Confessions of a Cosplayer
Assassin’s Creed femme fatale speaks
by David Hilton
© 2012 David Hilton
My favourite though, and I admit I’m totally biased toward anything Assassin’s Creed, was Clare Costigan (The Vixen Gamer)’s effort- the female assassin version of Ezio.
From spending $400 on that outfit, to zombie novels, stick-thin models and salacious fantasies about Ezio, Clare gives a refreshingly honest insight into her motivations for cosplay and the whole female gaming world.
It may just change your mind about the myth of the ‘girl gamer’ and about cosplay as a ‘geeky’ pursuit.
David: Clare, your Assassin outfit at EB Expo was simply sensational. How long did it take you to assemble it and how much work was it?
Clare: Well thank you very much. The idea to recreate an Assassins Creed cosplay outfit has been with me for some time but it wasn’t until about 4 months ago that I came across a piece of fan art online that blew my mind away and it was then concrete in my mind that I must cosplay this costume.
It was strong, sexy and really spoke to me on some insane level. So it’s taken about 3 months of scouring second-hand clothing and online stores to find all the pieces for it.
I wanted to pay particular attention to the detail of the outfit. I found pieces from all over the web and then, like a child at Christmas receiving all these boxes on my door step, I took scissors to them, pulled them to pieces and tailored the materials to refit a female physique.
I also sourced details such as gold buttons and white lace to add extra detail and also make it feminine. The corset also complimented the colour scheme with its rich red/burgundy, gold, silver and black hues. It was an essential component to the look, really, and added a feminine and sexy feel to the outfit.
For me it wasn’t about copying Ezio’s costume perfectly, the character I created doesn’t actually exist so I had the freedom to make my own tweaks which was a lot of fun. It may seem odd worrying about such small details like how low the front of the costume was cut and crafted or how long it was in the back, but those few inches make all the difference.
All in all it was quite a bit of work and it cost from head to toe a good $400. There was a lot of mumbling to myself in the aisles of Spotlight as I tried to hunt down buttons or lace that I felt would suit the costume and the time period in which Assassins Creed 2 was set.
I’d have moments when I’d be scouring the net to look for inspiration and then glance at the clock and it would be 3am and I’d think to myself ‘Clare, what on earth are you doing?’
The reaction from EB expo-goers, especially females, was nothing short of jaw-dropping. I definitely witnessed something amazing over those 3 days and that was, simply put, that people respond passionately to a strong female character.
I remember one girl came over to me and wrapped her arms around my waist and gave me a big hug because she loved the fact that I’d created a powerful yet sexy female assassin.
Her mum told her to let go and so she turned to walk away only to turn around and give me one more quick hug and say that she loved the costume yet again. That moment was intense, it was perfect.
David: You obviously made your Assassin character ‘sexy’, much like the multiplayer women in Assassin’s Creed. Not only would that have got a fair bit of attention I gather from the hot-blooded gaming men out there, but you would have been aware that this would have been the effect.
You’ve discussed how a woman’s power can lie in sexuality and it isn’t just an exploited state.
Can you explain how this is so and how you see that in games like Tomb Raider or others where women are strong and smart….but also sexy?
To some extent it’s true but for me, with regards to the gaming community and as a female, I don’t feel women are. Look at Lara Croft; to me she oozes powerful, femininity and she is sexy to boot. Should the creators of Lara Croft feel ashamed that they made a character with big boobs, a small waist and a strong athletic figure? Um, I have big boobs, a small waist and an athletic figure should I feel ashamed?
Well I don’t and neither should Lara Croft’s creators.
Much like anything you need to look at the delivery of the character. If Lara’s prime role was to make sandwiches I’d shake my head at her too, but Lara is out raiding tombs, exploring the world, taking on baddies and using her brains as much as her body to achieve her goals. What’s wrong with that?
Do I think it’s sexist that in Tekken 2 male avatars have the opportunity to beat up scantily clad female avatars? No, not at all, because if you look outside the square you will soon see that the female characters are also beating up scantily clad male characters.
It’s not even what the game’s main intent is – gender is moot. Both characters start on an equal playing ground and it is up to the user to play that character to victory.
