Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 20, April 2009
Game Girl:
Re-imagining Japanese Gender and Gaming
via Melbourne Female Cosplayers

Larissa Hjorth

  1. As gaming becomes increasingly part of mainstream culture globally, we are beginning to see other modes of gaming subcultures—most notably in the form of cosplay. Cosplay is short for 'costume play' and cosplayers take their inspiration from games, manga (comics), anime (animation), and movies. As a subcultural movement, various forms of cosplayers can be found both within Japan and around the world. Cosplaying provides new avenues for fans to express their interest in Japanese popular culture creatively; in turn, cosplay also provides a great example of new types of fan agency and evidences the increasing role of fans in twenty-first century transmedia storytelling and social networks such as Web 2.0.[1]
  2. In particular, cosplay's role as a vehicle of transition—from game player to co-producers / produsers (producing consumer)[2] to game designers / producers—is significant in the rites of passage for many young females into the traditionally male-centred gaming worlds. It is this transition between player to produser to producer that is pivotal in emerging forms of female engagement and agency in an industry (games) once dominated by men. It is this rite of passage for young females—vis-à-vis Japanese gaming and gendered imageries—that will be the focus of this paper. My data is derived from a survey of a group of fifteen young female cosplayers (aged between 18 and 26 years) in Melbourne.
  3. Drawing on a diverse range of cultural backgrounds, these cosplayers show how the imagining of 'Japan,' and gendered performativity,[3] is part of the 'magic circle'[4] of game play whilst also being part of broader gendered technocultures. Japanese gendered technocultures—from the otaku (media-obsessed male) to the kōgyaru (trendy female in her twenties associated with the mobile phone revolution)—offer these young females different types of gendered performativity. Thus, in order to understand this phenomenon I need to contextualise it within recent reconceptualisations of gender within Japanese technocultures. I will then move on to the case study of young females who have divergent interests in cosplaying as a portal into both gaming and 'Japan.'

