Gaming and fashion appear to be two opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to pop culture. A group that is notoriously known for long hours hiding out in a room with their headphones on while drinking ungodly amounts of Mountain Dew can't have any connection to the supposedly vain and self-focused world of the fashionistas, can they?
Maybe ten years ago, it would have been a firm, "No", there is no connection. It is often a gamer's goal to intentionally go against the flow of modern pop culture, but as the world became more connected, so did the gamer with modern culture and trends. Gaming has become another form of mainstream entertainment, and the world is embracing it.
Fashion in Early Gaming
If we take a look at fashion in early gaming, we are envisioning a pixelated Super Mario wearing his iconic overalls on his way to save Princess Peach in something that resembles a white dress. With real-life application, that was not the most fashionable garb, but it worked in a world of goombas and tunnels that lead to monsters and coins.
As time progressed, we were introduced to more characters whose sense of fashion began to display a more modern, or futuristic feel. Gamers and fashionistas started to find what was never thought possible, common ground.
When Squall from Final Fantasy 8 entered the scene with his androgynous style, sporting a shrug/bolero style leather jacket with the collar hemmed with fur, gamers were blown away. Before this, most games had a story or gameplay-centric focus that wasn't quite interested in showcasing the character's sense of fashion.
This was around the same time the Tomb Raider's, Lara Croft, and Resident Evil's Jill Valentine broke onto the scene with their iconic styles. The styles broke barriers between video games and real-world fashion, as they started to match what the gamer would likely see at the mall or on TV.
This continued throughout the years as games began to have a more character-centered approach as opposed to fully focusing on design and gameplay. Video game creators wanted you, the player, to be a part of the story.
The Impact of Character Design and Skins on Fashion
As the player became a more important part of the gaming experience, video game creators introduced a world of customizable options. Players are now able to not only change the fashion of the characters but the race and physical attributes as well. These features changed the gaming experience in a few ways, such as:
- Representation: Gaming skins and character customization allowed video games to be one of the first industries to come fully equipped with the ability to allow each player to represent who they are in the game. With the ability to change race, gender, skin tone, and body features, every gamer can fully become the character within the game. This creates a deeper connection to the story, gameplay, and of course, the fashion.
- More recently, some video games, notably, Final Fantasy's MMORPG, A Realm Reborn, have even allowed for characters of every gender to present in fashion and appearance, the gender variation that they align with. This modern representation goes beyond the world of fashion by using fashion and appearance to make gamers feel more relevant.
- Player Involvement: It is not uncommon for a gamer to spend a significant portion of their initial gameplay customizing their character. This involves everything from their race, height, facial features, and skin tone, to their fashion style and country of origin for their character's back story. Endless hours are spent making the character exactly how the player wants them to be.
- This customization doesn’t stop with the character itself, but in some games, the gamer has the opportunity to design their own room, house, or town. Modern RPGs have an element that is not unlike playing "The Sims", where they can design the world around them down to the tile patterns on the pub floor.
- Creative and Artistic License: Another unforeseen element of character skins, customization, and world-creating games is the creativity and ingenuity gamers had being brought to light. Gamers, who were once seen as an annoying and low sub-culture within pop culture, are now able to showcase some of their creative thoughts and ideas artistically.
- This has opened up doors for some gamers to realize some of their potential in the world of design, creation, and fashion that they had not quite been aware of before. While their first passion is likely still gaming, their connection to the fashion and design world opened up immensely.
The introduction of modern character design and customizable characters and skins filled the chasm that once kept the gaming world and fashion separate. Gamers were able to feel as if they had a greater place in the world. They began to feel as if they belonged and their contributions to pop culture and fashion were relevant as well as modern pop culture and fashion being relevant to them.
The Dichotomy of Real-Life Product Placement
The connection gamers were starting to have with the real world and pop culture wasn’t lost on big brand labels and they were quick to attempt to use that for their gain. This intrusion into the gaming world was both a fun and exciting element in some gaming but also an unacceptable violation where it pulled the gamer back to a reality they were escaping. It either worked, or it didn’t.
Worked: This trend was implemented in gaming as early as the 1980s when Coca-Cola created an exact replica of Space Invaders, but instead of destroying alien ships, you destroyed the word "PEPSI". Players were so intrigued by the way Coca-Cola met them where they were and they enjoyed the comical way in which they presented it, that Coca-Cola sales increased and so did the brand's popularity.
This was also very popular in the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series, where modern music and brands were present everywhere. Seemingly as a nod to the real world of skating, where brands are plastered everywhere, gamers were able to enjoy an element that already existed in this type of industry. It contributed to the gameplay rather than pulled the gamer back into the real world.
Didn’t Work: Battlefield 2042 is a great example of product placement failing. EA decided to implement a player card system that was a direct nod to other games under their umbrella that were wildly unrelated. Players were immediately taken out of the immersion and many even wanted to get their money back. With it being a relatively common element of the game, players just couldn’t forgive it.
Final Fantasy 15 also introduced product placement that took the players into the real world many times. While it wasn’t enough to fully ruin the experience, side quests about Ramen and other real-world products had players wanting to give up on the franchise. Social media posts and gaming articles were everywhere condemning Square Enix for the move.
While these examples didn’t directly relate to fashion, they paint a picture of the intertwining of the real world and product placement that is changing the world of gaming.
How Gaming and Fashion Realistically Intersect
While popular games are often filled with unrealistic fashion styles, the fashion and gaming industry has recently been coming together to make some of these styles come to life, as well as bring some real-world styles to the game for players to enjoy.
Major fashion lines have connected with video game creators and companies to develop and distribute fashions from video games for players to enjoy in the real world. This is leading to styles and trends making it to the mainstream without the buyer being aware it is from a video game. Not unlike a teenager wearing a band name on their tee shirt while not being able to name a single song the band sings.
Couple that with incredibly popular games, like Fortnite, where one of its goals is to break the barriers between gaming and reality, and you get real-world fashion in video games. Players can sport Ariana Grande's iconic style as well as wear skins from other popular games, comics, and meme culture. This has become so popular that Fortnite even has fashion shows that are put on by the players to showcase some of their original styles as well as styles you have seen in the real world.
Game designers and fashion creators are not blind to this and are continually coming up with ways to bring the two together to enhance both industries while catering to the wants and desires of gamers and fashionistas
The Future of Fashion and Gaming
While it isn’t immediately clear what the future holds with fashion and gaming, it is clear that they are becoming less separated and more connected. Fashionistas are enjoying video games while gamers are embracing the idea that they belong in the real world too. This was never thought to be a possible reality even ten years ago.So, whether you are a gamer or a fashionista, you can comfortably enjoy both worlds in and outside of a game. You can create and enjoy the styles you want without being ridiculed and made to feel like you belong. Fashion and gaming do not need to be on the opposite ends of the spectrum. You do you.