Culture At Large

Cosplay and wearing our character

Maureen Herring

People who elaborately dress up as comic book, sci-fi or fantasy characters and attend entertainment conventions are used to being called nerds or geeks, but the official term is cosplayer. We usually get glimpses of them when the media covers events such as the recent Comic-Con 2012, but cosplayers occasionally show up at big movie premieres in costume as well.

For those of us content to wear our ordinary clothes, this adult penchant for dress up seems a little odd. Why would anyone spend time and money going around to hundreds – yes, there really are hundreds - of conventions to parade around dressed as an Imperial Storm Trooper? We may do Halloween or put together something for a costume party, but unless we were going to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show, we don’t quite get why someone would want to dress in an elaborate costume to watch a movie.

Robin Rosenberg, a psychologist and writer for Psychology Today, is investigating the psychology behind cosplay. She believes identity play is the most important factor, noting that many cosplayers are passive, shy, introspective people who are able to express greater confidence and communicate more readily when dressed as a strong character.

Not every cosplayer has deep psychological motivations, however. Respondents to this question on a number of online cosplay forums also cite creativity as motivation. Many enjoy the challenge of constructing a costume, doing the makeup, creating props and then experiencing the thrill of having others appreciate and enjoy what they have created. In fact, most of the threads at cosplay.com are devoted to costume creation. To a great extent it does seem like a hobby not very different from that of model railway enthusiasts.

For those of us content to wear our ordinary clothes, this adult penchant for dress up seems a little odd.

An anonymous cosplayer describes the experience on one of these forums: “it can be very liberating to assume another role or exaggerate an existing trait… I find it nothing short of empowering to assume the role of a character who is independent, cunning, agile and confident.” It does seem that to choose a character and invest so much time and effort to emulate that character one would have to identify strongly with some aspect of the character’s story or personality.

In the Old Testament there are times when God tells His people or His priests to put on specific articles of clothing, such as sackcloth or robes, to symbolize an attitude or commemorate an event. Putting on these items contributes to the attitude God wants them to take. How many times does Scripture tell us to “put on” intangibles like peace or righteousness, or other character traits? Does the visual of dressing in traits help us own them?

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