    New players, new games: gender, cosplaying and new modes of engagement and creativity
  4. In order to understand why cosplaying has become a vehicle for young females to enter the male-dominated games industry we need to comprehend how gender within Japanese technocultures provides alternative spaces for performativity, creativity and expression. Technocultures are never neutral, and like games themselves, are subject to localisation, adaptation and translation. The specific role of gender within Japanese technocultures, and specifically gaming cultures, has long been a site for alternative exploration within the global games industry over the last thirty years. But more recently, as the technocultures of Japan have shifted, so too have the gendered connotations and performativity associated with gaming.
  5. One of the dominant underlying discourses of gendered performativity is the rise of kōgal[5] kawaii (cute) cultures within Japanese keitai (mobile phone) practices.[6] At work specifically within these gendered cultures and practices has been the unabated role of technological customisation epitomised by Brian McVeigh's notion of 'techno-cute'[7] — that is, the warming up of cold technologies by cute customisation. Through the role of kawaii culture, we can see many types of gendered performativities that afford different possibilities for female and male consumers. These modes also provide pathways to transgress models of engagement and agency from player to produser to producer. These gendered practices need to be framed within the rise of personal technologies and technocultures in Japan.
  6. Japan's key role since 1970 in producing technologies and, more specifically, domestic technologies for global markets, is renowned to the point of cliché. Behind the global images of techno-savvy youth adorned with the latest technological gadgets in 'electric cities' such as Akihabara, Japan's role in producing and consuming new technologies—from the Sony Walkman, Atari games console, PlayStation and 'keitai (mobile phone) IT revolution'—has been pivotal. For Mizuko Ito the market success of these technologies can be best explained by the characteristics of the new media they call the three Ps—pedestrian, personal and portable.[8]
  7. The significance of these three Ps is that they transform technological gadgets into socio-cultural artefacts by relocating them in the dynamic space of cultural production. Tokyo, in the games world, is arguably the originator of gaming. This has also resulted in further enhancing Japan's soft capital, or what Douglas McGray called 'Gross National Cool,'[9] in which technology has been a key node in Japanese twenty-first century nationalism.[10] As a centre for gaming and media technologies deploying innovative 'electronic individualism,'[11] Japan has often provided a 'default sci-fi'[12] backdrop for Western imaginings of the future. For many a player and maker of games the consumption of Japan as the 'centre' is a standard rite of passage.
  8. However, Tokyo is also the centre for ancillary subcultures in which media cultures of gaming, manga and anime merge. The phenomenal role of gaming in Tokyo undoubtedly traces its lineage (no pun on the game intended) to Japan's key role in developing innovative domestic technologies for consumption globally. The symbol of the otaku, once denigrated as a social misfit, has, like the gentrification of Akihabara post Densha Otoko (See Alisa Freedman's paper in this collection), been reconfigured as a positive icon of Japanese culture—both locally and globally. As the Densha Otoko (Train Man) story goes, an otaku saved a young lady (Hermés) on a train whilst she was being harassed. The otaku then wrote about the incident and his love for her on Japan's biggest BBS forum 2ch (channel two) and before long it became the longest and most talked about posting. The original story later became a series of manga, a feature film and, most importantly, part of the urban mythology. The phenomenon of Densha Otoko marked a pivotal shift in which Japan re-envisioned the once denigrated male loser, the otaku, as a twenty-first century male icon.
  9. Concurrent to this re-scripting of the otaku was the rise of the female kōgyaru in which new technologies such as the keitai were deployed as part of her wardrobe of restructured femininity. In the latter part of the twentieth century, Japan's national icon, the oyaji (middle-aged salaryman), had been displaced by the kōgyaru (trendy female in her twenties) and her often-subversive deployment of the keitai.[13] In her disavowal of traditional notions of femininity as passive, she demonstrated through vicarious consumption that she did not need a man (except perhaps an oyaji to subsidise her materialistic desires). It was the phenomenon of 'subsidised dating' that undoubtedly gave her a further negative connotation.[14] As Misa Matsuda notes, government and industry worked hard to realign keitai culture away from these negative associations of female empowerment (often at the price of men), the otaku offering a perfect decoy.[15] However, whilst Densha Otoko grabbed the popular imagination in Japan in 2005 and 2006, the rise of keitai creative industries—and the dominance of female creators and fans in such areas as keitai shōsetsu (mobile phone novels) —has highlighted that emerging female-orientated cultures cannot be ignored.
  10. The visibility of empowered—or at least 'independent' in the case of kōgyaru—images of young females are almost inseparable from the rise of keitai cultures in Japan. However, in the case of gaming, the male figure of otaku continues to dominate. Despite this, one could argue that such produser practices as cosplay complicate the gender division, remixing kawaii cultures, echoing the rise of what Miller calls the 'kogal' and her new media practices in Japan.[16] One might interpret a snapshot of the rise of the keitai in Japan as synonymous with the highly visible group of users, young women or shōjo.
  11. Arguably, dressing up as game characters affords new types of gender performativity such as those Laura Miller calls 'kogals'—a hybrid of various forms of Japanese female types such as shōjo (young female), female high-school (gyaru), and kōgyaru (trendy female in her twenties). For Miller, kōgyaru are 'kogals' and they represent 'a new girl subculture…a vehicle for mainstream outrage at the economic and cultural power of youth, especially the subcultural compositions of young women'.[17] In particular, the kogal and their various subgroups such as ganguro and yamamba partake in a 'new aesthetic of the non-cute, or cute infused with an ironic twist'.[18] These kogals, through their creative and empowered deployment of new media technologies—epitomised by mobile novels—de-centre the male role of the otaku as prime game consumer. Cosplayers provide new avenues for expression and subjectivity, operating in an ambiguous space in which females are both objects and subjects. Transformation and subversion are all part of the game as cosplayers perform online and offline fantasies and fictions, bringing the politics of 'techno-cuteness' into the corporeal world.

    Figures 1, 2 and 3. Cosplayers at the Tokyo Game Show, 20–23 September 2007. Photographer, Larissa Hjorth.

