Interview with Carbon Gray: Experiences of a Female Cosplayer

Note: Originally uploaded on ShoryukenPost has been slightly altered from original upload.

Combo Breaker is still fresh in everyone’s mind. The event was a blast for me personally, an experience I deeply and thoroughly enjoyed, and that’s a sentiment I’m sure many of the rest of the attendees would agree with. Unfortunately, not every member of the community was able to find the same level of enjoyment. I sat down with a cosplayer I met at the event, someone who was completely new to the fighting game community, and talked with her about her initial experiences and her takeaway from the event and the people she met.

John “Zidiane” Silvia: So, let’s start with who you are. Introduce yourself, for those unfamiliar.

Raven “Carbon” Gray: Hi, my name is Raven Gray, I sometimes go by Carbon online. I’ve been into gaming since I was a child, and even when in public I always have my nose in the most recent Nintendo hand held. I played League of Legends for 6 years. I’m new to the FGC, and just started with Skullgirls earlier this year. Outside of gaming, I work on small game-related art projects for friends, like Pokémon backpacks and DS cases, as well as some occasional cosplay.

JS: At Combo Breaker you were cosplaying as Valentine. Have you cosplayed before?

RG: I’ve done League of Legends and Pokémon cosplays before.

JS: How big are you into games in general? How seriously are you taking Skullgirls?

RG: Games are a huge part of my life. I’ve been playing on handhelds since I was young, and as soon as I had the money I built myself a decent desktop. I normally spend 5-15 hours per week playing, and I’m taking Skullgirls as seriously as I can. I work a lot and it’s incredibly exhausting, but I’m also super excited to start up a Skullgirls lobby when I get home from work. Because of making my cosplay I haven’t had as much time to play recently, but I’m excited to put in a bunch of lab time when I get home.

JS: How much time did you put into making your cosplay outfits?

RG: I think somewhere between 40-100 hours, depending on the costume.

JS: It sounds like you put a lot of work and time into them.

RG: I put my heart and soul into my cosplays. Valentine’s dress itself took a good 10-20 hours of work. I had a lot of altering to do to make it perfect. I had to make the entire thing several times in order to get it to fit right.

JS: What makes you want to put all that work into making a costume?

RG: Honestly part of it is therapeutic for me, but also she’s just super cool. The first real cosplay I did was Leona from League of Legends, and it’s because her lore really spoke to me on a personal level. Building the costume gives me clear goals to accomplish, lets me be creative at the same time, and at the end of all of it I have these really cool props that I get to hang up on my wall later.

JS: I can see how crafting these outfits is soothing. What’s the reason behind actually wearing them? You could probably simply make them and sell them online. What motivates you to take the extra step and wear them?

RG: It isn’t as simple as just making it and selling it online. Commission work is super exhausting and most people aren’t willing to pay what your time is worth. Don’t get me wrong, I still do commissions and I enjoy them, but it’s just too much for me. If I’m making them for me, though, I get to look super cool. I think I made a really good Valentine, and I’m incredibly proud of it. Besides, who doesn’t want to be a badass from their favorite video game? It’s just overall super fun. I’ve met most of my friends through cosplaying and we all build stuff together, it’s a huge community and a really unique experience that only cosplayers have.

JS: I’m imagining that actually crafting the outfit and wearing it, at that point it seems like a badge or a trophy. Would you say that that is a fair comparison?

RG: Yeah, actually it is. In a more literal sense, my props are trophies. I get them signed and then I mount them to my walls in my room. I have 5 of my smaller props on display in my room, like how you can hang up weapons in Skyrim, and it’s just so cool.

JS: You said you were new to the FGC. Was Combo Breaker 2016 was your first big FGC event?

RG: Yes, definitely.

JS: You said that the game you came for was Skullgirls. What got you into Skullgirls, and by extension the FGC?

RG: I was at a friend’s party, and one of my friends said, “Hey, come play this game with cute anime girls,” and I said, okay! He sandbagged the first few games while I learned the controls, but by the end of the night I was kicking his ass. I bought it the next night, went through the tutorials and started up a stream about a week later. I had about 25-30 people viewing the stream, so I made a lot of friends. Everyone was super nice, and they’ve been helping me learn combos and improve all my mechanics. Since then I started up my cosplay and attended CB, and I’ve loved about 90% of my experience.

