Cosplayed Gaming: Exploring Gender Identity through Costumed Play

SPEAKERS: Karen Tanenbaum, Josh TanenbaumTANENBAUMS QGCon 2015 headshot

Clothing and costumes are essential to how people construct, enact, and experience social identities. What we wear is an indispensable component of how we are perceived by others (Goffman, 1959). Clothing is expressive, often telegraphing details about how we want to be perceived and how we perceive ourselves. In theater practice, costumes and masks play a significant role in supporting an actor’s transformation into a character (Stanislavski, 1936, 2013). In particular, masks play a significant role in evoking new body language and character behaviors (Johnstone, 1992).

Costumes operate according to a logic of theater practice known as “outsidein” transformation (Benedetti, 1997; Daw, 2004). Outsidein transformation works by emphasizing the contexts and activities of the actor (such as setting, props, costumes, make-up, dialogue, body movement, and social interactions) to elicit a mental transformation into the character. Outside of theater practice, this phenomenon goes by many names. We connect it to Adam and Galinsky’s concept of enclothed cognition that examines how different clothing can modulate our own self-perception and identity performance, often at unconscious levels (Adam & Galinsky, 2012). Enclothed cognition holds that “wearing clothes triggers associated abstract concepts and their symbolic meanings” (Adam & Galinsky, 2012). Adam and Galinsky found that participants in a study who were wearing lab coats were half as likely to make mistakes on a selective attention task as those wearing their normal clothes.We are developing and running a study that involves participants wearing Super Mario, Princess Peach, Princess Zelda, and Link costumes while playing as those characters in contemporary Nintendo games (i.e., Hyrule Warriors and Super Mario 3D World). The study is part of our ongoing research into costumes, wearables, transformation, and play (Tanenbaum et al., 2015; Tanenbaum & Tanenbaum, 2015). We are particularly interested in the impact of playing a character with a different gender identity from one’s own: how do gendered performances manifest between the player and within the gameplay? What language do the players use to describe themselves and each other? We plan to bring the games and associated costumes and headpieces with us so that members of the audience can participate in the visceral experience of wearing a costume while playing. We anticipate having preliminary results from the summer study to discuss, and will provide a theoretical framework to contextualize the experience of costumed play, in an emerging dialogue with the conference participants.

KAREN TANENBAUM is a Project Scientist at UC Irvine in the Department of Informatics and is a founding member of the Transformative Play Lab. Her research explores tangible and ubiquitous computing paradigms and the application of artificial intelligence techniques to interactive storytelling and game design. She also studies Maker/DIY culture, with a particular emphasis on its role in STEM education.

JOSHUA TANENBAUM is an Assistant Professor at UC Irvine, in the Department of Informatics, and a founding member of the Transformative Play Lab. His work explores the intersection of performing arts, embodied interaction, and games to develop a design poetics for transformative play. Drawing on traditions of outside->in character transformation, his research explores and articulates new game design principles that provide opportunities for players to develop insight and empathy into the experiences and perspectives of marginalized individuals.