  12. As John Whittier Treat perspicuously notes, previously the shōjo signified a sexually neutral, consumption-focused female, quite distinct from the kōgyaru.[19] According to Miller, the shōjo and the kōgyaru represent two very different forms of femininity. Although both deploy kawaii and keitai cultures in conspicuous ways, the shōjo and the kōgyaru demonstrate the multiple possibilities for femininity, hyperfeminisation and mobile gender performativity. For Miller, the kogal transforms the role of kawaii and femininity, precipitating it into the realm of irony and playful postmodernism.[20]
  13. Kawaii culture can be viewed as part of the growth in the personalisation of new media spaces; a phenomenon discussed by Hirofumi Katsuno and Christine Yano in their study on the rise of the kaomoji from early Internet usage, to pagers, and then to keitai.[21] Katsuno and Yano argue that the kaomoji is not a form of post-humanism but rather neo-humanism; it domesticates and customises the technological spaces, reminding us that technologies are shaped by cultural and social processes. One of the enduring features of Japanese customisation is its role in creating emotion and affect as a type of warmness in the coolness of technological spaces. For Tomoyuki Okada this is characterised by the importance of yasashisa ('kindness');[22] for Anne Allison it is its yasashii ('gentle') association that makes Japanese character culture so easily consumable both within and outside Japan.[23]
  14. Kawaii culture is also, according to Allison, 'postmodern' in nature—'it is this polymorphous, open-ended, everyday nature of Pokémon that many of its Japanese producers or commentators refer to under the umbrella of "cuteness".'[24] Just as kawaii cultures have given rise to various forms of gender parody and irony that reflect new forms of femininity in Japan, this is amplified further within gaming and anime contexts. The deployment of kawaii for both male and female game characters in such key games as Final Fantasy have afforded many female players new 'flexible' modes of gender performativity. It is the opening up of cuteness as a site for new female subjectivities and agencies that is recognised and celebrated by young female gamers outside of Japan.

    Reconceptualising fandom: cosplaying, conversational media and consumption
  15. Having discussed the gendered (and specifically female) performativity around Japanese technocultures I will now focus upon cosplaying which will be followed by a discussion of my case study of Melbourne participants. Cosplayers are a key example of the fan as a co-producer in interpreting and adapting game characters into a haptic (that is, of the touch) offline world. The art of cosplay is that it highlights that the boundaries between fans, players and creative producers are blurring and transforming mainstream culture. Once fans were believed to break down boundaries between text and reader,[25] now the roles of player and co-producer—or what Axel Bruns calls 'produser'—have been transformed. Pointing to the rise of Web 2.0 and its emphasis upon 'participatory culture,' Henry Jenkins argues that fans are increasingly impacting mainstream culture, policy and intellectual property.[26] Characterised by a focus upon 'conversational media' and user created content (UCC) and communities, Web 2.0 has afforded new ways for fans to creatively connect as well as providing new avenues for distribution. Through vehicles such as Web 2.0, new forms of media such as cosplaying can spread across the region, demonstrating the increased presence of females in a world once dominated by males (in the form of the otaku gaming).
  16. The emergence of cosplayers has highlighted the growing interest and agency of female game players. Emerging from Japanese game and anime cultures, the phenomenon has spread across the Asia-Pacific, providing a platform for female fans and gamers to participate actively in the process of gaming cultures, and, specifically, Japan's role as 'gaming centre.' As gaming becomes increasingly mainstream it is its ancillary cultures—such as cosplaying—that are demonstrating new forms of gendered performativity and, in turn, Japan's role in interactive entertainment in the twenty-first century.
  17. The circulation of images of cosplayers operates curiously across transnational borders, complicating the role of 'consuming Japan' globally. Often, cosplayers outside of Japan draw from their favourite Japanese cosplayer rather than the actual game character. Increasingly, as more women enter the games industry as both players and producers/designers, so too has the phenomenon—or fan-omenon might be more apt—of cosplay grown. Extending upon Alvin Toffler's theory that consumers are increasingly part of the production process in the form of 'prosumers,'[27] cosplaying is exemplary of the emergence of the 'produser,' highlighting emerging forms of creativity and expression within contemporary networked media. Cosplaying enables young women to shift from player to the hybrid position of the produser and then on to, in some cases, producers.
  18. As mentioned earlier, the emergence of these new types of gender performativity around cosplaying can be linked to the transformation of kawaii cultures into new media spaces such as the keitai, Web 2.0 and gaming. These performativities are related to subcultures and new media literacies in which media consumption models—as part of broader 'participatory media' such as Web 2.0—have shifted from consumer/player to produser paradigms. Thus, rather than deploying the notion proposed by Ito, Japanese technocultures are defined by the three Ps: Pedestrian, Portable and Personable, I would argue that in the case of women, gaming and cosplaying, the more appropriate three Ps would be: Player, Produser and Producer. The question remains as to how these different modes of engagement are explored. As Ito has noted, there is an argument for putting forth Japanese gaming as central in the rise of the girls' gaming movement in which vehicles such as cosplaying cannot be underestimated.

