COSPLAY COLONISTS: Rise of the Creative Audience

Principal, Creative Development
Jan. 2, 2014

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COSPLAY COLONISTS: Rise of the Creative Audience

  1. COSPLAY COLONISTS: Rise of The Creative Audience SATE CONFERENCE, SAVANNAH GA 10 04 13 THINKWELL CONTRIBUTORS: LAURA BITTMAN, DAVID C. COBB, DEVIN FLANIGAN, CRAIG HANNA, ARIANA JARVIS, KATE MCCONNELL, CYNTHIA SHARPE 1 (Introduction) I know that, due to the title, many of you hoped I would be showing up at SATE like this...
  2. 2 Good for a laugh, sure. But this guy’s already done it, so why try to follow greatness? He was a brief celebrity, folks. He’s a meme. Google “Tron Guy” and you’ll see what I mean.
  3. 3 Today’s topic is much broader than cosplay. Nerds, geeks, dweebs, dorks, whatever you want to call them... I mean, us... they... I mean we, are sort of taking over the world.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 4 You don’t need me to tell you that Geek culture has invaded movies. Top Ten Movies of All time Internationally: Three based on comic-books (Avengers, Iron Man 3, Dark Knight Rises) Two based on fantasy novels (Harry Potter 8 & LOTR 3) One is based on a toy line (Transformers 3) One is based on a theme park ride (Pirates 2) Superheroes and Fantasy Characters are our new Greek Gods. (Source: IMDB)
  5. 5 And big games routinely open WAY bigger than big movies. (Source: Christopher Correa, 4/1/13
  6. 6 There’s probably entire graduate theses out there being prepared on the topic of Geekdom, defining and sub-defining the words and terminologies and etymologies and cultural histories of what it means to be a Geek.
  7. “I find the term ‘geek’ weirdly disparaging and box-like for something that’s so huge. People will call Buffy the Vampire Slayer geek culture and yet it ran for seven years and is one of the most successful TV shows of all time. You could argue that superhero and fantasy movies are modern cinema. Geek hasn’t beaten the mainstream, it’s the new iteration of the mainstream. You don’t have to buy an obscure fanzine on mail order to be part of it any more. You can be part of a digital community that draws you together and keeps building your interest.” - Warren Ellis 7 But really, the word “geek” is getting a little outdated. Seminal comics author & technology theorist Warren Ellis sums it up nicely. Geek hasn’t beaten the mainstream, it’s the new iteration of the mainstream. You don’t have to buy an obscure fanzine on mail order to be part of it any more, thanks to online digital communities.
  8. 8 In the bigger picture than just boxoffice, Geeks own you. They’re not just defining culture, their massive successes are basically paying for your retirement. If you *still* have a misguided sense of cultural superiority that places Geek Culture as some sort of “fringe” audience who lives in their parent’s basement, then you have ignored the fact that the internet happened. From astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and pioneering game theorist & designer Jane McGonigal, to artists and storytellers like John Lassiter, Simon Pegg & Amanda Palmer, the pendulum of popular culture has swung less towards stale corporate norms and more towards brains, passion & innovation.
  9. “The working environment has become so harsh that young people think that if they’re going to succeed they’ll have to do it for themselves. Though geek first appeared as a kind of anti-fashion statement, it’s becoming bound up with entrepreneurialism, selfmotivation and independence instead of weakness. Knowledge and craft and detail are cool again.” - Andrew Harrison “Future of Geek Culture” The Guardian UK Sept 02 2013 9 Worse, if you think there’s a difference between billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and the burgeoning geek youth culture, then you *really* don’t understand the internet. The ripples of geek culture are a frequency that an ever-growing younger generation hears, loud and clear, as a call to their own personal action. Knowledge and craft and detail are cool again. Enthusiasm is a virtue.
  10. 10 You already know that technology and the internet have made creativity in our society incredibly democratized. It’s not really geeky to use a high level of technology any more. A 12-year-old girl making funny Vine videos on her iPhone isn’t a geek, she’s a functioning modern teenager. In fact, Lilian Powers from Michigan created over a hundred amazing 6-second short films via Vine over her summer vacation. She screamed in public spaces, she licked her cat, she deconstructed the modern practice of taking selfies. It was some of the most genius comedy the web had seen in a long time - from a twelve-year-old. She hit the front page of Gawker, and had hundreds of thousands of shares within days. She’s a very young, textbook example of a whole new generation of digital natives who realize that, in order to stand out, you have to do things yourself and do them well.
