What started as a hobby and a way of interacting with your favourite character has come a long way to find its dark sides as well. There are always two sides of a picture and cosplay cannot escape this reality as well.

The dark side of the cosplay shows up when fans forget that cosplayers are not actually their favourite character and just an individual wearing a costume. Countless incidents have been recorded and reported where cosplayers have been harassed by the fans, and some have also gone beyond just harassment.

Another side of cosplay has also emerged in recent years – the individuals wearing the costumes tend to forget that they are not the original characters and are just wearing their costumes. Cosplayers have been noted to be in the practice of adopting the life of the characters they impersonate. In the practice of actually being their favourite character, they have been involved in violence. These activities have emerged as a threat to the original essence of the cosplay conventions.

Let’s look into this dark side of cosplay.

What is cosplay?

Cosplay is the practice of dressing up as a real or conceptual character from films, video games, anime, and/or manga. The concept emerged in the late 1930s in Japan and has become a widely known and practised phenomenon. Cosplayers are the individuals who dress up in those particular costumes. These costumes are either made by the cosplayers themselves or bought from the market as they are commercially available now.

Cosplay, which emerged as a fun act and hobby, is now a source of income for so many people.

What is cosplay

People of all age groups and genders participate in cosplay. The costumes and their details vary from gender to gender and person to person. Some people may find it similar to Halloween. However, both are different as Halloween is just a holiday event and cosplay is the phenomenon of duplicating a character and acting like it. Cosplayers wear these costumes publicly at conventions to have fun and win prizes for the costumes they wear and the performances they present. World Cosplay Summit is said to be the most well-known cosplay convention in the world with participants from 20 countries.

Cosplay as a way of making money

 Cosplay for some cosplayers is not a fun activity or a hobby. It has become their way of making money and to earn a living. Some cosplayers and their costumes become so popular on the internet that they are offered cosplay modelling careers. Many cosplayers have appeared as official cosplay models for different video game developers. These developers also pay creative cosplayers to design and create costumes for new video games they develop and launch. However, the pursuit to make money as a cosplayer may also backfire as cosplayers may fall into the hands of scammers.

Furthermore, with money, fame and competition becoming a part of cosplay, there has been an increase in negative elements in the industry. Competition has led to professional jealousy and backstabbing amongst cosplayers. Some people also believe that bringing money into the equation takes away the fun. Cosplayers are increasingly anxious about achieving perfection rather than just enjoying cosplay as a hobby. The cosplay community which was once considered very wholesome seems to be breeding some negativity.

making money

The dark side of cosplay

In recent years, cosplay has been associated with more sexuality and less fun. The reason behind this mind-set of fans is the types of costumes most cosplayers wear. Most of the cosplayers wear revealing costumes which some narrow-minded fans term as appealing. The dark side of cosplay can also be traced back to 1970s when cosplayers at the American Science Fiction Fandom appeared naked. This practice was common before the introduction of a ‘no costume is no costume’ rule. This rule might have made fans take cosplay as a phenomenon associated with nudity and sexuality.

The dark side of cosplay

Harassment issues of cosplay

Harassment at the cosplay conventions and in general public is not uncommon. Such harassment includes taking pictures without permission, bullying, verbal abuse, inappropriate touching and groping. Harassers usually follow the cosplayers to take pictures of them and make attempts to approach them to ask for undue favours.

Although women are more commonly the victim of such harassment, men are also not immune to the issue. They are also bullied for carrying a costume well or not fitting into it. The problems have grown so critical that no gender or age group is safe. 

The problem gets severe when the harassers think that the cosplayers are okay with their behaviour. Most of the harassers have been heard saying that if cosplayers were not okay with abusive comments and touching, they wouldn’t have dressed the way they had. They take the costume as consent and make unwanted sexual advances.

Harassers usually get away with this behaviour as they don’t get identified in the crowd. This unwelcomed behaviour mostly comes from the fans and not fellow cosplayers. People need to understand that cosplayers are real people and not the characters.

The problem is more severe in public and conventions are relatively safer. Cosplayers are also comparatively safer when they are in groups and not alone in public or at a convention. According to cosplayers, the problem in the past grew more gruesome because of the lack of necessary safety measures. Safety and security of the cosplayers has improved at the conventions in recent years. However, cosplayers are still not safe in public which is why they avoid cosplaying in public.

Streaming has become mainstream with excessive use of the internet in recent times. Social influencers have taken to the internet to interact with their fans through live video streaming. Cosplayers are also among these influencers and have a lot of fans on the internet. Streaming has also become a nightmare for them because of so many negative comments from ignorant people. Harassment and meanness of internet users have become the biggest obstacles in the way of cosplayers’ interaction with their true fans through live video streaming.

Crossplay issues of cosplay

It is not necessary for cosplay that women only impersonate themselves as female characters and men are to wear masculine costumes. On multiple occasions, men have to wear feminine costumes and portray female characters. This is called crossplay as the genders are crossed in cosplay. This is not an easy task as men find it hard to characterize themselves as a sexualized feminine object or a character. They are made to wear masks to hide their masculine features. Dressed up as female anime character men are also subjected to sexual harassment of all types.

issues of cosplay

Judgement and body-shaming issues

Fans expect the cosplayers to look exactly like the characters they try to duplicate. Cosplayers come in all shapes and sizes and none of them has the same body type as their character. Higher expectations of the fans give way to judgements and then body-shaming of the cosplayers. Cosplaying is all about freedom and creativity, but the judgemental mind-set of the fans is a blow to both freedom and creativity of the cosplayers.

