Cosplayers get ready for RetroGameCon 5 in Syracuse

Cosplayers prep for RetroGameCon 5

Published: November 15, 2017
Cosplayers at RetroGameCon 5 in Syracuse

In a posted Instagram photo, John Bass looks like a knight in 21st century armor ready to take on a supervillain. Black and silver metal plates cover him from head to toe, a fiery red light glows from his chest, two square-shaped hand cannons are on his wrists and another appears on the suit’s shoulder ready to fire Nerf darts. The costume is based on the Marvel Comics character War Machine, who appears in the Marvel Studios films and is portrayed by actor Don Cheadle. Bass did not purchase this costume in a store. Instead, he crafted it himself out of foam, a bit of cardboard, and some plastic. He will be wearing it at RetroGameCon 5 in Syracuse where he will compete for best cosplay costume.

Now in its fifth year, RetroGameCon is a video game-themed convention taking place Nov. 18 and Nov. 19. Cosplayers attend as characters from video games, anime, and comic book-based properties such as Marvel. The convention includes cosplay contests for adults and for kids. For those cosplaying at the event the costumes they wear are more than just visual outfits but are vehicles to escape everyday life; they are products of passion and projects of much time and effort.

Cosplay has sparked the interest of academic theorists. In an article titled ‘Cosplay’: Imaginative Self and Performing Identity published by journal Fashion Theory, authors Osmud Rahman, Liu Wing-Sun and Brittany Hei-man Cheung write:

“Cosplay provides young people with dreams, pleasures, romances, and fantasies that cannot be fulfilled or cannot materialize in their daily lives.”

Bass echoes a similar statement when thinking about the reasons why cosplay draws people from around the world today.

“We get up, we’re forced to work, we’re forced to impress our bosses, we’re forced to impress teachers, those people, but we don’t have enough time to really impress ourselves in a way,” he said. “Cosplay gives us a way to break out of the normal and everyday life, the boring life, and we can finally have fun, be heroes, and be something we feel like is of greater value.”

Cosplayers at 2017 RetroGameCon 5 in Syracuse

Cosplayers confront challenges in making their elaborate costumes. Sarah Alspach, a judge at this year’s RetroGameCon cosplay contest, has professional experience sewing for productions on Broadway, at Washington National Opera and currently at Syracuse Stage. For her, cosplay allows her unique creative opportunities she usually would not be afforded while working in the theater landscape.

“It’s so gravity defying when you’re like, ‘How can I engineer this?’,” Alspach said. “That’s something I love about it. It’s so fresh and new and we don’t often get to do things like that at times in the theater.”

One of Alspach’s particularly challenging and rewarding cosplay outfit creations was based on the character Tali’Zorah from the video game series Mass Effect. Tali’Zora is a member of the alien race known as “Quarian,” and due to her species’ weak immune system appears throughout the series in a futuristic protective suit which features a purple tinted, gas mask-like, face shield.

This aspect of the character’s outfit proved to be quite difficult to create.

“That took so many tries to get right,” Alspach said. “Because you have to get the water to be a certain temperature, you have to throw in so much dye to get it to really work, so that was a bit frustrating. When it all came together I got to wear it for Dragon Con and it was really, really exciting.”

For some cosplayers their creative interests begin in childhood. Bass realized his passion at a young age when drawing a detailed house he saw in the cartoon show Rugrats for a kindergarten class assignment. He then moved onto Lego sets as he got older.

“I would literally build these things without even looking at the directions,” Bass said. “It just came to me. I just looked at the box and ‘Pow!’ I instantly put it together.”

After Lego sets, Bass moved on to creating cardboard props such as tanks, boats, and ships for him and his brother to use when they would play pretend WWII simulations together. After high school, Bass wanted to creatively push himself beyond building and playing with action figures. He came across people on YouTube making outfits based on the video game series Halo, and soon after followed suit.

When Bass finishes his cosplay outfits, the hard work does not stop there. With each costume he builds, such as the War Machine armor, he goes through a series of thorough tests to make sure they can handle a variety of conditions such as weather or that the costume will allow him to bend, sit, and squat.

“I’ll try to do a simulation of me sitting in a car,” Bass said. “I can make sure that if I have to be transported by car I’m able to sit and I don’t have to worry about damaging anything.”

Nick Morman also will be attending RetroGameCon this year. Morman interviews cosplayers on his YouTube channel, WebCamNick, but also has two cosplay outfits that he created in the past: The Scarlet Spider, an alternate version of Spider-Man; and a Jedi from Star Wars. This year he’ll be going as the masked outlaw hero Star Lord from the Marvel comics and movies Guardians of the Galaxy.

Cosplay costumes can get expensive. Morman says people spend a wide range of money to create their costumes. He said a few of his friends spend $1,000 or more on costumes, and he knows people that have cosplayed for around $100, since they know how to sew and have materials at home.

Ben Ackley will be attending the convention as the Pokémon character Ash Ketchum. For him, it’s the sense of community at RetroGameCon that makes it stand out.

“I get more connected with most of my friends and the people that live locally at the [convention] that actually have the same interests and views that I do,” Ackley said.

RetroGameCon will be held at The Oncenter on 800 South State St. in downtown Syracuse. The convention is a celebration of video games including retro games, more current games, board games, card games and more.

Last year’s convention held 3,000 attendees in addition to over 100 vendors. At this festival, Patrick Milligan, director of RetroGameCon, said he hopes to break the previous attendance record.

Milligan said he has his own theory about why cosplay is so popular now.

“Everybody is a fan of something.” Milligan said. “Everybody has an obsession, and if your obsession is a certain TV show or a certain comic book character the chance to dress yourself up as that character and be that character for a day or two is really something special in your life.”

Avatar for Aaron Halls

is a contributor to The NewsHouse at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.