JS: What made you decide to go to a big FGC event, or Combo Breaker specifically?

RG: I had already planned to be on vacation in Ohio around the same time, and I just really love going to events.

JS: Did you know anyone in the FGC going into Combo Breaker?

RG: Through streams. I’d been talking to about 4 people who attended, but I honestly mostly went alone, which was a little scary going in. I was rooming with people, but I hadn’t met them before. They weren’t people I knew very well or trusted a whole lot.

JS: How was the first day? You said it was scary.

RG: I was apprehensive for sure, the cosplay was kinda revealing and I didn’t really know anyone. I actually spend a lot of day 1 traveling. I was driving over from Ohio, which is about 6-7 hours. I didn’t get in town until about 6. After I got to the hotel and got settled we all went out to dinner, and we happened to go to the same restaurant as the Lab Zero devs, which was pretty cool. One of the devs even came over and asked if I would come by their booth for pictures the next day!


Taken with Mike Zaimont, one of the Developers of Skullgirls and Indivisible, this was just one of many pictures of Raven in Valentine cosplay at the event.

JS: I’m assuming you were hanging out primarily with the SG community, due to only playing Skullgirls. Is that true?

RG: Yeah. I didn’t interact with anyone else intentionally.

JS: What was your first impression of the community?

RG: In person? I was impressed. The turnout seemed really nice, and I was also super surprised by the number of fight sticks, haha!

JS: What did you do with the community Saturday?

RG: I walked around, watched people play. I honestly spent a lot of time taking pictures and meeting people. I don’t know many people in the SG community yet, and it was fun meeting everyone.

JS: What was your favorite part about the community at that point?

RG: There were a few really good people that were super nice and really welcoming, and they helped me have a good time.

JS: Was everyone nice and welcoming?

RG: No. I had some individual people cross some lines. Occasionally people would get a selfie with me and intentionally get a picture down my shirt. I had a man whisper something incredibly inappropriate in my ear and then walk away. Another man asked if I was there because my boyfriend was in the tournament, trying to find out if I’m single and also insinuating that I wouldn’t come just for the games. I had a few people take pictures of me without asking first, with one man even arguing that because I was in cosplay I should be fine with people taking pictures of me whenever. It was incredibly unnerving to hear him argue that he didn’t need my consent for any reason.

JS: How much of the time you spent in cosplay was met with similar situations?

RG: Well… I had 3 people following me over the weekend; they would hover within 5-10 feet of me, no matter where I went for 10-20 minutes at a time, and they did it several times over the day. Overall, I think I had about 20-30 times people made me feel uncomfortable.

JS: How many of these circumstances were by the same people?

RG: Probably close to half. One of the guys who was following me was actually invited into my room, and I didn’t know how to say anything that wasn’t incredibly rude or how to convince my roommates I didn’t feel safe. I needed help getting dressed and he was obscenely insistent on helping me, even after I told him no and asked for someone else by name multiple times.

JS: Did you talk to any of the Combo Breaker staff about what was happening?

RG: Honestly they were such quick incidents most of the time I didn’t know what to do. I did talk to Rick, the Tournament Organizer, after one particular event. So at night on Saturday after the pool party I was watching video games with friends. One guy was super drunk and kinda flirting. He picked me up and pulled me into his lap and held me there for about 10 seconds. I immediately told him to let go, and just repeated that over and over while trying to get him to let go.

JS: What happened next?

RG: I had a panic attack. After trying my best to calm down, I tried to find con security. It was 2 AM at that point, but I eventually was pointed to Rick and I talked to him and he gave me a place to decompress. After I was okay I went looking for the other girl I had met who I trusted in the Skullgirls community, but she was asleep and not answering her phone. I was considering sleeping in my car. Eventually I found one of the guys who was staying with that girl, so I pulled him aside and talked to him about staying in their room. He was really cool about it, so he walked me back to their room. We just talked about different stuff and it helped me calm down a little, and I eventually fell asleep.

JS: Was the next day any better?

RG: Yes, the day itself was much much better and I had a lot of community support.

JS: You had a lot of community support. Was it just from the Skullgirls crowd, or everyone in general?

RG: Skullgirls and Rick, but that’s most of who I personally hung out with. I’m not saying other communities wouldn’t have been supportive, but that’s just what I saw.

JS: What kinds of things did they do to help you calm down and feel comfortable?