Might I add that male gaming characters are also highly, highly masculinised. Have you seen those bulging biceps on the Tekken Tag Tournament 2 male game characters or that impossibly chiselled face of Leon S Kennedy?
Gaming is a highly exaggerated and fanciful realm and the characters we gamers choose to play are probably an extension of our egos. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s when the will and intent of a user turn sinister that you know you have a problem gamer on your hands.
I’m sure there are women out there who dislike vintage Wonder Woman. But to me vintage Wonder Woman was a power house. She rivalled the skills and talents of any male super hero character; more importantly I saw her as equal to the men.
Wonder Woman and Superman are equally epic in my mind. Why should I, a woman, be offended that she had big boobs, a small waist, athletic shoulders, arms and legs? I feel more of a physical connection with Wonder Woman that I do with stick thin models in fashion magazines.
It’s pretty lame that there are people out there in society who still connotate flesh with weakness. Why is sexuality still demonised? Well I have a good idea why but that’s a whole other debate.
There are so many arguments and counter arguments to a debate like this and I could be here all day, but at the end of the day female characters like Lara Croft, Wonder Woman, Ada Wong or the very smartly dressed Aveline de Grandpre from Assassins Creed 3 (who in my opinion is neither more powerful or less powerful for her choice of fuller wardrobe) are not exploited because their sexuality and femininity are on display.
I prize them because they don’t shield their femininity away like it is something to be ashamed off.
However, it is also important to move away from the visual analysis of the female game character and also concentrate on her mind as well. For me to like a female character she must display intellect, savvy and wit. I’ve got a lot of time for these sorts of women.
The days of masculinising women in order for them to fit in with men is gone. It’s well and truly dead. It’s time to move on. Men and women are a far more liberated bunch these days and heck, if you’ve got it, flaunt it.
David: Women have often been vulnerable, victims, helpless needing to be rescued or captured prizes in popular media.
Do you think there are more examples these days that push female strength and intelligence over just eye candy and being saved?
Do you largely think male audiences respond to that or are threatened by that still? Would they rather have the ‘rescue plot’ over the ‘strong woman who saves herself’?
In the world I reside (predominantly the gaming realm) I’m surrounded by quick-witted, sexy and powerful gaming characters and I derive ample sources of empowerment from them.
But on the flip side I’ll confess I’ve had salacious fantasies about being rescued by Ezio or Leon S Kennedy (my version of 50 Shades of Grey), yet that scenario only appeals to a small fragment of my personality.
It doesn’t mean I’m weaker for having those fantasies at all it’s just a prism of my mind that is attracted to a strong alpha male figure. I also have fantasies about me fighting off hordes of zombies with a bow and a katana.
I fantasise about a male character who is my equal, at my side, and also helping me. In fact in the zombie apocalypse novel I’m writing, which is called Nation Z, one of my main protagonists, Carly, is a very capable female who forms an alliance with a very capable male, Angus.
Angus is skilled in arm-to-arm combat and talented with guns and Carly is superb with knives and a bow and arrow. He saves her in the book from a few sticky situations and in turn she saves him from quite a few too. I call it teamwork.
We all need help sometimes, it’s when the portrayal of help and teamwork between men and women is communicated with huge amounts of bias that I begin to roll my eyes.
Personally I think the ‘strong man rescuing weak women’ or vise versa is just lazy storytelling and I prize gaming for its ability to tell a story.
David: Because gaming mostly began as a male pursuit (certainly back in the 80s when I first played around with games), do you find that as a female gamer too much attention is devoted to you explaining yourself as a female gamer (like in interviews like this), or do you welcome the focus because it means you have a chance to explain what about games appeals more these days to women in general?
Clare: The media love a good spectacle. Why people are still talking about the ‘phenomenon’ of female gamers is beyond me. Sorry to break it to everyone but it’s old news. Move on.
People should be asking the question, ‘what do women enjoy about gaming?’ That’s what I’m concerned with these days. I game because, shock horror, it’s fun.
I find the whole ‘explaining myself’ rather entertaining and there is definitely an over focus on it. If I had my way I’d probably stop analysing it and just get on with gaming. But there are people who will follow me at conventions and drill me with questions because they can’t fathom the idea that I like to play video games.
