Fellow cosplayers also include the BLU spy, a short, stocky girl with a fake RED engineer mask; the BLU engineer, a soft-spoken burly man in his 20s and the RED engineer, a ranine old woman; the BLU sniper, a large, jolly woman from Australia, and the BLU Medic, a sweet, somewhat ageless lady from New Jersey with a very well-made costume. This was her first cosplay, and all of the cosplays were very well done. I’m struck by how kind everyone is, even though most of us have never met each other before. It’s amazing the icebreaker it is to be dressed as characters of a favorite game. We joke around as if we are all best friends who have been playing Team Fortress 2 together for years, a feat considering I myself have never actually played Team Fortress 2. But I can keep up because I have been told enough of the story by Hays and Karla. All together, ten of us trekked outside to the wild blue Texas winter to find a place to take pictures, eventually settling, as you know, at the light rail station.
While we are posing in character, several people have been passing us, pointing, making faces—reactions that can be expected from people who are confronted with a large group of teenagers posing atop a defunct light rail station, much less dressed mostly in strange blue outfits. This is also not helped by the fact that those taking pictures included a boy dressed as a bright-red brigadier/pirate-thing who insisted on making dramatic poses as he photographed and an imposing, girthy, gothic woman.
At one point, three men who looked to be in their late 20s-early 30s walk up. I’ll admit I am a bit frightened, as they seem like the bullies who had stuck these kids’ heads in toilets in high school. Thankfully, they don’t throw punches. However, they do what groups of men out to prove their machismo do, which is to make fun of us, their entertainment, to spur each other on, and to ask us what we were doing in a way that it’s clear they don’t understand, don’t care, and don’t approve of. They take some of the cosplay weapons and pose with us, making intense faces and “Braveheart” references and taking photos on their own cameras. Thankfully they return the props and leave, but I feel like I have just been put on display at an anthropological exposition, like the American Indians at the World’s Fair. The incident may seem pretty harmless, but shadows fall across some of my new friend’s faces. They shake it off, as it seems they’re used to doing. But as one of the group said later, it was like “Look, we found us some freaks!”
That’s when I realize why people attend cons. Yes, developers and productions companies and whoever else bring panels and screenings; yes, the dealer’s room provides the opportunity for japanophiles and aficionados to find rare foods and items. But that isn’t really the point. What conventions, even a small, badly-organized one like Ikkicon provide, is a forum for friendships to be made.
The night of New Year’s Eve I was surrounded by something I’ll admit I still don’t fully understand, and I was confused and scared by it. I wasn’t involved and I didn’t have anyone I knew or felt anything in common with—so I felt ostracized. What was different while I cosplayed, was that I interacted with those around me. Because of this, I felt included, even though it’s something I’ve never thought I would do and was for a game I have never played. I met some sweet, silly, and incredibly kind people who I might never have talked to if I hadn’t been introduced to their world. When the three jocks came, I was part of the group; I felt hurt for them as well as myself.
People, even though we are all humans, are divided by vast chasms of difference. Little things—a shared interest, a shared goal, a shared enemy, even the ability to inhabit a different character, to be once-removed from our self—help us to bridge those chasms. Everyone is unique, and some can’t help but be so more than others. Because of this, one may feel like the “freak” that everyone else finds and makes fun of, but one finds places where freaks are the celebrated norm.
Cons are not my world. I am terrified by much of what goes on. But I am now a step closer to understanding, and understanding is the cure for nearly all ills.