Cosplay – Material and Transmedial Culture in Play


Through “cosplay” (costume play) fans perform existing fictional characters in self-created costumes, thereby enriching and extending popular narratives. Cosplay is a scarcely studied form of appropriation that transforms and actualizes an existing story or game in close connection to the fan community and the fan’s own identity (Lamerichs, 2011; Newman, 2008; Okabe, 2012; Winge, 2006). The activity can be read as a form of dress up. In the field of game studies, dress up is an often overlooked but significant category of play with its own affordances (Fron, Fullerton, Morie, & Pearce, 2007). While dress up can involve actual costumes or fantasy play, it is also encouraged in digital games and their user-generated content. Customizable characters and “dollhouse” structures in The Sims series are but one example (Wirman, 2011). Similarly, cosplay provides the player with the joys of make-belief and productive play. This paper explores the possibilities of reading the costume itself as a product that facilitates performance and play. I analyze cosplay as a transmedial activity that is constructed at different online and offline sites through small-scaled ethnography and close-reading. The transmediality of cosplay is foregrounded in the methodology that, rather than adopting a player-centered approach, construes a cultural reading that involves both participants and spectators (e.g., photographers, fans, media professionals or outsiders such as parents). Through two case-studies, I focus on the costume’s materiality and emerging performances. The first case details the materiality of cosplay through its consumption culture. Cosplay blurs the relations between labor and play. The activity takes shape at fan conventions but also increasingly at promotional events of the industry itself. Costumes are commodified by fans themselves as well that sell their cosplay photos, commission their dress from others or buy parts of them. Increasingly, costumes and accessories are sold over platforms as eBay and Etsy which will illustrate the dynamics between commerciality and creativity. The second case explores the visuality of the costume through its mediation. While the costume can be experienced first-hand at convention sites, it is also remediated in photography, for instance, thereby extending its potential audience and performative possibilities. I exemplify this transmediality through cosplayer music videos (CMV) that are commonly produced at convention sites. These rich videos are created by and for fans and juxtapose different cosplayers and texts. Informed by work on other fan videos such as “machinima” (Lowood & Nitsche, 2011) I propose a reading of a selected corpus of videos. Thus, this study analyzes the dynamics of costume culture as it transcends the convention grounds.