I grew up gaming. I have two brothers and a sister who are gamers and we are all only roughly 2 years apart so we’ve grown from using an Atari to a Nintendo 64 and now some of us are on console and others on (seriously impressive) PCs.
The children I grew up with on our street played video games and half were female. It’s actually just really normal to me.
David: You were previously a model and didn’t find that ‘scene’ very comfortable, but now find yourself fully engrossed with cosplay with gamer culture.
Both involve dressing in stunning outfits and being centres of attention, but why have you found it more comfortable with gamers over the fashion people?
Clare: The obsession with skinny within the fashion world was a turn off. Not long ago I was walking in a run way show and I was surrounded by young women who would stand in the mirror and put their knees together and analyse the gap between their thighs.
They began having a competition to see who had the biggest gap. The mindset that skinny is everything to these women is heart breaking. As a model you literally stress over millimetres in weight fluctuation. One inch up and you are out of that revered ‘fashion’ weight and size bracket.
One girl told me she hadn’t eaten properly in 3 days so she could look her ‘best’ for the show. I literally stood there and felt terrible for her body. This amazing and powerful machine that is the human body was being abused so terribly because of a mind-set.
This mentality amongst our young men and women is morbid. It’s sick. They are literally starving themselves to be revered, noticed, to fit in or to be respected and ‘accepted.’
I was told so many times by people in the industry that I was too large (I’ve never been bigger that a size 10), so I pursued a plus size career only to be told at castings that I was far too skinny to be in this category.
It was insanity, there was literally no category for me. Talk about rejected. Even in the swimsuit category where curves are supposedly revered I was told I had no place because smaller framed girls were more revered than my tall and athletic frame.
I think this is why I turned from modelling to acting and presenting. I studied these crafts at Australia’s prestigious NIDA and LAMFT (London Academy of Media Film and Television) and found that this was more my calling.
But I was not really interested in playing the house wife or a mundane role. I wanted roles where I could be this powerful heroine. Then I connected acting with cosplay and here I am. My acting, modelling and presenting work has literally culminated in where I am now.
Everything happened for a reason, everything happened exactly the way it was supposed to happen, for if it didn’t I wouldn’t be here now. It’s damn Matrix moment if ever I saw one.
The cosplay community is the first community where I feel totally welcome. I don’t know why I didn’t make the connection sooner.
In the cosplay community I can be a size 10 or a size 20, it doesn’t matter.
I don’t starve myself to fit in here. I am in complete control of who I am, what I wear, where I go and who I interact with. The photo shoots I do see me in charge. I show as little or as much as I darn well like.
In the fantasy world you can be petite but strong, you can be athletic but womanly, you can be smart and sexy, and most importantly you can be you!
I adore that there is no one telling me I’m too big or too small here. Even if they did I’d just laugh at them now, I’ve never felt more liberated in my entire life!
David: What gaming characters have you previously cosplayed, and do you have any favourite?
Clare: I’ve cosplayed Claire Redfield (one of my favourite game characters), a Sith from Star Wars, Little Red Riding Hood (you should see my twist on her!), Lara Croft, Alice from Resident Evil and of course the now infamous Female Ezio based on Assassins Creed 2 (as well as a few female characters that I’ve devised myself).
I’ve got so many other ideas that I want to create and bring to life though and I’m finally getting the support I need to bring them to fruition (cosplay is frightfully expensive). It’s very exciting.
Of all the characters that I’ve portrayed I have to say my female Ezio has been my favourite. That outfit made me feel a million dollars.
David: Japan has a big tradition with cosplay and in North America they have Halloween and other costume-focused fantasy.
In Australia do you find it still gets arched eyebrows when you say you get a kick out of cosplay? Do mainstream people see you as strange or into fetishes?
Clare: This fascinates me; Australia, for such a young nation, has this streak of conservative running through it. I really don’t get it. But I’m not concerned with what the masses think; I’m past that now.
Everyone has the right to their own views and if someone thinks cosplay is strange it is simply an opinion formed by them due to the experiences they have had in their life. We are after all a product of the experiences we have had in our lives and if you think about it something is only something when in comparison.