  11. THE CREATIVE AUDIENCE 11 So as content creators, we have to realize that it’s not just about “user-created content” as a separate category, nor about “us versus them” -- it’s about realizing that your audience has a creative impulse themselves, and that *your* stories will inspire them to tell *their own* stories. It’s an opportunity for a two-way conversation.
  12. 12 Responding to stories by wanting to tell your own stories is a basic human need. I was here... this animal gave its life to sustain me... I saw a rhino! It’s no different today. The internet has just exposed it more.
  13. 13 One of the earliest forms of fan expression, predating the internet, is fan fiction, which, in the form that we know it, began in the 1960s with Star Trek fanzines and the earliest sci-fi conventions. Fifty years later, the internet has made fan fiction EXPLODE. Sites like Archive Of Our Own are hosting MILLIONS of users writing, reading, remixing, and sharing their own works. Don’t mistake this as a stepping stone between “amateur” and “professional,” those terms are outdated. Bestseller phenomenon 50 Shades of Grey started out as Twilight fanfic written under the penname "Snowqueens Icedragon".
  14. “All novels are sequels; influence is bliss.” - Michael Chabon 14 And the truth of the matter is, literary history is built on reinterpritation, as so brilliantly surmised by Pulitzer-Prize-Winning Author Michael Chabon.
  15. 15 Influence and creative expression has rippled through nearly every modern audience, and digital distribution has made it possible for people to create and connect immediately. Music fan? Make an album on your laptop. Like movies? Make a film and watch it go viral. Gamer? Indie gaming is now where indie film was in the 90s, exploding like crazy. Crafting? DIY? Show people how to make stuff on Instructables, sell your stuff on Etsy, display your cool new invention at Maker Faire or even Kickstart a whole new consumer product. But if you’re a theme park fan....?
  16. 16 Things go a little slower in our industry. You still can’t make your own theme park. Or can you?
  17. 17 Some people already have, sort of. From suburban Halloween haunts, to backyard miniature golf courses, to over-the-top holiday light displays, to handmade roller-coasters and monorails -- folks have taken their hobbies to new heights, inspired by the parks and rides and shows they love. Obviously, not everyone has that kind of time, money, or real estate.
  18. 18 As we well know, theme parks have a HUGE fan community, with lots of discussion... do we have any opportunity to channel that energy? Every other art form inspires people to create and follow the leaders. What’s the creative outlet for foamers?
  19. 19 Pre-internet, you had mavericks like Tony Baxter, who nurtured his love of parks initially as a fan, then working at Disneyland, then creating his own college major based around theme parks. Thankfully, more universities are now developing these kinds of multi-disciplinary programs.
  20. 20 Meanwhile, I was so obsessed with dark rides that I used to build scenes around my slot-car tracks, built out of all of my other toys and Legos & Lincoln Logs, turning the slot-cars into miniature dark rides that I pined to be small enough to ride. I think my favorite was an ersatz version of the Haunted Mansion, mashing up a deconstructed Green Ghost board game and Aurora’s Universal Monster model kits, while playing the “Thrilling, Chilling Sounds of the Haunted Mansion” record in the background. Not quite a custom college degree, but I digress.
  21. 21 By the time I had a Commodore 64 computer at home in 1983, I was obsessed with PINBALL CONSTRUCTION SET, which let me build and play my own pinball tables (with very crude 1983 graphics). Then in 1989 came POPULOUS and SIM CITY, two of the earliest “world-building” games -- the latter of which exploded in the 90s to become one of the best-selling game series of all time.
  22. 22 In the mid-90s I similarly became obsessed with two fairly obscure PC games called COASTER and STUNT ISLAND, actually released by Disney Interactive. Coaster let you build and ride your own rollercoasters in first-person, and Stunt Island let you build huge scenic environments and drive or fly your own stunt scenes through them, recording them with multiple cameras. Coaster evolved into the early aughts, most interestingly even borrowing the “Imagineering” name as a new software & game division, but disappeared around 2003.
  23. 23 Rollercoaster Tycoon came out around the same time, and quickly became one of the world’s most popular digital “world-building” games, now on its third sequel. It’s incredibly detailed, all the way down to placing the trash cans. It’s also surprisingly sophisticated, and it’s an operational & strategic simulation. It’s equal parts about how to properly and efficiently operate a theme park as it is about “fun” and riding coasters. That’s because it developed from a previous game called “Transport Tycoon”, which was all about big-city transport logistics -- that game’s designer was an industrial engineer, who later in life fell in love with roller coasters and decided to do something about it.