      Although Japanese gaming has not been considered central to the girls gaming movement, the role of Japanese gaming genres in bringing girls into electronic gaming should not be overlooked. Much as the Sims has provided a relatively gender-neutral avenue into gaming for women, Pokémon broke new ground for girls who subsequently adopted the Game Boy platform and trading card games.[28]

  19. Games both provide a space for popular imagination and performativity as well as a site for localisation. As Wai-ming Ng notes in his eloquent analysis of the consumption of Japanese games in Hong Kong, 'consuming Japanese games in Hong Kong is not a form of cultural imperialism, because we have witnessed the making of a dialectical nexus between global (Japan) and local (Hong Kong) in terms of ongoing cultural hybridization.'[29] This is complicated further by the active fan cultures of cosplayers in which Japanese gendered performativity can be performed both by Japanese and non-Japanese but also the role play of gender types can be explored. Male cosplayers can become female characters, female cosplayers become male, extending and re-orientating Judith Butler's poststructural notion of performativity as a series of actions and regulations.[30] Gender performativity becomes infused with processes of localisation. And, in the case of young women (of various ethnicities) studying to be game producers and designers, cosplaying is a complex and complicated cocktail of localisation, cultural hybridisation, gender and ethnic performativity vis-à-vis a particular avenue of consuming and imagining.
  20. Phenomena such as cosplay reassert Japan's central role in the imaginings of digital popular culture circuits in the region. For many, the rites of passage into gaming in locations such as Australia and Taiwan involves a disavowal of US 'mainstream' games for the 'subcultural' and 'cool' Japanese games. Generally speaking, whilst US games such as GTA (Grand Theft Auto) demonstrate explicit forms of violence and gender stereotyping, Japanese games such as Final Fantasy focus upon characterisations that reconfigure gender performativity. So begins the alternative entrance into global gaming, uniting players across transnational borders, whilst re-orienting Japan as the alternative centre for popular culture. But, this is not a mere mirroring of Japanisation with Americanisation as homogeneous definitions of globalisation would have it, rather, it is about emerging forms of localisation as gaming shifts from periphery to centre of twenty-first-century media cultures. As Craig Norris has discussed, through anime and manga, Australian fans can explore gendered and racial identities that produce different forms of cultural capital and identity.[31]
  21. Whilst there is a growing body of scholarly research on cosplayers in locations such as Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea, in Australia there has been comparatively little research done, despite the existence of conventions such as Animania[32] that are dedicated to the 'key' event, the cosplay competition. As Patricia Maunder notes in 'Dress up and play cool,' cosplay provides a space where 'games meet reality.'[33] One of the first cosplay conventions was held in the Australian Centre for Independent Gaming, Melbourne, in 2000, with the beginnings of the now annual Manifest (Melbourne Anime Festival) convention. In 2002, Animania began in Sydney, expanding to Brisbane and Melbourne. According to cosplayer and manager of Animania, Kenny Travouillon, Australian cosplayers draw from '60% anime and 40% games,' with the level of professionalism and commitment excelling each year. So much so that in 2009 an Australian team will attend the Holy Grail for cosplayers (apart from the Tokyo Game Show), the World Cosplay Summit in Nagoya.
  22. One of the obvious differences in the politics of cosplaying in Australia as opposed to Taiwan or Hong Kong is the issue of multiculturalism. Young people from various ethnic backgrounds can take the guise of a cosplayer, performing a different ethnicity and gender. For Melbourne cosplayers Anna Nguyen and Jeni McCaskill, 'they are not limited to female personas,' as many male characters in Japanese pop culture are what Nguyen describes as 'pretty.'[34] In Australia the consumption of Japanese popular culture provides an alternative avenue for imagining localisation and globalisation, it re-orients Australia away from its colonial past and into its geo-ideological proximity in the region. It re-imagines Australia as part of the 'Asia-Pacific.' Events such as Manifest provide cosplayers with official occasions to perform, however, for many, much of the time spent being a cosplayer is as much about not being one and preparing or adapting everyday clothing to incorporate elements of cosplay. Indeed for many cosplayers, this is a full-time passion that runs through their various activities that extends beyond periods when in costume. Cosplayers are always looking for inspiration to make their costume better, often reflecting upon potential choices and decisions.
  23. Given Melbourne's relative multiculturalism, the issue of ethnicity further complicates the gendered performativity and re-imagining of Japan evoked by cosplaying. Cosplay provides a space for cross-cultural and inter-cultural imagining for many of these players. Cultural, ethnic and gendered performative diversity is celebrated rather than undermined. It is this ethnic diversity in constructing types of femininity around imagining Japan vis-à-vis cosplaying, along with the role of cosplaying in affording young women entrance into the games industry, that is the focus of this case study. I want to explore, through a preliminary, limited case study, the consumption of Japan—and specifically Japanese femininity and female role models—as the respondents reconfigure themselves both in the games industry and within general social scenarios in Melbourne. For example, how does a Hong Kong-born respondent, studying in a games program in Melbourne, reconfigure her identity vis-à-vis a Melbournian context for consuming Japan?
  24. Moreover, many of the cosplayers I interviewed are studying in games programs and hoping to gain long-term employment in the industry. A subsequent longitudinal study needs to be conducted to see some of the changes that occur in terms of cosplaying as a student and whether that continues, and for how long, when the student becomes employed in the industry. Can future female games makers and producers be taken seriously as cosplayers? Or is the practice of cosplay an integral part in informing new types of strong female role models?

