will be able to listen to the interview replayed here, but it is still being uploaded.


Also, FantomenK favourited a Tweet I was mentioned in… so I guess I can retire now. I mean, that’s pretty much the peak of my career, right? The closest I’ll ever get to being a rock star, basically.


Between the tube, the beer, and those fuzzbutt trousers in London summer heat, I nearly died at LonCon3. Okay. So maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But seriously, the furry trousers were fun, but so warm.

This is actually the only full-body pic I have of my cosplay. 😦 Does anyone else know of any?

I decided to cosplay as a Mr. Tumnus-style faun. Because why not? And also because Chaos Costumes started making these amazing fuzzybutt faun trousers and hooves. (I thoroughly recommend you check out her Etsy shop. Such talent, wow!)

Like a deer caught in the headlights.
Like a deer caught in the headlights.

It was super fun clomping around London dressed in such a costume. The best were the reactions from children on the tube. Parents were, by and large, surprisingly cool with their kids coming up and talking to me (despite Mr. Tumnus being infamous for drugging children, ahem). I did get some dirty looks from plenty of people, and there were one or two camera flashes without permission, but for the most part people were respectful. I was actually a bit taken aback at how much people outside of the Con seemed to stare and gawk. I thought cosplay, or fancy dress, or LARP-y type clothes had become almost mainstream by now. Hmm… Oh well. I actually gave my talk in the cosplay, so that was fun. 😀 I don’t have pictures of me speaking in cosplay, which is a bummer, but maybe someone else does? If so, I would love to see it!

Here I am moderating a panel.
Here I am moderating a panel on queerbaiting. Photo credit to Jukka Särkijärvi, who also took the ‘featured image’ at the top of this post.

It is hard to pick a favourite panel at the Con, but mine might have been on queerbaiting (above image). This is because not only was the audience super supportive and respectful, but also because I learned so much. The panelists were extraordinarily patient and articulate in both providing examples and explaining the phenomenon which I, embarrassingly, was unfamiliar with.

The Game Love Game lives!
The Game Love Game lives!

One of the other panels I was fortunate to be a part of involved playing the Game Love Game I designed a couple years ago. It was well received and I was happy so many chose to play it. It is like… a companion game for our book. If you’re interested in playing it, get in touch.


The Con wasn’t all work though. I had plenty of time to play and goof around, as evidenced above. These Jawas were super friendly despite their menacing looks. They made me cover up my Star Trek/Wars t-shirt or they wouldn’t take a photo with me, though! D:

I do not sew... my cosplay.
I do not sew… my cosplay.

And here I am trying to pull my best Eddard Stark expression on the Iron Throne with a pint of cider. I think the cider diminishes the srsns a little bit, but I didn’t have Ice handy. Cider… Ice… there’s a pun there, but I’m not going to make it.

So, I’m sharing these silly pictures for a reason. I think one of the coolest parts about being an academic who studies a beloved media with a large, passionate fan culture is that we are allowed to be fans too. Well, in my opinion at least. For those who saw my talk on qualitative methodology, subjectivity is at the heart of what I do. So… yeah, have some subjectively awesome photos, if I do say so myself.

On a less theoretical note, it is also good to not take yourself too seriously. See below:

Helsinki 2017!
Helsinki 2017!

Thank you!

In closing, I just want to thank everyone involved in Utrecht Summer School Games and Play, GameFace, and LonCon3 for giving me amazing opportunities to travel around, goof around, and spread my research. After the whole experience I feel warm and fluffy, despite the exhaustion.

Until next time,



DiGRA, LonCon, Utrecht, cosplay, travel, etc…

Soon I leave for the USA and DiGRA, then I’ll be off to London for WorldCon/LonCon3, then Utrecht to teach Summer School! Should you want to see me at any of these events, this post is to outline when/where I will be speaking… and also to give you a sneak peak at some of my talks. Prepare to be underwhelmed by feeble, but well-intentioned, attempts at creativity gone horribly awry (a gamebook to teach qualitative methodology-whaaa?).
Anyway, a-here we go!


3-6 August 2014
Snowbird, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
I present the day before my birthday... w00t!
I present the day before my birthday… w00t!

Should you happen to be headed to Snowbird, Utah for this year’s DiGRA, be sure to come on 5th August and see me talk about Georg Simmel’s ‘adventure’ and how this pause in identity development can be applied to erotic role play in games. For those of you who saw me speak in Tampere in 2012, this presentation/paper is a continuation of the ideas discussed there. I try to tie in adventure games, location, wilderness/beauty of the natural world, into discussions about aesthetics, identity, and player desire. Yeah. It gets messy. I recently re-read the paper and determined I achieved moderate success, but then I went to make the PowerPoint and this hot mess emerged…

What is... I don't even....
What is… I don’t even….
So, yeah, come along, tell your friends, bring your smartphone to keep occupied on Twitter, and prepare to witness what is sure to be the neutron star of my budding career!


14-18 August 2014
ExCeL, London Dockland, UK
LonCon is going to rock. So far I am set to moderate/ participate on the following panels. Locations are TBA, I think, but if you are lucky, you might get to see me cosplay (Scroll down for pics).

