Thursday, May 5, 2016

Final Project: Cosplay Playlist!

 As is quite clear to anyone in this class by now, cosplay is the current focus of my research. It makes sense, then, that I chose to make an LRNG playlist around it for my final project. That playlist can be found here (it’s still in unpublished preview form).

Cosplay—a portmanteau of the words “costume” and “play”—involves portraying a media character both by wearing a costume (usually one you’ve made yourself) and by sometimes roleplaying that character. These can be characters from any media—TV, movies, video games, comics, books, etc.—and can even be costumes of objects or themes from media instead of characters. Cosplayers tend to gather at fan conventions, where they have fun with other fans and are often asked for pictures. I love that I get to both engage in cosplay and study it, because I’m a huge fan of various media and am active in online fandom, so I was very happy to dive into it for the first time in order to deepen my engagement with fandom and explore something that always looked like lots of fun!

Why do I think this is educationally important enough to make a playlist for it? As I’ve explored cosplay as part of the Re-Crafting Math project, I’ve discovered that cosplayers learn a ton from this process, especially from making the costume themselves. They develop craft and design skills, as they work on making their costumes look accurate to the character and technically accomplished. They learn technology and science skills, as they learn how to search the internet for useful resources, maintain content in cosplay blogs, and sometimes even add high-tech aspects like LEDs or 3D printing to their costumes. They are engaging in literacy discourses in their interpretation of the character, and sometimes they can even add a critical element by, for instance, questioning gender norms by cosplaying a character that does not share the cosplayer’s gender. They build confidence and explore their identity as they act in-character while wearing the costume at events; it takes a lot of guts to, for instance, pose menacingly with a weapon for a photo when you’re normally a very subdued, non-threatening person! They develop relationships with other cosplayers, both ones they meet online and in person. And most importantly for the Re-Crafting Math project, they have to use a great deal of math to make a complete costume. Sewing in particular requires math concepts like measurement, symmetry, and 2D-to-3D spatial reasoning as sewers envision how 2D fabric will look on a 3D body, and how to join together 2D fabric pieces so they will curve and fold properly. Clearly, this is an educationally rich hobby!

The XPs I chose as part of the Cosplay Creation playlist more or less follow the sequence that most cosplayers follow when they begin to get involved in this hobby. In surfing online fandom spaces, they see cosplayers of characters from their favorite media and begin to become curious. Perhaps they were impressed by others they saw cosplaying at cons or in their group of friends, but haven’t tried it themselves yet. This is all covered in the “Get Cos-spired!” XP. Often, the first cosplay a person will do is a “closet cosplay” compiled from items the cosplayer has lying around at home or finds at thrift shops. This is an easy and cheap way to get started, and still gives the experience of becoming someone else for a day. Oftentimes, this motivates closet cosplayers to want to try making their own cosplays. It could also be seen as a form of “tinkering” with clothing and sometimes using it in unexpected ways until it looks the way youth want it. As we know from Resnick and Rosenbaum (2013), tinkering is an important competency for developing creativity. That’s why this is my second XP. I next ask youth to make a cosplay page so they can engage with the online community of cosplayers, and also so they have a place to record their progress and post photos. Then they are asked to choose a character (or object) to make a cosplay for. They have a chance to reflect on this decision in their blog post about it. Because I know how much math is inherent to sewing, especially for spatial reasoning, the “Take a Sewing Lesson” XP is not optional. Next are two XPs around making the costume, one for the outfit, and one for props (optional). Because youth need to make at least 70% of the costume from scratch in order to earn the badge, they are asked to take many pictures of their process and record it all on their cosplay pages. This not only helps them engage more deeply with the online cosplay community because it gives others the ability to follow their process to make the costume themselves (just as the youth in turn did based on someone else’s tutorial to make the costume in the first place), but it also encourages the use of reflection in action (Schunn, 1983) as they think about when to take pictures of their process and how to write about it later. Finally, youth have the opportunity to engage in two XPs while wearing their final costume: attending a fan convention and participating in a cosplay photoshoot. These are both integral to the cosplay experience, as they provide a motivation for completing the costume, an opportunity to pose in-character, and a chance to expand their horizons of fandom to other fans and perhaps even other fandoms. They are expected to write posts about these experiences as well.

