If you've ever been to Dragon Con, you know that costuming is a big deal at the Atlanta-based convention. This year broke another record with a reported 63,000 attendees paying tribute to their favorite sci-fi and fantasy genres of pop culture, and the costumes seem to get better each year.
As a cosplayer, I look forward to the annual four-day event as a culmination of the year's hard work and as inspiration for next year's costumes. As a gamer, I look forward to the informational panels that spotlight current and upcoming games. But it's the explosion in popularity of video game-related cosplay that's particularly interesting to me.
Traditionally, the super-hero costumes have been the major draw at these types of fan conventions. Even though super-hero MMOs are suffering through some hard times lately, people still like to dress up like their favorite childhood heroes when they can. Movie-based costumes are also a popular trend with costumers scrambling to replicate the latest big-ticket box-office character to the finest detail. You wouldn't believe how many Star Lords and Groots there were at Dragon Con this year, and Guardians of the Galaxy just released last month!
But game-related costumes are bigger than ever this year with no sign of slowing down. I'm not talking about your store-bought Marios or your sheet-over-the-head Pacman ghosts, I'm talking about game character representations that really make you stop and stare. I'm talking about Mass Effect's N7 armor made entirely out of rubber floor mats. This year alone I noticed costumes from Assassin's Creed, Borderlands, Halo, World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and even a couple fans dressed as MMO NPCs, complete with yellow question marks and exclamation points over their heads. But the thing that impressed me the most is that these costumes weren't obscure to the crowd; as the gamer population grows, so does recognition of these characters.
Playing a character in a game is a fulfilling experience, but playing that same character in the streets of Atlanta evokes a whole different feeling. Not only do you get that sense of accomplishment when the costume you've slaved over for the last year garners the attention and praise of your peers, but it's also just fun as hell to play that character's role. You can roleplay all day long behind a keyboard, but you really get a more vibrant sense of your character when you're wearing his or her pants.
This year I brought a few different costumes to the con, but my favorite was that of Torch from GI Joe's Dreadnok gang. Some friends and I coordinated the costumes as a group (through a Facebook page) and even marched in the big parade together. To me, this is what cosplay is all about. Group coordination and a bit of roleplay acting in the parade made for a particularly fun experience.
See, cosplay isn't all that scary. If you've been to a fan convention and admired the costumes, why not give it a shot yourself? If you couldn't run a stitch to save your life, there are several forums and Facebook groups for buying and selling ready-made costumes, or you could even hire a professional to custom-make one for you. Or you might even surprise yourself with some hidden talent for creating that perfect outfit. What you wear doesn't have to be true-to-life or 100% accurate, and mash-ups are becoming increasingly popular, too. The fact is, cosplay is no longer a hidden counter culture looked down upon by the rest of the world, and you don't have to be a pro to wear something that will be admired.
Where to start
The first step is to figure out what you want to be and why you want to dress up. If you're joining a group of friends to replicate the Fellowship of the Ring, then you'll want to do lots and lots of research on the character you've chosen. If you're going for humor or shock value, it's quite easy to focus more on the delivery than the detail of the costume, i.e. zombie Dr. Who or a Warhammer 40k Stormtrooper. Cosplayers have a sense of humor and will usually admire the clever costumes over anything else.
It's usually a good idea to pick something weather appropriate (I feel bad for the Chewbacca cosplayers at Dragon Con in August) and that has tons of reference material. If you'll be dressing as a video game character, get plenty of screenshots from all angles.
Take materials into consideration, especially if you're on a budget. You can make some impressive armor out of EVA foam (cheap rubber floor mats found at hardware stores), but it has its limitations. Weight of materials is also something to consider. Wood or iron might look more accurate for that warrior costume, but foam rubber or plastic is much lighter. Your back will thank you.
What about the changes to your regular hair or facial hair to make the character more accurate? Are you willing to dye or cut your hair? Wear a wig? Grow a beard? These are all considerations with the costume you choose. Nothing's worse than being halfway through a build before realizing that shaving your head for a costume might not be too practical after all.
From there it's up to hard work, trial and error, time, and watching lots and lots of tutorial videos on YouTube. I wouldn't attempt a screen-accurate Iron Man suit for your first time, but they are certainly possible with practice.
So whether you want to dress in a costume for the challenge, the attention, or even the art of it all, I say give it a shot. You might like it!