I see some young men and women walk down the street in fluoro get ups and bizarre legging pants and I can’t understand that fashion sense but if that’s what appeals to them then so let them be.
But is cosplay so strange? How is it any different to an actor or actress pulling on a costume and becoming a character?
I have girlfriends who are really into fashion and mainstream stuff and yet they even post on my Facebook page that they love what I’m doing. I’d like to think the symbiotics of a strong female is attractive to some part of our core, which is an infinitely more powerful connection.
But I’ll admit growing up in an all girls catholic school with friends who adored boy bands and American sitcoms saw me reside in the outer circle. I was never ever popular. I was Clare the X Files nut, of Clare the WWE obsessed chick, Or Clare the Harry Potter lover. I didn’t get the attraction to N Sync or The Backstreet Boys.
I lived half my youth in a fantasy world conjured by my imagination. I rather liked it there.
David: Male gamers have traditionally had this image of being ‘nerdy, anti-social, and unable to communicate with women’. Do you find this to be mostly true, or mostly untrue.
I know a lot of guy gamers who do just fine with the ladies and I know a lot of girl gamers who do well with the men.
The days of the ‘geek’ gamer are long gone. Gaming is a massive industry now, many different types of people game. People need to shift their perception of who a gamer is. There is no such thing as a typical gamer anymore.
David: Have you ever been made to feel threatened by ‘creepy’ gamer-types? Or do you find you are respected?
Clare: At the EB Games expo I think I must have met and posed with hundreds of people, they were 99.9% amazing, polite, courteous and respectful people.
So I feel respected by the vast majority of people in the community, but the same can be said for outside the gaming community as well.
Creeps exist everywhere. ‘Creepy gamer-types’ do come out of the wood works though from time to time and in my experiences they have been male in gender. It’s a real shame because they just destroy the fabric from which they are cut.
I had one creepy guy follow me around at the EB expo that’s just past. He felt the need to drill me on what games I play, what level I was in certain games, what my gamer specs are and what server I played on.
The thing is I could sense in the first 5 seconds of meeting him that he would be a problem; he was immediately standoff-ish but I didn’t tell him to go away, instead I actually got information about him out of him.
I’ve had men challenge me at gamer events or expos with sceptical questions. “Aw yeah if you’re really a gamer what is this, or what is that.” I just look at them and laugh and can’t help but feel a bit sorry for them.
I never once said I was the world’s best gamer or that I was the goddess of gaming with divine and all-knowing gamer powers and knowledge. I don’t have the answers to every games related question under the sun, no one does. I’ll offer answers to the questions I know, no one can do any more than that.
But it’s important to say here that gaming doesn’t create these people, these people are miserable and court trouble inside or outside the gamer community. It’s the events these people have had in their lives that have created these people.
David: By the same token, female gamers are regarded as rare, strange, or ‘fake gamers and manufactured’ (eg. IGN former models or Frag Dolls).
Do you find that female gamers are more quiet about their passion, but that there are many of them, or do you still find many more male gamers than female?
Clare: I don’t have access to data or market research that can offer concrete male to female games user statistics, but I’ve had discussions with game-makers and distributors and they all tell me that female gamers are on the increase in a big way.
Again purists will rant here that girl gamers are just app players or Sims lovers.
They fail to see that gamers can be anyone and play multiple types of games across different media platforms. I’ve had a ball playing the Sims (with the cheat codes that allow me to have tones of money and let me create ridiculous houses) only to switch off my PC and then pick up an Xbox remote and play some Res Evil or Left for Dead.
Women play video games; it’s pretty standard now. The question I am interested in is why women enjoy gaming?
David: What genre of games do you most enjoy?
Clare: I’m a sucker for MMO’s, but I’m starting to broaden my horizons because MMO’s take up so much time.
I’m not so good at first person shooters but that’s because I’m newer to them. I’ve had truly enjoyable moments playing WoW, Diablo 3, Lara Croft, Dead Island and Assassins Creed.
David: You are currently writing for OXCGN and a Zombie novel with characters you are enjoying. What is it about writing a novel about zombies that inspires you?
What about the post-apocalypse setting is so exciting for you? I’ve always found it a bit terrifying!
Clare: Writing Nation Z is so much fun, it’s totally insane.
