Master Chief of Cosplay, Alicia Norris

I had the opportunity to interview the incredible Halo cosplayer, Alicia Norris

Alicia Norris is an avid fan of Halo, a military science fiction first-person shooter created by Bungie, but now housed under Microsoft’s 343 Industries. Taking her passion a step further by combining it with her design background, Alicia created a blend any Geeky Nerdy Lady could love: a kick-ass custom cosplay of a Spartan from Halo 3. A Lady gamer, Alicia has managed to garner a large following and is respected for her artistic as well as her gaming skills in this male-dominated genre. Luckily, she was able to give Ge’NeL a peek into her love of the Halo series, cosplaying, and the good and bad of being a Lady Gamer.

I first met Alicia Norris when she was one of my design students, and when we had our editorial staff meeting, she was the first person to come to mind as she embodies the spirit of Ge’NeL. She’s a Geeky Nerdy Lady who is creating her own space in the male-dominated Halo gaming series, which “centers on an interstellar war between humanity and a theocratic alliance of aliens known as the Covenant.”

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GN: First, thank you for agreeing to an interview with Ge’NeL! What got you interested in cosplay?

A: The first time that I really started to show an interest in cosplay was on Instagram. I started to follow this user called @Shockwave_studios. He was the first person that I ever saw that created armor for cosplay. I used to think that there was only sewing involved, and that intimidated me because I had no idea where to even start, but seeing Shockwave I knew that I wanted to make my own armor.

GN: Why do you cosplay?

A: I cosplay because it makes me feel strong. It’s fun and it helps me push myself to see something that I’ve been working on come together at the very end of it all. It’s satisfying to me.

GN: How many other conventions have you attended and participated in cosplay?

A: I’ve gone to Megacon in Orlando twice in costume, Dragoncon once, and another in San Antonio, Texas, with a small group of friends.

GN: Who are your favorite characters to cosplay and why?

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A: I love pretty much anything in armor. My current cosplay is my own original Spartan from Halo 3. However, I’ve recently repainted it to a character from Red vs Blue, a show on YouTube created by RoosterTeeth, named South, who’s a badass Freelancer with a snarky attitude.  

GN: How long does it usually take you to make a costume? Do you make them from scratch or do you use a majority of in-store products?

A: To make my Spartan suit it took me nearly a year. Between work and school it was hard to find the time. I purchased the helmet from Justin Branfuhr (Facebook) who creates and molds his own casts of Halo 3 helmets amongst many other things. I built my suit from scratch, cut out all the pieces, glued everything together, and of course painted it.

GN: What is your favorite part of putting on your cosplay? Your least favorite part?

A: I love how powerful it makes me feel. To get out of the norm and just dawn a suit of armor. It makes you feel unstoppable even if it’s only made from foam. What I hate is the strapping. The strapping takes the longest. You’ve got to make sure everything is all settled where it needs to be and make sure it stays or you’ll start to walk and lose a thigh plate.

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GN: As cosplay can often be a very expensive hobby, do you participate in order to place at competitions and win money? Or is it more about meeting other fans and having fun with friends while creating a costume? Or simply for the love of the character?

A: I actually don’t attempt the competitions. I just do it to meet up with other people that enjoy the same fandom as I do, even if they’re not dressed head to toe in armor. I love watching the show and seeing other people’s work to inspire me to become better. I even hear people tell me that I’ve inspired them to go out and create their own suit. Which is amazing to just see that passion in someone’s eyes.

GN: Do you prefer to copy a specific character’s outfit perfectly or do you like to create your own interpretation?

A: In a way, it’s a little bit of both. All the “characters” I’ve created have been original in a sense. It’s technically in the game, but it isn’t any specific character. However, I do my best to try to get as close as possible to the character when I do craft them.

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GN: Why do you think cosplay has become so popular in the past decade or so? Do you think it is due to the mass media coverage of popular conventions such as Comic-Con? Or do you think its due studios creating the ‘comic book movie’ genre, thus buying into the convention market niche?

A: I think everything has a little hand in it. It’s become more popular over the years especially now with the blow-up of DC and Marvel movies. It’s not only that, but there’s an obvious market in it. People, no matter what they say, never grow up. We all want to stay children at heart and what better way than to dress up as your favorite character in a place where it’s supposed to be safe to share your love of something nerdy? It’s either the marketing, the movies, or just the amount of people now encouraging others to come out and have fun too.  

GN: Have you ever had a stand-out good or bad cosplay experience? For example, placing in a particular competition or costume malfunction or internet backlash from a particular costume?

A: I don’t think I’ve had a very bad experience with my costume. The only bad thing was that at the end of the day my ankle was hurting and it was getting worse as I got to my car. When I took my suit off I found out that the foam on my boot was carving into my ankle which left a nasty scar, but I lived. It was an easy fix. You learn. As far as good experiences, I’d say the reaction people get when I take off my helmet to find out that I’m a girl. Priceless. They seem to love it all the more.

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GN: As a female gamer, have you experienced any backlash for being a Halo fan?