Queerbaiting (Mod)
Thursday 19:00 – 20:00
Fanlore, the wiki of “The Organization for Tranformative Works”, describes queerbaiting as “the perceived attempt by canon creators (typically of television shows) to woo queer fans by introducing a character whose sexuality seems, early on, to be coded as something other than one hundred percent heterosexual.” Coding queer characters and relationships has an ancient history in literature and art of all forms and has often been a positive and necessary means of representing queer people when censorship and conservative moral norms would deem it (practically) impossible. Today, genre shows such as Lost GirlPenny Dreadful,Orphan BlackGame of Thrones and Defiance prove that same sex relationships do not have a negative impact on genre television viewership and are readily accepted, and invariably welcomed, by the audience. With this in mind, we question the practice of hinting at characters being queer and developing queer relationships. We ask exactly where the boundary lies between fan service, ship-teasing and queerbaiting and whether queerbaiting is homophobic.
Love in Games (Mod)
Thursday 21:00 – 22:00
How do we design love in games, and what does this mean? Creating meaningful relationships in games is becoming something of a holy grail, and there are many ways of representing love in, for and around games. From the heart symbol that empties as Zelda dies, to giving Morrigan presents in Dragon Age, love is a difficult thing to understand, let alone simulate it within games themselves. Yet we ‘love’ games – sometimes too much, and this is key to our relationship with them. Here, we look at the importance of representing and expressing such a complex concept within games.
The Love Games Game
Friday 16:30 – 18:00
We’ve written a book about love in games! But during the course of it, we evolved a game about love, which talks about our love for games. What would a zombie reincarnation of the Zelda franchise be like? How about Super Streefighter II with cupcakes? Come along and play this silly mash up game where we invent some lovely games from the games we love.
Being a Fan of Problematic Things
Saturday 13:30 – 15:00
“I know the writer is a sexist, homophobic bigot but I really love this show and I can’t stop watching.” Statements like this are common refrains but it, and others like it, cause very strong reactions. It causes many fans to feel insulted that their idol or favourite television shows are being accused of some pretty harsh things, yet others feel offended that the fan is still watching despite these things. In this session we ask how it is possible to still enjoy television programmes, movies, books and the works of controversial creators when we as individuals or community groups consider the subject matter or means of representation problematic. We also ask why some fans react so badly to this criticism and if there is a way to make the bitter pill easier to swallow.
Playing with Diversity: Games and Speculative Fiction
Saturday 16:30 – 18:00
Three academics each give a 15 minute presentation followed by a joint 30 minute discussion with the audience.
  • Mika Loponen and Markus Montola, “Speculative Games: A Ludological Analysis of Fictional Games”
  • Jaakko Stenros & Tanja Sihvonen, “Out of the Dungeons, onto the Meadows: Queer Representations in Role-Playing Source Books”
  • Ashley Brown, Elves are from Venus, Dwarves are from Mars: Diverse (sexual) relationships in speculative fictional worlds
  • Diane Carr, “Weird Spheres, Bursting Bodies and Peculiar Tools: Disability, Masculinity and the Monstrous in the Dead Space Series”
Lizard Wizards in Space! Bethesda vs Bioware
Sunday 11:00 – 12:00
Panel examining the impact of Bioware and Bethesda videogames on recent gaming experiences. Baldur’s Gate, Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Skyrim have all advanced player experiences in games, providing us with rich worlds, exciting possibilties and diverse characters to play. Both companies pride themselves on allowing the player to choose their own pathway through the game, and to experience each world on their own terms. This panel investigates the strengths and weakness of these games, and looks at the ways they are influencing play.

Okay, so I plan to do a huge cosplay faux pas and re-use my DragonCon Night’s Watch outfit from last year for at least one of the days, but I promise my outfit for the Masquerade (viewing-not participating) will be so lavish you won’t even notice.
I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children, have no fun, etc, etc.

Utrecht Summer School

16-31 August 2014 (I will be there from 25-27 August)
I am very excited to be giving a lecture about my passion- qualitative methodology. Better yet, I get to host a 3 hour workshop on the topic. Woo hoo!
I promise I'll make epistemology fun!
I promise I’ll make epistemology fun!

Unfortunately, my workshop is limited to only 15 students. That’s because I’ve made my own Choose Your Own (Methodology) Adventure gamebook. That’s right. A CYOA gamebook for qualitative methodology. By the end of the course, my goal is for students of all levels to have a working research design with solid justifications for their choice of methods. If you’re new to qualitative researching, consider this a crash course. If you have already done your fieldwork, come along for the section on the relationship between theory and analysis. Just about to hand in your thesis? No worries, come along for a last-minute tune up and make sure you have the vocabulary you need for your defence.

I hope it is as informative as it is accessible and fun. Also, dragons.

A sneak peak! Can't wait to get these printed. :>
A sneak peak! Can’t wait to get these printed. :>

There will be time during the workshop for Q&A as well as a discussion of preference, controversy, and ethics. I’m super excited for this!

I hope to see you all very soon,