    Cos-playing: player to produser to producer—new gender games for the twenty-first century
  25. Conducted in the latter part of 2007 and early 2008 in Melbourne, this case study of fifteen young female cosplayers (aged between 18 and 26 years) was initiated by my experiences as a teacher within a university Games Program and also my frequenting events such as the Tokyo Game Show in which the significance of cosplay and its link to women in games could not be avoided. The study was motivated by a phenomenon I began to see as young women shifted from consumers and players to produsers and games designers. This study is not meant to be indicative of all young female cosplayers in Melbourne but rather provides a sample investigation into ways in which gender, agency/creativity and gaming are being reconfigured. The study consisted of fieldwork observations at events such as Melbourne egames as well as surveys initially distributed to a group of cosplayers and then narrowed down to a core group of female cosplayers who were enrolled in a games program, degree or qualification. The detailed surveys and follow-up discussion aimed to understand how cosplaying functioned not only as a sign for 'consuming' different experiences and interpretations of 'Japan' but also how this reflected broader notions of lifestyle and social capital.
  26. For the respondents, almost all entered the world of cosplay via both anime and Japanese games, however for two of the respondents—the only two that have a grasp of survival Japanese language skills—it was the studying of the language at primary school that subsequently made them interested in Japanese culture, and thus cosplay. Each respondent had their own way of continuously evoking and imagining Japan through the regular activities of listening to music, watching anime and reading manga, attending 'cosplay-friendly' events, looking at and dressing in Japanese fashion (such as gyaru and Lolita) as well as partaking in frequent consumption of Japanese food most days. As one 18-year-old student said,

      I love Japanese foods such as Pocky, aloe vera or nata de coco drinks, lychee drinks (yum!), and the cute eclectic dress sense. Usually I'll go to an Asian supermarket and buy the aforementioned foods once a week (Rachel, Melbourne, 20 December 2007).

    Another art student aged 21 years old, even did a martial art. As she said,

      (I do) cosplaying several times a year, keeping up with niche Japanese fashions (gothic lolita) along with practising martial arts (aikido) weekly. I'm also interested in Japanese homewares and cooking (bento and amigurumi) as well as owning several BJDS (ball-jointed dolls) (Sophie, Melbourne, 22 January 2009).

  27. When asked whether their network of friends mirrored their tastes and interests in Japan, only half said they had friends 'interested in Japan.' The only respondent who seemed to have an active group of liked-minded friends noted,

      Kind-a, most my friends are into anime and manga and only a handful that cosplay, and then there are those who don't really have an interest but still eat the food (Rachel, Melbourne, 20 December 2007).

  28. Of the respondents, the only two who could not speak Japanese language were keen to learn. Many spoke survival Japanese with one 22-year-old student having eight years of studying. When asked how they first heard of cosplay, some of the responses included,

      Sophie: I guess, growing up I already knew of 'Cosplay' (since cosplay is really no different from dressing up) (Sophie, Melbourne, 22 January 2008).

      Michelle: Around year 7 at high school (2004), through my older brother who showed me pictures of some cosplayers he had found on the Internet (Michelle, Melbourne, 24 January 2008).

