Learning From Role-Play

“Role play, in particular, should be seen as a fundamental skill used across multiple academic domains. So far, we have suggested its relevance to history, language arts, and cultural geography. Yet, this only scratches the surface.” (Jenkins, H. 2006. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. The MacArthur Foundation.)
bnha cosplay
Photo featuring cosplayers dressed as characters from My Hero Academia at Kami-Con 2018.

In a previous post I quickly touched upon players within the MMORPG I played role-playing their character within the game’s virtual landscape. At times, I thought it was a bit too much when we were just trying to get through the dungeons and someone was still in-character while smacking monster around. However, now I realize it isn’t any different to actors portraying a character in a movie, or in my personal case, when I cosplayed at conventions. I picked the quote above to go along with this post’s topic because the book mentioned a young girl doing the same exact thing which immediately made me relate and proceed to reminisce.

I haven’t cosplayed in a few years, but I recall it being a whole lot of fun. The act of cosplay typically consists of picking a character from a show, game, story, etc. and then creating an outfit based off of them. People who know how to sew will often grab patterns and alter them for their dress-up needs, but many others will grab various pieces of costume and combine them to look like their character. The more devout will also add wigs and special effects makeup to further the look they’re going for. After the creation process comes the acting. Many will travel to anime, comic, and gaming conventions completely in-character and hang out with like-minded individuals as they travel around the booths, panels, and meet-ups.

When you first think about it, it seems a bit cringey and annoying to do. It’s typically hot in those get-ups and ridiculously annoying when parts of your costume come undone. Staying in-character is also pretty difficult when you need a break from talking to people. And those personalities of some of the characters are extremely loud and obnoxious. Who would want to dress up as some character and act like a nerd for an entire day?

Uh… Me.

I first started attending anime conventions back in 2008. I was a young teen excited to dress up as my favorite anime character along with my small group of friends. I looked forward to attending informational panels, buying goods from the shopping area, and admiring all the different cosplay. It was a smaller convention, but there was a lot to do. There were people dressed up from so many different genres of anime and video games – many we didn’t recognize but asked and learned about from the role-player. Along the way, we even took a bunch of photos intending to post them on our newly-formed Facebook pages. At the time, I just thought of it as another play date with my friends. However we met with so many like-minded people of all different ages and were exposed to a lifetime of experiences that I still keep with me to this day.

It’s been a decade since then, and even though I don’t cosplay much anymore, I realize now that the act of performance within role-playing characters was invaluable in learning how to think differently. I learned to use the internet to my advantage and look up details of the event, including the rules and policies in a social context – something I had never done or even cared about before that first convention. I learned how to socialize in person with people I didn’t know because I was able to talk about topics we had in common. I learned to take negative comments with a grain of salt thanks to reading the feedback on social media whenever I posted my outfits. And one of the most important things I learned from cosplay: I’m able to think more in terms of other perspectives. Because of my role-playing experiences, I can easily place myself in their shoes by using my imagination and reading into the lives of others through their written/spoken words – basically in the same way I cosplayed as a particular person and researched their character online.

Role-playing, whether it be through cosplay or online role-playing games, serves as a way to perform as another being and gain new outlooks into areas one might not have ventured into before stepping into the mindset of another. I think it’s important to give kids and even adults the chance to play pretend without fear of mockery so that they can experience the act of play. I should really get back into cosplaying, myself, so I can add a little bit of play back into my life! I learned so much as a young teen, I figure I might be able to assist any fledgling cosplayers I happen to run into! (Plus, I’d love to get all that sweet, sweet feedback on Instagram.)



1 thought on “Learning From Role-Play”

  1. Thanks for this. I live downtown and love the weekends with the streets full of cosplayers, even while I’m very much an outsider to that world. I really appreciate what you’ve written here about finding your way through the social worlds of the convention via online investigations and then sharing what you experienced with others you met back in digital media. This is such a great example of the “real” and “virtual” being blurred and often mutually supportive. we hear too little of what are the taken-for -granted parts of digital life.

    Liked by 1 person

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