I kid you not there was a three-week period where all I did was think of the world of Nation Z in my mind. Ideas and scenarios were flooding to me and I would write for hours and hours a day. It was a bit like playing WoW.
I guess I enjoy the action and fantasy of it all. It’s my world and I love to put on some music, close my eyes and dream up combat scenarios. Yeah, it’s a bit different I know but I’ve got a really active imagination.
I have no idea how or when the fascination with the zombie genre began but I think what appeals to me most about the genre is the survival aspect.
I know if a zombie apocalypse struck tomorrow I’d be totally freaking out, we all would, but there is a part of me that also relished the opportunity to test my survival skills.
David: Obviously you love to be imaginative and creative. When were you first able to ‘find yourself’ and let yourself find outlets for that in gaming, writing and cosplay?
When you were younger was it harder, because these days ‘practical’ pursuits seem much more valued, not imagination and creativity, which are often seen as useless or strange?
It’s only recently, after a few years in the corporate world, that I have come to the conclusion that I am not engineered to be an office worker. I find it almost impossible to function in that environment.
I don’t regret going to university though, I’d advise people to go; knowledge and learning is a wonderful thing. It’s a shame that society places such a massively high value on what job you have and how much money you earn.
No one stops to ask, “How happy are you on a day-to-day basis?” or “Do you feel you are spending your short time on this planet doing what makes you feel fulfilled?”
It’s akin to defining intelligence through one’s ability to master mathematics and mathematics alone. Everyone is different; everyone has a special talent that they can use to contribute to society and intelligence shouldn’t be based on talents displayed solely by those who are left brain dominant.
It’s funny actually, in a way we all need one another. The creative’s need the practical and vice versa.
Growing up I was always on the outside. I went to an all girl’s catholic school and I had literally zero interest in American sitcoms or boy bands. I loved fantasy and sci fi and that meant I had hardly any common interests with other girls.
But as I grew older, left the school yard (and all its silly, insignificant mentalities behind) I began to meet new people who had similar interests.
In the gaming and cosplay community I’ve met other women and men just like me who have the same story. Then you realise you’re not alone at all and you never have been.
David: You obviously are interested beyond post-apocalyptic zombies, because you’ve been Lara and an Assassin.
What about those franchises (Tomb Raider and Assassin’s Creed) attracts your interest?
She is sexy, she’s intelligent and she is quite a strong woman; I like those characteristics in women, I like them a lot.
Assassins Creed is precious to me and here is why; the franchise’s ability to tell a story is superb. I’m also a massive fan of the underdog. I feel movies have really lost the ability to tell a good story and maybe it’s because they have two to three hours to tell a whole story and that’s very hard to do.
Gaming is fortunate to be able to build intricate story lines into the medium because they have longer time frames to do so.
I love that Assassins Creed intermingled fantasy with historical events in their story lines. They also use real world people to give the story-line gravity. It’s just juicy. I also love all the action in it.
David: What games are you most looking forward to this year or next?
Clare: On my radar at the moment are Assassin’s Creed 3, ZombiU and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.
David: How important is a single player story to you, or do you like a bit of mindless multiplayer kill-athon-ing?
Clare: I’m all for a bit of mindless multiplayer killing. I like the team work and social aspect of it.
Clare: Secret agent zombie slayer or a powerful sorceress who is part of secret and ancient magical order.
I’d be a direct descendant of the first gods of magic casting who fight an evil order of warlocks who court destruction and ruin. Just your usual stuff really.
You will find more of Clare’s work on OXCGN in the future. Look out for her Resident Evil 6 review soon. You can also follow her pursuits here.
Another look at female gaming here.
© 2012 David Hilton
Filed under: Console gaming, EB Expo, EB Expo 2012, Events, Game Impressions, Game Industry News, Industry News, Interviews, New PS3 Games, New Xbox 360 Games, Oxcgn Special feature, PC News, PS3 News, Wii News, Wii U, Wii U News, Wii U News, Xbox 360, Xbox 360 News Tagged: | Assassin's creed, Assassin's Creed II, cosplay, EB Expo, eb expo 2012, Ezio, Female gamers, Lara Croft, Tomb Raider