      Sarah: In 2002 at my first Manifest (Sarah, Melbourne, 25 January 2008).

      Rachel: I heard about cosplayers when I was first getting into anime, so when I was approximately 14...I knew of people doing it at game conventions but I hadn't heard of it for anime until that time (Rachel, Melbourne, 20 December 2007).

      Helen: At my first convention in 2000—some people turned up in costume, and I wanted to do the same for the next year (Helen, Melbourne, 25th January 2008).

  29. When asked what interested them in 'crossing over' and becoming a cosplayer, some of the responses included,

      Sophie: It looked fun! I was always interested in sewing clothes and crafty stuff and cosplay seemed to incorporate all these interests (like, moulding stuff from clay for accessories, sewing for the clothing, woodwork for some people) into one larger interest. I also liked the chance to dress up as someone different and see the outcome of the hard work (Sophie, Melbourne, 22 January 2008).

      Rachel: It looked fun to dress up.

      Rachel: Well the idea of dressing up as a character and 'being them' (to a degree) for a day appealed to me because it's a chance to do some acting, try out a different personality (for example, a shy person cosplaying as an extroverted character has to be extroverted for the day) and dress cutely without people thinking you're a total freak! (Rachel, Melbourne, 20th December 2007)

      Michelle: Use of creative skill and general 'coolness' of being that character (Michelle, Melbourne, 24 January 2008).

  30. The respondents were then asked how the practice of being a cosplayer has changed their definition and understanding of cosplayers. I asked them to consider how cosplaying functions as a mode of identity and self-expression. Here we see how cosplaying can help elevate situations in which the female feels shy, much like kawaiiculture 'softens' the hardness of communication. Two respondents replied,

      Sophie: Hasn't changed much really, I started cosplaying because I wanted to give a new dimension to my pre-existing hobby and bring to life characters whom I liked in anime/manga, and I still get the feeling that the majority of people still cosplay for those reasons. MAYBE cosplaying serves as a way for people to escape to a different persona and identity, but I don't think so because most of the time the cosplayers still seem to act like themselves...their personality stays the same even though they are in costume, so I don't believe they are trying to find a different identity for a day. Self-expression works, in the sense that I want to express my interests (sewing, etc) in a different form and cosplaying allows me to do that (Sophie, Melbourne, 22 January 2008).

      Rachel: I find that once you've cosplayed, it's really addictive. I think cosplay has helped me be a little less shy in crowds, especially after my first Manifest cosplay. I'm not much of an attention-seeker (no, really!), but I liked the attention I receive when I cosplay. I also found in the past that it can help boost some people's self-esteem and help people make new friends (happens often, it's great). What's also helpful is the information and knowledge that comes from researching, for example, different fabric types, costume-making techniques, [fake] weapon-crafting, etc. This sort of knowledge can be useful in future (especially considering I am a design student and could use this knowledge) (Rachel, Melbourne, 20 December 2007).

  31. I then asked them to reflect upon the role of the 'fan' and how they view traditional definitions of fans changing and becoming more active co-producers in the meanings. The responses varied greatly as to the degrees of agency that came with 'fandom,' especially pertaining to cosplaying. The two contrasting views were,

      Rachel: Well if you put it that way, fans have always been 'co-producers' with examples like fanart, fan fiction. I don't think the roles have changed too much, just the level of dedication and time seems to have increased. Instead of just, say, drawing something for a few hours, we dress up and go to conventions to show off our work and mingle with other people who have the same interests.

      For me, to be a fan of something, you just have to like it. You don't need to fawn over it, cosplay, draw it, talk about it, as long as you know that you enjoy that particular activity, you can call yourself a fan. Someone who spends more money on a particular hobby doesn't necessarily show they are more of a fan; if you enjoy it, you are a fan (Rachel, Melbourne, 20 December 2007).

      Sophie: I don't see cosplayers as 'co-producers,' since this implies that they have an active role to play in the production of the original series/game/source material. While some developers and artists may take cosplayers into account when designing character concepts and outfits, I don't think they would have as much interest or input, as say, live-action actors…I would say that to be a fan, you must express an interest in the source material and/or characters. The depth of this expression is how "much" of a fan you are. However, simply being a cosplayer does not necessarily mean you are a fan—there are many cosplayers who make a costume for the technical challenge, or just because that character is popular. Personally, however, I believe cosplayers have the most fun, and produce the best results if they are also fans of that series and/or character (Sophie, Melbourne, 22 January 2008).