  24. 24 In 2001, No Limits coaster simulation was released by a small German software developer -- another coaster enthusiast who applied his fandom to his career as a software engineer. This fan-made program was highly detailed, extremely flexible, and had very accurate physics -- so it became an instant success with coaster fans, and you can literally find hundreds of thousands of rideable coaster sims. Amazingly, it has now become the go-to software package for companies like Maurer-Söhne and Premier, for early concept layouts and animatic ride-throughs of their designs. I’ve used it myself for dozens of early mockups.
  25. 25 World-building simulation games changed forever in 2003 with the internet-connected Second Life. Now it wasn’t just about world-building for yourself, it was an online community of other world-builders. It was about social activity in a shared space (and freaky cybersex).
  26. 26 Another big sea change was the release of Garry’s Mod in 2004 -- another early “sandbox” game, that started out as a “modification” (hence the name) of the megahit video game HALF-LIFE 2.
  27. 27 There is no actual game objective to Garry’s Mod, and players can use the game's set of tools for any purpose whatsoever -- leading to an explosion of odd, crass, amazing, unbridled creativity. You probably haven’t heard of Garry’s Mod, but it’s made 22 million dollars.
  28. 28 One creative theme park fan used Garry’s Mod to ressurect Walt Disney World’s cherished Adventurer’s Club in excruciating 3D detail after its unfortunate closure in 2008. The HALF-LIFE game engine this uses is a first-person shooter, which is why players have a weapon in their hands while navigating the defunct attraction. But it’s not about shooting, it’s about exploring a long-closed attraction in an excruciating level of detail that is staggering, even to fans.
  29. 29 It’s not the only extinct attraction that fans wanted to resurrect. Various projects have cropped up in the past decade, with fans using increasingly easy and inexpensive 3D tools to bring their favorite attractions back to life.
  30. 30 Some of these have even become simulation “games”, teaching players how to operate rides to get the highest capacity & throughput and lowest down-time. Keep in mind that these are ALL fan-made. That last one, Mystic Manor, opened just a few months ago, and already has a fan-made game created about it online.
  31. 31 Now, it’s quite common for games to be released not only with pre-set levels for players to complete as usual, but construction or “sandbox” modes that encourage players to become creators and world-builders. The Little Big Planet series that debuted in 2008 on PlayStation 3 currently has in excess of 8 MILLION user-created levels.
  32. 32 Released in 2009, the global phenomenon Minecraft has sold over 33 million copies across multiple platforms. If you don’t know what it is, ask your kids, because I *guarantee* you they’ve played it. There are thousands of collaborative online Minecraft projects, including entire cities, and all of Hogwarts Castle.
  33. 33 Now Disney has released Infinity. On one hand, it’s simply combining video games with toy collecting, with RFID-encoded figures that unlock characters and abilities and entirely new game levels when placed on a base that plugs into your game console -- obviously inspired by the equally-insidious Skylanders from competitor Activision, which made over $500 million last year. But it doesn’t just tap into collecting, it also taps into the emerging Creative Audience with a “Toy Box Mode”, allowing players to become creators of their own Disney Worlds, allowing them to mash up characters and themes and stories in any way imaginable, and invite their friends in to play along with them. We have two generations that have been taught (and will expect to continue) to create their own worlds. The game industry has basically decided that it’s in their best interest to help teach gamers how to design games. What similar world-building can themed-entertainment offer its audience?
  34. 34 Still, those examples are all just digital worlds, simulations and on-line recreations. How can the audience’s creative impulse affect their favorite stories and characters in the real world? Designer Greg Maletic created Wishing Stars in 2008, and it was the first GPS-enabled mobile game inside a Disney Park. And it was fancreated, predating any of Disney’s in-park mobile efforts to date. There are dozens of “wait-time” apps at the parks -- most of them predated the “official” ones and were fan-made with crowdsourced waittime data.
  35. 35 Just as fan fiction emerged in the 1960s, another form of fan expression appeared: Reniassance Faires. Appearing in the US in the early 1960s alongside the post-war revivals of many early music forms, they represented a resurgence of interest in medieval and Renaissance culture. Of course, we had Civil War reenactments much earlier, and Europe had similar historical fairs before that, but those were mostly living history museums that combined historical sites and re-enactors to explain historical life to modern visitors. These were a decidedly more bawdy take on the idea, adding more theater and food and shopping to the history. They were a fan-created form of celebratory, experiential theater where visitors are encouraged to wear costumes, contributing to the illusion of an actual Renaissance environment. Fans call these costumed guests "playtrons" (combining "patron" & "player"), that add a second level of enjoyment by letting visitors "getting into the act" as Renaissance Lords and Ladies, peasants, pirates, belly dancers, or fantasy characters. Ren fairs are more than just theater, and for their fans, they’re more than just a hobby.