RG: I had several people pull me aside and say things like, “Hey if you need help, find me, I’ll get you somewhere safe.” The girl I met stayed by my side most of the time and consistently checked on me to make sure I was still okay.

JS: Was that enough to help you enjoy the rest of the event?

RG: It was. I had a really good time day three.

JS: Do you think the incidents were enough to keep you from coming back to events in the future?

RG: Initially yes, but after day 3 and Rick really stepping up about this, I’m coming back for sure. I also think that after a few months I’ll be better known in the community, which will make a difference. I’ll be less of a rando and more of a person.

JS: By Rick stepping up, you mean how he helped you that night?

RG: Both by helping me in person and by making statements on Twitter. I’m watching him making an honest effort on making these events safe for women, and it’s comforting knowing that if something happens to me, I won’t be forced to leave because I feel unsafe.

JS: Do you have anything else specifically you want to say to people?

RG: I guess what I really want to come from this is the recognition that you don’t always see the ramifications. I try and handle my anxiety well and I feel like not many people knew what I was going through Saturday night. I’m not saying I’m super upset about most of what happened, but I just needed time away from people while dealing with things like this.

I know most of the people who made me feel comfortable didn’t mean it and most instances weren’t that big of a deal, so maybe it felt worse than it was. Still, that doesn’t change that people still experience flashbacks and anxiety attacks while dealing with these things, and it’s important to consider that when interacting with others. You don’t know their past experiences. I’ve been super lucky and haven’t been straight up attacked before, but I still have extreme reactions to people invading my personal space and I shouldn’t have to avoid the community because of that.

I’m not asking for anything extreme, I don’t want people bending over backwards to make me feel safe, I’m just asking to not be manhandled or touched. I don’t want to hear rape jokes, and I don’t want to be assumed to be at an event like CB for a boy. I’m there because SG is a great game, fighting games are awesome, and watching live events is hype as hell.

After talking with Raven, it was clear that the environment of positive experience in the FGC is not universal. The experience I have at an event, at least currently, isn’t exactly welcome to any who wish to participate. Concerned by this, and also hopeful for the future of Combo Breaker and our community as a whole, I talked with Tournament Organizer Richard Thiher about some of the unfortunate events that took place this past weekend.

JS: A cosplayer came forward about being treated inappropriately at Combo Breaker. During the event, were any such instances brought to your attention?

Richard “TheHadou” Thiher: Unfortunately, yes. One of our attending cosplayers came to me directly looking for safety from aggressive attention. She was visibly distraught and looking to find a place to calm down. In response we provided her a lockable room for her to re-center in.

JS: The cosplayer claims a man physically held her down. Has this person been identified?

RT: No, and the event can only react to what is officially reported to us. We can’t help educate or remove attendees acting inappropriately if they aren’t pointed out (and in this case, unfortunately, they weren’t). I hope guests understand that if they reach out and let us know something is going on we’ll try to help them.

JS: Has this happening changed anything about the way you intend to run your event in the future? Will there be more considerations taken to ensure the safety of all members of our community?

RT: As an event we will need to find a way to increase staff dedicated to physical and emotional safety. If possible we’ll need to make the safe room we set up an official one as well. It also means we likely need to take a proactive effort in better educating floor staff and attendees alike on appropriate behavior. Cosplay is not consent.

JS: What’s the punishment for this kind of thing, for anyone caught sexually harassing others?

RT: Minimum 1 year ban. I try to avoid permanent bans, unless absolutely deserving, as I believe no one rehabilitates without aspirational options.

JS: The cosplayer I talked to told me that she initially wasn’t going to come to any more events after what happened. However, she also said after having you help her and seeing you advocating a safe environment for community members like herself, she is planning on coming out to more events. What does hearing that mean for you?

RT: As a TO it’s saddening to know anything at an event I helped develop contributed to her initial feeling. Its also maddening that it took my direct action to create an inviting environment that may overcome it. I want, and expect, our subculture to be better than that. What it means for me personally is that we still have work to do.

JS: Was there anything else you wanted to say about the situation?

RT: It’s unfortunate that a year of work on this event has turned into a conversation about safety. I’d like to stress that it’s okay that it has become one, though. The team at CB throws events for people to attend and have fun, and situations like this are the opposite of that intention. If us having a dialogue, however disappointing, helps with that in any way then we should all keep talking about it.