The appeal and positives of cosplay/gaming

The appeal and positives of cosplay/gaming

While mainstream culture seems slow to catch on to the undeniable fact that the geeks shall inherit the earth, there have recently been smaller instances of geekery eeked out to the masses. Take, for example, the characters in the Big Bang Theory, many of whom are avid fans of comics, gaming, and video games. Despite Batman t-shirts gaining popularity as acceptable wear for adults (Batman underwear, sadly, remains slightly less so), it seems that cosplayers and role-playing gamers bear the brunt of any lingering mainstream snide. After all, why would someone want to dress up like a comic book character outside of Halloween? (Seriously, why wouldn’t you?) And just what type of person lives out a fantasy life with other people? (I don’t know, maybe anyone and everyone on Facebook?)

It’s as if these subcultures are somehow shunned for doing things that are not just normal, but adaptive or healthy – but because they happen to look more interesting than the mainstream low-fiber version, they are called “different” and looked at with Philip J. Fry eyes. Here, I’ll discuss just some of the positive psychological aspects of engaging in these subcultures through possible impacts on identity, social life, hobbies, and even biology.

Although slightly obvious, the opportunity undergo a metamorphosis and become someone new is a potential draw for the cosplay and gaming subcultures. What might not be apparent is how those potential forays into other-dom might actually spur personal growth and help the player become a better them (and not just a better orc, although the world arguably needs better orcs. Wait, no, that’s the Uruk-hai. Nevermind, we don’t need more of them. I digress.) Some players chose characters for traits they admire, and perhaps want to become more like: more courageous, more motivated, more analytical, more cape-wearing. So long as you don’t aspire to fly like your character, taking on and trying out those desired attributes can lead to a improved self. Likewise, others chose certain characters because they feel that character embodies a trait, or even a persona, that they themselves share. (This is, admittedly, coming from a writer sipping from a “shh, I’m in my mind palace” Sherlock-referencing coffee mug.) In that way, taking on those other characters can be a way to be even more yourself.

One does not simply become a cosplayer or LARPer in isolation; indeed, both cosplay and LARPing depend on the presence of other people. Otherwise, cosplay is instead adult dress up in your room (hmm, a different type of role playing – no, wait, that one also involves other people) or putting on a one-person stage production (which might land you in a mental hospital. Or so I’ve heard.)

Just as dressing in certain costumes, acting like, or creating different characters gives you the opportunity to try things out in your own mind, they also provide rich ground for social experimentation. Cosplayers reap the attention and possibly admiration of others for their costumes. Gamers can become known in their communities for their creativity or deft interaction with others. People with social anxiety or shyness can work through some of their hesitations and natural tendencies by being someone else – it’s less personal risk, and it’s social practice. Lastly, there’s a genuine connection that happens when you co-create in a game with others, or meet up with people in complimentary costumes. Of course, be leery of the Ferengei using the bathroom stall next to you if they try to sell you something.

New Hobbies
Far from just learning how to run in a Stormtrooper costume (no small task), the cosplay and LARP worlds can also encourage people to build other skills, such as the skilled craftsmanship seen in some costuming. Making new, unique things -- just like playing dress-up -- is something many adults forget that they’re allowed to do. Beyond that, I’ve also seen players desiring the deepest of cultural immersions actually learn their character’s fantasy language (Klingon, elvish, etc) or even their weaponry (archery, samauri swords, etc). (Award to most dedicated goes to a friend of mine who trained her horse so she could fire a bow and arrow above his head. That’s serious.)

It turns out that posing as a superhero – and let’s face it, there aren’t many slouchy superheroes – actually alters the neurobiological structure of the poser’s brain. Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, found that people who were instructed to engage in “power poses” – hands on hips, legs a bit spread, shoulders back – for 2 minutes felt more powerful, confident, happier, calmer, and did better in high stress situations. And these subjective appraisals were reflected in neurobiological tests of the same phenomenon – higher testosterone and lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Feeling that good after a pose might account for why so many cosplayers enjoy posing for photographs as their character.

So between advances in identity, social life, hobbies, and heck, even biology – I guess I feel okay with mainstream culture engaging in a little geek mockery. They have no idea how wrong they are, poor things.

floi Journal author