As for reflecting on my own design process, I think the most important change suggested by my classmates was to try to make the XPs more open to youth who might not have financial or geographical access to in-person events like sewing lessons or conventions. They suggested I make the “Take a Sewing Lesson” XP digital instead of local, both because the local XP builder is still a bit limited, and also because they thought there should be a greater emphasis on learning sewing from online tutorials for those youth who cannot find or afford an in-person lesson. They also had a great idea for a free alternative to a fan convention—throwing a costume party with friends! These suggestions were super important for making my playlist more widely accessible.

The other big change I ended up making on my own was to change all the submission requirements to include a link to the youths’ write-up about the matter on their cosplay page. At first I had asked them to submit photos and write-ups directly to the LRNG site. But upon reflection, I realized that posting them publicly on a blog was a much more useful and authentic way for youth to engage in the online cosplay community. Cosplayers love browsing through other cosplayers’ work online for inspiration and admiration, and without online tutorials, most costumes would be almost impossible to complete. By ensuring that all parts of their design process is on a public blog, this playlist helps youth to give back to the cosplay community, while also documenting their learning process and developing their written communication and reflection skills.

I kept many tenets of constructionism in mind while making this playlist. I already mentioned tinkering and reflection in action. At a very basic level, I followed “One of [Papert’s] central mathetic tenets… that the construction that takes place ‘in the head’ often happens especially felicitously when it is supported by construction of a more public sort ‘in the world’ (Papert, 1993, p. 142). All the XPs in my playlist require a tangible (i.e., “in the world”) submission, even the supposedly “abstract” ones like “Get Cos-spired!” and “Choose a Character.” These tangible, shareable artifacts are mostly in the form of posts to the youths’ cosplay pages, but some of them involve non-digital artifacts as well, such as the costume itself. I think successfully constructing a costume could be evidence that youth have constructed some new ideas about spatial reasoning (and perhaps measurement, proportion, symmetry, etc.) “in their heads.” From a material feminist standpoint (Taylor & Ivinson, 2013; Buchholz et al., 2014), the textile crafts of sewing, at least, involve materials like fabric and sewing machines that traditionally have been more associated with women. Cosplayers, too, are still majority female, though the gap seems to be closing. But successful cosplay costumes are often considered “cool,” thus valuing in a new, modern way these traditionally feminine materials and practices around sewing (and sometimes cosplay even involves knitting, crochet, embroidery, and other textile crafts).

I also feel that the cosplay community could be viewed as a sort of “samba school”-like community, in which, like the Brazilian samba school that Papert described in his 1976 essay, cosplayers of all ages and skill levels gather and are welcome to learn from each other, as they all work toward a common endeavor of creating something for a capstone event—Carnival for the samba dancers, and conventions for cosplayers. In both, we see “the weaving of education into the larger, richer cultural-social experience” (Papert, 1976, n.p.), as learners learn not because they are forced to, but because it is simply part of the experience of exploring a new dance move or a new technique to make foam armor. For cosplayers, that experience extends beyond the digital realm of cosplay blogs and even the physical realm of fan conventions, to include the experience of media consumption, of being a fan, of solidarity with other fans, of geeking out with your friends who are also fans, of reinterpreting a character, etc. This is why I wanted this rich context to be preserved in my playlist; I made it mandatory to reflect on choice of character to cosplay, to engage in the online cosplay community through a blog, as well as to experience the community in person at events like a con (or a costume party if a con is not possible).

It was highly rewarding to create this playlist, and I hope to continue to refine it with feedback from mentors, peers, and youth themselves. I think many youth will be interested in it, and I hope it will help to validate their interests in media as educationally important, and make a positive impact in their lives!