  36. 36 Flash forward forty years and Disney creates the decidedly less bawdy Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boutique, a veritable license to print money that brings opulent princess (and pirate) makeovers to a much younger generation of renaissance revelers.
  37. JUNE 2012 37 But not if you’re 15. This tearful teenage girl was kicked out of Walt Disney World for wearing clothes that looked too much like Tinkerbell while celebrating her boyfriend’s birthday. I get it. Disney (and parents) don’t want kids taking a picture with an unofficial character. It’s a valid operational concern for Disney to have, and something they need to address. But here’s the thing. Three generations, myself included, have been sold and re-sold their childhoods over and over again, and have been told it’s okay not to give up childish things anymore. We all have toys on our desks at work. So what defines “adult” in a place whose sole mission is to bring out the kid in all of us?
  38. 38 In April of 2013, I was at Disneyland, standing in line for an attraction next to two girls who looked extremely well put-together for a day at the park. Chatting with them, it suddenly hit me -- while not costumes, their outfits were “cool interpretations” of Snow White and Rapunzel. I called them on it, and they giggled at me and put a finger to their lips: “Shhhhhh!” It was like I’d been let in on a cool new secret. They called it “Disneybounding”. At it’s most basic, Disneybounding is the intersection of fashion and Disney. Fans essentially style themselves as their favorite Disney character using modern-day clothing that you pulled from your closet or a standard retailer. So, while you’re “dressing up”, you aren’t actually in a costume.
  39. 39 I soon discovered that “Disneybounding” was a term coined by blogger Leslie Kay, who started her Tumblr page earlier this year as a place where “fashion geeks and Disney nerds collide”. It’s a way of telling your friends via social media that you’re “bound for Disney”, headed to the parks, and ready to play dress-up.
  40. 40 A few months later, it’s now super popular, with dozens of copycat blogs, Pinterest accounts, Instagram, all over the place. Just do a hashtag search for #disneybounding and you’ll see what I mean. Since Disneybounding can be as subtle or as extreme as one chooses, it’s a style of dress that’s highly adjustable and easily tailored to just about any comfort level or situation. Disney hasn’t officially adopted the term (which would probably kill the trend anyway), but their latest ad campaign encouraging people to “find their #DisneySide” is a clear appropriation of this particular philosophy of Disney fandom.
  41. 41 I had a similar experience at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando, where I discovered local kids, coming to the park in Hogwarts costumes, doing their *actual* school homework at the Three Broomsticks restaurant. Let that sink in. They were *cosplaying* their *real-world* *homework*. At a make-believe school. So, people are using theme parks in ways that they weren’t necessarily designed for. Audiences of all kinds, finding their tribes and creatively expressing themselves in social, public ways.
  42. 42 My personal tribe expresses themselves through red shirts. In 1991, Orlando native Doug Swallow thought it would be fun to get some of his fellow gay friends together for a day at Disney World. Thinking others might want to join them, he decided to open it up to anyone in the gay community, with the stipulation that they “wear red and be seen.” News of the event spread quickly; they were expecting 15 or 20 people to show up. Instead, on June 1, 1991, around 1,500 people attended the very first “Gay Day.”
  43. 43 Today, “Gay Days” fills an entire week in June, and has also expanded to Disneyland in the first weekend of October, now reaching about 30,000 attendees in Anaheim. With upwards of 150,000 attending the original in Orlando, Gay Days have become a vacation destination for the LGBT community, helping bring in an estimated $100 million to Orlando's economy every year.
  44. 44 I’ve been going to Gay Days on both coasts for nearly two decades now. It even became a family tradition, bringing my nieces and nephews along. All four of them grew up with it, from the time they were infants well into their teens. It is, of course, an unofficial event, with no official support from Disney. In the early days, they actively warned guests with signs at the entrance, and offers of free t-shirts to clueless straight dads and families who stumbled into the park wearing matching red shirts. But now, in a subtle bit of “Dog-Whistle Marketing” some interesting merchandise shows up in the weeks leading up to the event.
