I started my own cosplay journey in the Finnish cosplay scene in 2006. Putting on a wig, character make up and crafting away my favourite characters outfits was something that sucked me into this geek subculture immediately. I have now been on this journey for almost two decades, and during this time I have seen the trends come and go in what people are cosplaying.
Video games have always been part of geek culture, as has cosplay. It is a no-brainer that cosplayers would, will and have cosplayed from video games since the start of the hobby, but I have noticed a steady increase, at least in the Finnish scene. I was left wondering why this is and how has the industry itself had a hand in this. Or has it?
Video game industry has been in the forefront of noticing the marketing value of the cosplay community. Cosplayers have been used as marketing tools in Japan, but the western culture has mostly been fans making fan builds to fan conventions. Cosplayers being paid to do costumes for companies or being paid to come to an event dressed in their pre-made costumes has come to Europe and Finland the same time the video game industry has become much more prevalent in Europe.
European game companies have existed for a long while, but the successes of Witcher and Horizon Zero Dawn (to name a few) have made them more known. There has been a slight increase of cosplay marketing in Finland as well, where cosplayers have gotten hired for marketing reasons to different conventions, movie screenings and such. This was a dreamy thought during the 2000s when I started, and the evolution has been interesting to see.
What has made the change of interest in cosplay community happen could be because of video game companies sharing more and more of their progress material. Cosplayers live and breathe for references and video games provide these with enthusiasm. I remember PS2 games such as Kingdom Hearts already having extra material where you could see a 360-degree model of characters that you have in the game, a luxury for a cosplayer looking for references.
Nowadays I feel like almost every game has this possibility, not to mention different armours, cosmetics and skins are becoming something video game companies’ market as extra material, or even as a main reason to start playing a game. In games like Overwatch, this has become a huge part of the gaming experience itself for some at least. But when you are a cosplayer, they are an endless pool of costume ideas and new craft projects. If you have a favourite character, wouldn’t you want to make more than one costumes of them? For a cosplayer wanting to craft new projects and possibly challenge themselves, the answer is enthusiastic yes.
Video game characters have gotten more and more complex as well during the year. The more realistic textures, seams, and materials there are on a model, the easier (or harder, depending on the material) it becomes for a cosplayer to make an even more accurate rendition of your character. This, at least from a Finnish perspective, has made them particularly enjoyed by crafting enthusiasts and popular costumes for competition entries. Having these models available for 360 references also means that they can be shared beforehand to fans, that can make more hype about the game by making costumes even before the game do is out. Cosplayers have a mentality of being “the first” to do a costume is somewhat special and this shows in how many costumes might start progressing when a trailer hits of a new video game.
We also must note the progress of 3D printing technology having a hand in this. 3D-printers have become more prevalent in cosplay circles after they became more affordable for the public. Some parts of the community are still debating whether using a 3D printer to make your props, armour and such is “lazier” but in the Finnish circles this has been evolving to more of a “just another way” of making props. 3D modelling your own props and printing them out, just to sand and paint them just like you usually do for the ones you handcrafted from different materials, isn’t really that different.
There is great potential and interesting conversation to be had with how video game industry and the cosplay community can benefit from one another. Of course, not all cosplayers are interested in video games nor do all video games need to be cosplay friendly. But there is an interesting marketing and fan content possibility that shouldn’t be ignored by the makers of video games. I, for one, can absolutely declare I have started new games when I have seen interesting cosplays in conventions. As a cosplayer myself, character designs do play some part in how much I am interested in a video game.
I also think that there could be potential in both evolving to a better direction. Video games still have a lot of work to do with having different kind of bodies and ethnicities in their character rosters, and the cosplay community could also move away from the thin and white pre-set we have (even when cosplaying Asian characters). Maybe these communities could evolve to a better direction by challenging themselves with realistic body imagery.
We shall see how the community of cosplayers will evolve after the more online years of the pandemic lockdowns, now returning to conventions with a new generation of pandemic born cosplayers in tow. It might be the new, less craft and more social media heavy generation, that will bring cosplay into mainstream marketing.
Header picture from Pixabay
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