The cosplay community seems to be losing its characteristic of being inclusive and welcoming for everyone. Judgement and criticism often discourages and demotivates new cosplayers from joining the industry.

body-shaming

Gamer guys issues

Nerds are among the most enthusiastic followers of the cosplay and cosplayers. They have the highest expectations from the cosplayers to look exactly like their favourite video game characters because they are the most intelligent with the highest intellect.

Gamer guys among the nerds are the ones to bring a bad name to this culture. Gamer guys are highly anti-social and prefer to live in fantasies rather than building personal relationships with other humans. These behaviours tend to turn them into sadists and have made them worse sexual harassers. Such people make the cosplay community an unsafe space.  

Punishment for cosplay

People sometimes don’t like a character in film, TV series, anime or a video game. Everyone has different likes and dislikes and they are free to express them. What’s wrong and unjustified here is that no one has the right or freedom to punish or get violent with the cosplayer duplicating the character they don’t like.

It sometimes happens that people take their dislikes way too far and attack the cosplayer wearing the costume of character they hate or hold a grudge against. This is what some call punishment and call themselves the punishers.

An example of the above-mentioned case is of Matthew Sterling with a plan to punish Jason David Frank who had to appear at the Phoenix Comicon. Frank played the role of Green Ranger in the famous Power Rangers show and then decided to take the same character to the cosplay community. Matthew Sterling showed up at the Phoenix Comicon with body armour and heavy weapons. He had posted it on Facebook that he was going to get Frank and then go for bad cops as the original punisher did. Sterling wasn’t a cosplayer but he called himself the punisher who punishes criminals.

Punishment

Sterling’s post on Facebook regarding the planned assault of Jason David Frank impersonating Green Ranger was reported to the police in California. They contacted the Phoenix Police Department and immediate action was taken to arrest Matthew Sterling from outside the entrance of convention building where Phoenix Comicon was taking place. Frank was lucky that his self-proclaimed punisher was arrested in time and was sentenced to 25 years in jail. Not every cosplayer is that lucky and this needs to change.

lucky

Cosplayers rising above ethics

There is no doubt that cosplayers are very famous in contemporary time because they have multiple platforms to showcase their creativity, talent and skills. Fans usually follow them for pictures and autographs in the malls or streets. It is usually observed that cosplayers stand in the way of other pedestrians for pictures and autographs. Thus, blocking the way of others who are not interested in these things. These pedestrians are told by the cosplayers to go around them as they block the way. Humility and ethic are absent in the presence of some cosplayers.

Moreover, cosplayers carry big and heavy props at comic cons. The conventions hosting cosplay community are sometimes overcrowded with little space for everyone to walk freely. In some instances, cosplayers mistakenly hit others and have sometimes knocked down little children with their props.

In these situations, cosplayers tend to blame others for coming in their way and parents for bringing kids to conventions. Fewer occasions are observed where an apology is offered by cosplayers. Cosplayers believe they are the reason why people are here and that they own the place at that particular time.

The reactions of the cosplayers on the weapons ban by Phoenix Comicon after the Sterling incident is another let-down. Most of the cosplayers were mad at Phoenix Comicon for the ban and started threatening the organisers. The threats ranged from lawsuits to boycotts. Cosplayers also started to warn the comic groups of losing a lot of money and participants at their conventions. Some even believed that the comic group was over reacting on the Sterling incident and that there wasn’t any threat. Ethics demand logical and reasonable arguments and they were absent in the case against weapons ban by Phoenix Comicon.

We cannot deny the fact that some costumes demand weapons and big props but cosplayers need to understand the situation and act responsibly. Absence of ethics and norms on conventions should never be acceptable and cosplayers need to be more humble to attract more fans. The weapons ban was merely to protect people from being hurt and to prevent any such attempts as Mathew Sterling had made. No matter how famous or important a person is, at any given place and point in time, norms and values should never be ignored. Unethical behaviour should never become a norm.

‘Cosplay is not consent’

As already mentioned, people commonly believe that cosplayers have no objections on photography without permission, inappropriate touches and groping. This belief prevails because of the way cosplayers are dressed up. Most of the costumes are revealing and make the cosplayers look sexier. Harassers take this as a green signal and an opportunity to make unwanted sexual advances without the consent of cosplayers. This has been the darkest side of cosplay and people need to understand that cosplayers are not always ready to satisfy their lust or greed.

‘Cosplay is not consent’ is a phrase which became a movement to protect cosplayers from harassers at conventions. This phrase reminds the fans that cosplayers are normal human beings in costumes and they should be treated as humans first. They should only be treated as characters if they allow the fans and fellow cosplayers to do so. This movement also urges the fans to protect cosplayers and fans from harassment and assault of any level. It is the responsibility of all to protect all.

There are little kids on the cosplay events as well. Harassment by fans would disappoint them as well and they would refuse to participate in any cosplay event after that. Also, kids have the most fertile minds and they learn quickly from what they see around them. If they see harassment being practiced as a norm on cosplay events, they would do the same when they grow up. This would, in no way, help the cosplay community.  

cosplay community.

As Vivid Vivka, a cosplayer, believes, no cosplayer needs to take pictures with a person who is acting like a jerk. Fans should not be treated as fans if they don’t treat cosplayers as humans and instead, treat them as objects. If someone is touching you or trying to break into your personal space, as a cosplayer you need to tell the security personnel. Ask them to throw the person out of the convention if needed. Every individual and the cosplay community specifically must educate each other and the fans to create a friendlier cosplay environment.