  45. 45 There are a bunch of other “days” at Disney parks, and each formed organically without Disney’s corporate participation. Each embraces a tribal identity that puts their own spin on what it means to be at Disneyland. Dapper Day started in 2011 by designer Justin Jorgensen. He was inspired by classic Disney concept art, which often featured dapper guests enjoying the park. These guests appeared dressed for a day of sophisticated entertainment, men in sharp suits, toddlers working two-pieces, and ladies looking like a page from Dior's sketchbook - all as if a visit to Disneyland were on par with a night at the opera. And why shouldn't it be? So DAPPER DAY Events at Disney Parks is about realizing those designer's dreams that, for one day at least, Disney Parks be experienced as the upscale escape that they are, filled with fashionable guests ready for fun. 
  46. 46 On the far other end of the spectrum is Bats Day, aka Goth Day, the annual meeting of Goth and Industrial music fans, which has been happening since 1999. Started by a few Goth night clubs, the first Bats Day only had about 80 people in attendance, but it now welcomes thousands of black-clad fans every year. And not just club kids -- entire families get decked out in their spooky best.
  47. 47 And like magic, Disney rolls out the Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise and bat-themed Mickey ears, even though Goth Day happens in May, months away from Halloween. The park has even started creating subtle commemorative pins for all of these “days” -- notice no “Bats Day” name, just a year. But it’s created and sold specifically for that day. Disney’s subtle reaction to this kind of market shift isn’t anything new. They’ve done this kind of “dog-whistle marketing” for years. It’s no coincidence that Disney’s annual Gospel concerts are scheduled in February during Black History Month.
  48. 48 Museums are similarly reacting to their audience’s needs and ideas. There are 5 marriage proposals a year inside the walk-through heart at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, and for years, their oldtime “1900s Street” would attract locals dressed in period costume. Most notably, WWII Submariners would arrange their own group meetings in uniform at the U-505 submarine; now, the museum has invited them to turn it into an ongoing living history project. The New York Transit museum noticed a pattern of attendance with a significant number of kids on the autistic spectrum; they’re often huge fans of trains and transportation, because its about numbers, colors, even the repetitive movement & sound of the trains can be theraputic for sensory proceessing disorder. So, the museum created a specific program for these kids, which isn’t about the content and collection of the museum so much as it is about the environment, using that audience’s shared interest in trains as a means to encourage peer to peer interaction and develop social skills and confidence. Many museums have now created Autism-friendly nights with lower sound levels, tactile experiences and group facilitation. And just ask any Natural History Museum in the country -- Creationist groups routinely schedule (and sell) their own private walking tours through many museum collections, curating their own content and narrative.
  49. DIVERS SWIMMERS WADERS 49 While creating this deck, someone asked me, “but if we cater just to fans, won’t we fail?” Probably. This kind of audience-specific engagement doesn’t have to be at the expense of the wider world of “regular” guests, but rather as a way of enhancing everyone’s visit. It’s about seducing people up that pyramid. Those fans you think are fringe have lots friends and family that they’ll tell their stories to. The people that take the time to post to Yelp and Tripadvisor are the deep diving nerds with emotional investment and an influential range.
  50. YOUR AUDIENCE HAS AN AUDIENCE 50 And it’s not just about online reviews. It’s already happened in every other medium -- fans create and share content online inspired by the shows, movies, games and music they love, and those creations in and of themselves have their own special, quite massive audience. This alone is the most profound shift in all of the technologies that are changing entertainment today.
  51. • • • • COSPLAY AFFINITY DAYS & EVENTS APPS MARRIAGE PROPOSALS • • • • PIN & COLLECTIBLE TRADING PHOTOGRAPHY RENEGADE ART DRINKING AROUND THE WORLD 51 So there’s a myriad of things your audience is going to do in your spaces, creating their own content that may or may not align with your own content. Find unique ways that those activities can create a two-way conversation with your fans. Reach those audiences on their own turf, not the other way around. Transparency & authenticity is key.
  52. 52 Sometimes the fringes of guest expression might not be easy to swallow. I’m actually surprised that Banksy and the guerilla film “Escape from Tomorrow” took so long to happen. But they really are the exception, and they’re more about unique legal issues and crisis management that go way beyond most fan-created content.
  53. 53 For the most part, fans who want to express their love of your attraction, your park, your brand identity, have a sense of ownership that can match or rival your own. Walk in their shoes and try to remind yourself why they have those intense emotions, what their tools of expression are, and how you can empower them to spread their stories in celebration and support of yours.