  32. For many of the respondents, cosplay provided them with a space to play and explore forms of self-expression as well as articulating and deepening their interest in Japanese culture. Cosplay provided them with a way to overcome shyness and meet new friends as well as providing them with a space for self-expression and performativity. The role of the kawaii featured prominently, so much so that it often seemed self-explanatory. For many of the respondents, they had dressed as both male and female characters, enjoying the flexibility of gender provided within kawaii culture. For games students, it helps further solidify their commitment to games without necessarily surrendering their femininity or succumbing to gender-stereotypical roles. In games programs in Australian Universities, where a commitment to Japanese culture is almost a standard rite of passage, we can see how the deployment of cosplay enables young female students in particular to graduate from players and produsers to producers/designers/programmers.
  33. For one young Eurasian female student studying a games degree, being a cosplayer and a gamer provides her with 'better connections with people. Although those connections are more based on the fact that we enjoy the Japanese culture and watch anime. Talking about cosplay is just another sub topic of something much larger.' The fact that cosplayers often dress up outside their everyday environments means that often it is hard to spot a cosplayer unless one sees them at cosplay conventions. As the student continued,

      The thing with cosplay is, when outside a convention or a photo shoot or stuff like that, it's hard to tell who is a cosplayer or not. Sometimes you can tell who is a cosplayer outside of these events, a cosplayer's casual clothing sometimes stands out more then the 'everyday' person's (Let's face it, cosplayers can be attention whores)… but at the same time, you can't really tell them apart from people who like to dress differently (Rachel, Melbourne, 20 December 2007).

    When I inquired as to whether she imagined still partaking in cosplay once she graduates and gains employment in the industry, she stated,

      I think I'll keep cosplaying till the day where my kids get embarrassed by it and tell me to stop…but then again I don't think I'd listen to what my kids have to say, um, but really, I think I'll still be cosplaying when I'm working in the industry, the only real difference will be unlike high school and Uni, I just won't cosplay to work…unless they pay me for it. Cosplay is a hobby; at some point it can become a way of life and it can also be a phase, there is no real age limit to cosplay, because there will always be a character you can relate to and dress up as and act like you really are that person and so forth…Seeing that I have like one and a half years till I leave Uni and find a (poorly paid) QA (quality assurance) job to start my climb to the top, I'm pretty sure I'll be still cosplaying (Rachel, Melbourne, 20 December 2007).

  34. I then concluded by asking her how cosplay helps her negotiate the gender politics in a games degree whereby male students still dominate (typically 65 per cent males, 35 per cent females) and she replied,

      I'm very lucky, there are currently no gender politics among the gamers within this degree, there are height politics but no gender. If there was, I think being a cosplay would be useless in a gender battle. Unless you use it as a bribe, 'I'll cosplay a bunny girl for you if you be nice to me!' 'Deal!' gugh… I guess it could be helpful in the fact that cosplayers are normally females. There are few males who cosplay. So if there was a gender issue you could also try and outnumber the males with your cosplay buddies at a convention, but that won't really help…it would become like a gang war or something…In fact I think it would make it worse (Rachel, Melbourne, 20 December 2007).

  35. It will indeed be interesting to watch this phenomenon evolve as female cosplayers graduate from their games degrees and enter the ever-changing field of the games industry. As these respondents have demonstrated, cosplaying functions on various levels—imagining Japan, gaming and gender. This transition from (cos)player to produser to producer for many young females offers hope for the increasing diversity and relevance of the games industry in an age of Web 2.0 and participatory media.

    Conclusion: Game on
  36. With cosplaying, the 'magic circle' associated with game play takes on new dimensions. For some of the female students enrolled in games degrees, it can be a way not only to connect with others who enjoy consuming 'Japan' but also provide avenues for gendered performativity and empowerment. As the young female student notes above, the fact that most cosplayers are female affords her with a space to build strong female relationships in an industry still attempting to address its gender inequalities. Rather than deploying the three Ps—Pedestrian, Portable and Personable—as identified by Ito as central to Japanese technoculture, perhaps, in the case of young women entering the games via Japan, there are grounds to argue in favour of an alternative three Ps—Players, Produsers and Producers. In the case of these young women's entrance into the games industry, the gender performativity of cosplay provides a bridge between players, produsers and producer agencies. Game on?


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