Should “Fashion History” Include Video Game Costumes?

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In the last two decades we have witnessed a huge rise in videogames as a visual medium and, like so many other visual mediums, this has had a big impact on fashion. Just look at sex symbols like Lara Croft.

At the time of writing, the computer game Fortnite: Battle Royale by Epic Games is a sensation that is moving in to a phase of influencing real-life culture. We’re already seeing groups of teenagers with hoodies reading “Eat. Sleep. Fortnite.” But a recent Costume Rag article on Fortnite cosplay costumes has drawn literally thousands of fans a week eager to bring their favourite characters – or ‘skins’ as the game calls character costumes – to the real world.

There can be no doubt then that virtual costumes could soon be just as iconic as film costumes, and of course many become film costumes. Does that mean institutions should be looking to preserve more videogames and the development of their visual styles including characters’ dress?


The Metropolitan Museum of Art holds a vast array of cultural treasures – including Pacman, Minecraft and The Sims. The role of gaming as art more broadly is now being examined as part of the V&A’s new exhibition Video Games: Design/Play/Disrupt. Indeed the V&A actively collects digital design and is expanding its collection extensively. Related activity has included a videogames-themed Friday Late in September 2017 which attracted nearly 8,000 visitors, held in collaboration with a major conference Parallel Worlds: Designing Alternative Realities in Videogames. Other activities have included the V&A Digital Design Weekend which features creators sharing their creative process, workshops for young people about careers in games design, community projects and digital learning programmes.

“There is a rich universality to videogames in contemporary culture,” said Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A said. “This is the right time for the V&A to be building on our active interest in video games to investigate this exciting and varied design field at the intersection between technology, engineering and broader visual culture, presenting the influences, inspiration and debates that define it. There is a wealth of creativity to explore, from the craft of the studios to the innovation of the audience as players. This exhibition provides a compelling insight into one of the most important design disciplines of our time.”

Among the exhibition highlights are character sketches from Journey, developed by thatgamecompany. A beautifully expressive and lavishly visual game, anonymous players control a robed figure through a vast desert towards a mountain with the chance to emotionally connect with companions along the way.

The pencil character sketches show the important aspects of creating dynamic character designs that artistically define movements within a virtual landscape. The mechanical elements of the game were tested through developing a basic 2D prototype, also presented in the exhibition, bringing together the dual dynamic of art and engineering in the medium. The sketches very much resemble those of a costume designer testing how the drape of a robe can show character and feeling.

Character sketches, Journey™ ©2012, 2014 Sony Interactive Entertainment LLC. Journey is a
trademark of Sony Interactive Entertainment LLC. Developed by Thatgamecompany.