In the age of keeping your music in the clouds and taking pictures that seemingly disappear in minutes, there’s something refreshing putting needle to thread, crafting the best piece of armor, and spending untold nights for the love of a good video game, comic or movie. Go to any convention now and you’ll see fans from all walks of life displaying their cosplay, a term combining “costume” and “play” from Japan in the 1970s. The outfits range from the simple fez and bowtie (they’re cool) to outfits that would make costumers from big budget movie sets drool, created with foam rubber, mechanical arms, and hours of makeup.
And more than just the people bustling around the convention floor are starting to take notice. Cosplay is shaping the way publishers and developers interact with their audience and create games.
Let’s not lie to ourselves here – you probably have a bit of fan fiction kicking around on your hard drive somewhere. Maybe you’ve finally written the backstory to Neville’s parents from the “Harry Potter” series, finally crafted a palatable “Terminator” Sequel, or that steamy “X-Files” slash fiction you keep buried under three unmarked folder in case of your untimely death in hopes that everyone would simply erase files rather than find out what would happen if the black oil just made Krycek extra sexy.
Now imagine taking what you worked so hard on and reading it out loud as you walked through the park (Skinner held Mulder tighter, whispering “I want to believe”), while waiting for coffee (And that’s how flukeboy became a flukeman), or simply being in a crowd of strangers (It was then that Mr. X gave Mulder the package). Cosplay works like that – you take your love for a story and wear it out in the open. Beyond being passionate, these fans demonstrate such creativity, skill and bravery in taking their works public that even one of the biggest gaming companies in the industry, Bioware, took notice.
And they liked what they saw.
A groundbreaking and award winning development company, Bioware has crossed the galaxies with “Mass Effect” and honed their blade with “Dragon Age,” and with their newest game, they’re looking to bring some of that magic to life. “Dragon Age: Inquisition” continues the story of metal and magic as you try to save the world from itself as a new religious figure. But, beyond events within the fantasy world, what might interest you is what Jessica Merizan and Conal Pierse, Bioware’s new media production coordinators, created from that fantasy for the real world.
Because imagine being able to step into a virtual world and ask some of the most hardened mercenaries there to strut down the catwalk. Iron Bull may not be able to pull off the blue steel anytime soon, both Jessica and Conal mange to bring you nearly into the game with their Character Kits: A collection of close-up pictures, sketches, and descriptive text that gets you closer than you ever thought was possible to a character in a game.
How did these sketches came to be? “It was a collaborative effort involving the writers, concept artists, character and weapon modelers, our senior leadership, and countless others,” Merizan said via email. “It’s been humbling at conventions to see character costumes that BioWare fans have become deeply, personally connected with long before the game is on the shelf. The kits helped them create something that fundamentally celebrates creation.”
Both publishers and developers look to keep the spirit of the community alive by encouraging other to throw on some fabric or simply lend a helping hand. Riot Games, the developer behind the mega hit “League of Legends,” even started “cospitality lounges” at conventions for cosplayers to find a moment’s rest or simply fix their costumes. There, fans can find a friendly face, some quick supplies, and often some prizes for putting forth the effort and love into their work.
For, according to Merizan, developers are no longer looking at the community as merely advertisement but as a way to gauge the wishes of their audience. After all, if you’re willing to put forth the effort to make the outfit, there must be something about the game it comes from that you like. And this is where cosplay is changing the industry — by creating a conversation between the fans and the game developers. In a world where it’s so easy to ignore comment sections and fan forums, cosplayers let their craft speak for them — and the developers listen.
“I loved whenever it fit in the BioWare artists’ schedules for them to attend conventions, because they had such passionate discussions with cosplayers and artists that directly translated into their future designs (there are absolutely more pockets in BioWare games now for cosplayers’ cellphones, no joke!) and fans could ask things like, ‘So what were you thinking this fabric was when you designed the costume?'” Merizan said. “That’s a very literal example, but constructive dialogue between all fans and all developers is so symbiotic and translates to better games, stronger communities and a level of unspoken trust that is critical to success, in my opinion.”
And Merizan also pointed out that cosplay creates a community that not only gives back to the game, but to the neighborhood as well, through charity events and teaching other how to make the wonderful costumes you often see at the conventions.
There’s a special connection between cosplay and gaming: While you may follow Spider-Man in the comics or watch “Buffy” on TV, you are never in the head of that character. Meanwhile, games provide a way to become that person virtually — in a game, you are the character. You are Altair, leaping from roof top to roof top. You are Lara Croft, pulling back the arrow before hitting your shot. You are Master Chief, making the universe safer one plasma grenade at a time.
And in the real world, all you really need is the right outfit to feel the same way.