Masks as Role Play:

 Masks and Role Play

In Western Culture, a distinct subculture is emerging; the subcultures of role play. We love going to conventions for Science Fiction, Fantasy, Animation and Videogames. We also love dressing up as said characters. Words like Kigirumi, Cosplay, Costuming and Dolling dominate this realm. Also in the realm of videogames, the phenomenon of online play is a popular pastime. Even in these digital realms, we encounter masks of a digital sort, allowing us to become whoever we want to be. There are also a growing number of games where masks end up being the primary or secondary story device for video games. Whether it’s our favourite Japanese Anime character, or wanting to replicate a videogame character, we love dressing up, in person and online, reinventing ourselves into whomever we want to be. In this section we will be looking at the world of role play in the real world, Kigirumi and Cosplay, and in the online world of videogames, and how we choose to recreate ourselves for others in both realms.

            Kigirumi and Costuming History.
            First, what is Kigirumi? It is the practice of dressing up in full costumes, often with masks. There are three main categories of Kigirumi; Zentai (Japanese Animation and Manga), Fur wearers (also called “furriers” or furry animals”) and Pajama wear, which involves wearing full length costumes (with a hat piece instead of a mask). In addition, there is a variation of Kigirumi called “Dolling”, which is the wearing of an entire body suit, including mask. Interestingly, most “dolls” are men dressing as men or women, the full body suit completing the illusion. “Costuming” is the American equal, though it often involves original characters, as opposed to Kigirumi which is about celebrating pre-created characters.
            Where did all this fantasy dressing begin? The origins can be traced back to 1939, at the first “World’s Science Fiction Convention” in New York. It was during that event that two men wore costumes of what they thought future outfits would look like. Many speculated they looked like they were “from the future”. The next year, over a dozen people showed up wearing costumes. This practice continued onward, and in 1984, a gentleman by the name of Nov Takahasu arrived at a science fiction convention in Los Angeles. He was impressed by the costumed attendees, and then coined the phrase “Cosplay”. The word comes from Costume (role) and Play (Pure) in Japanese. The Japanese people caught this attention, and decided to attend their own conferences. While the American side was more about original characters, the Japanese chose characters that already existed in Animation and comic books. The practice of this costume wearing continues on both sides of the Pacific to this day. While the Japanese having “Dolling”, there is what could be considered a North American equivalent, though on a much smaller scale. Called “Masking”, it is mainly attributed to the cross-dressing community. It is the wearing of masks and body suits to imitate the opposite sex. While Male masking (women imitating men) does exist, it is Female masking which seems to be more prevalent. It is still in its infancy, with only a couple of conventions, it is a slowly growing group. It involves the wearing of bodysuits and masks to appear as the opposite sex. Whereas Dolling in Japan is certainly exaggerated, Masking tends to go for realism, with realistic masks and body forms that can be bought and worn to complete the vision of a woman (or man). Masking can also be involved with Cosplay, called “cross play”. In the worlds of Dolling and Cross play, things are often not what they seem. It doesn’t have to just be Japanese characters; masking can show itself as a form of dolling in North America, with people wearing full body suits of comic book and science fiction characters of the opposite gender. Masks and gender is an important topic, and one covered in a later chapter.
            The “Furry” avenue of Kigirumi involves animals, and comes from a different direction. “Furries” are often mascots for sports teams, theme parks, and child related movies and television programs. Whereas Anime deals mostly with human type characters, “Furries” or fur wearers, mostly tend to be animal forms. The “furry” however, has a longer history than that of Anime. Costumed mascots and theme park characters have been around for decades. A “fur-wearer” can be considered anyone who wears a full length “Fur” costume. But how far do we go back?
            The third are called “Disguise Pyjamas”. These essentially are full length pyjamas of Anime and comic characters. They encompass the whole body, though the “head” is more like a hat and doesn’t cover the whole face.
Gender Masking
            Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be the opposite gender? Modern masks make it easy enough to do. A modern variation of cross-dressing, it is a growing practice in the Western world.. While in North America cross dressing is considered unusual (though compared to even fifty years ago, it now is an accepted practice), in other countries, particularly those cultures who are tribal, there are sometimes three or more genders; let’s be specific here. We are talking about gender, the mental sexual mannerisms, or what sex someone feels. Sex, on the other hand, refers to their biological sex. One can be only male or female biologically, unless you have a hemiphrodite, which is at birth at both sexual organs. However, there are males who feel like they should be females, and vice versa. It also is not about homosexuality-ninety five percent of cross dressers are heterosexual, many of them happily married. So what does this have to do with masks? A small (but growing) sub group of cross dressers participate in masking, or the more common term “masked role play”. This is similar in some ways to the Kigirumi we discussed earlier, however, masked role players, or “maskers”, and are often concerned with actually looking like a woman, complete with realistic looking masks. Now some might think this may be sexual role play, and that does happen certainly. However, many maskers will go out and about in their outfits, often with body suits. Unlike Kigirumi however, they aim to try and blend in when out and about. There are websites devoted to followers of this practice, some very sexual in nature, others more open about trying understand and support others. So when did this all begin? Cross dressing, in one form or another, has been around for centuries. We also know that “Dolling” is a mainstay in Japanese theatre and Kigirumi/Cosplay. But the Western variation has taken some different roads to get there.