A: The Halo community is pretty awesome. There have been times you get those groups where they just trash talk, in general using the excuse that I “Suck at Halo” because I’m a girl. I don’t care one way or the other only because I know how guys tend to belittle one another as well. Girls get it but so do guys. I don’t take offense to it. Plus, I always teach them that girls can play just as well when I take them to town. There’s usually silence after the game. Haha!

GN: What has been your most positive experience?

A: As far as gaming, once or twice I’ve had guys apologize for an insult they’ve said. Another time was going 25:0 in a Slayer match on Halo 4.

GN: Do you participate in any gaming competitions?

A: I don’t. I’m not highly competitive. I play for the fun of it and to hang out with friends. I’d like to say I’m good enough, but have you seen those guys play? Geez!

GN: Do you have any advice for women/girls who are or want to become gamers?

A: Just play for the fun of it. Enjoy yourself, if someone insults you just let it roll off your shoulder and show them who's boss in the game.

GN: Where can new fans find you online?

A: If anyone wants to see my cosplay stuff I’m on Instagram @Carthaan_Cosplay or my gaming page @Msg.Lizzard.

Harassment in the Gaming Community Needs to Stop

IT'S TIME TO STOP MINIMIZING WHAT HARASSMENT IS AND START HOLDING PEOPLE ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS ONLINE.

The American Psychological Association defines harassment as "threatening, harmful or humiliating conduct based on race, color, national origin, sex or disability" regardless of intent. Harassment creates a hostile environment that interferes with or limits a person's ability to participate in an activity. Harassment can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or felony if the prosecutor can prove specific intent, "which is intending the specific act that one is charged with. This means that the prosecutor must show that the defendant did or said something with the intent that the communication would harass the victim. The person may intend to annoy or intimidate the victim, or the words may be designed to provoke a fight." Why, then, do we allow online harassment to grow into a toxic culture in the gaming community?

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As gamers, we have to have thick skin, especially when competing in games such as Counterstrike: Global OffensiveOverwatch, and other games where you communicate with people. That is not, however, an open door policy for harassment, and it shouldn't be considered normal. Unfortunately, harassment is becoming the norm in the online gaming community because we allow it. There is a fine line between typical gamer trash talk and harassment. When a gamer talks trash, it's generally about gameplay and/or strategy. Harassment delves into a much nastier conversation intended to mentally and emotionally cause harm. Stanford University alumnus Kaitlyn Williams wrote an award winning research essay, "When Gaming Goes Bad: An Exploration of Videogame Harassment Towards Female Gamers". Inexperienced with the online gaming community, Williams's research found that

For female gamers in online settings, harassment generally includes sexist or misogynist comments, threats of rape and death, as well as demands for sexually-related images or favors. According to a survey conducted by Emily Matthews on Pricecharting Blog involving 874 respondents, “63% of women reported being called a “c*nt, bitch, slut, and whore” while gaming. Others reported they were threatened with sexual assault, asked for sexual favors, and bombarded with stereotypical comments regarding female gender roles”. Comments related to female gender roles range from “go make me a sandwich” to “get back in the kitchen and make me some pie”. Generally, the content of the harassment does not relate to gaming, and unlike trash-talk, harassment is solely intended to mentally wound or silence female gamers.

 

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While men definitely experience harassment in the gaming community, women are more often the targets of gender-based harassment.Overwatch player Glisa recently recorded her gameplay as she was being harassed by her teammates. She uploaded it to Youtube and, unfortunately, it's harassment that many women gamers—including myself—have experienced. So why is it so prevalent? Harassment in video games is rampant for a number of reasons, the biggest being people's perceived safety behind the anonymity of an avatar. Anonymity means no consequences for actions that, outside of the online community, would warrant confrontation and/or legal action. Most of the people—predominantly young men—who find entertainment in harassing others would not do so outside of the online community.

Another reason for the continued growth of harassment in the gaming community is the "just ignore it and it will stop" mentality. This is the same tried and not true method that parents would tell their children who would come home from school after having being bullied. And lastly, probably one of the saddest reasons that harassment continues to grow like a poisonous weed, is that we, as a community, continue to reduce harassment's severity to "just trolling". Trolling does not sound as severe as harassment. Trolling sounds like a joke. This is where we learn that words really do have power in how they are used. No one wants to use the word harassment because of the stigma of being seen as someone who whinescomplainscries wolf, or is called a feminist. Remember the backlash known as GamerGate, that Anita Saarkesian faced for exploring stereotypes of women in video games?

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Unfortunately, combating harassment in the gaming community is not easy and it never will be without help from game developers themselves. The gaming community is filled with countless forums and groups that offer support for specific games or general gaming. When someone posts in one of these groups about being harassed online, the likely response from other community members is to "just hit the ignore/block" button. The problem with simply ignoring the problem is that it does not go away. It moves onto the next person and the next. And sometimes, the harasser will be so bold as to create another character in order to continue to harass the person who blocked him/her. As Laura Carruba explains in her article "Why Reporting Offensive Players in Online Games Is a Losing Battle", "...reporting a bad player can take longer than playing a game session with said bad player, the path of least resistance is to put up with" the harasser. One Twitch streamer gives an example of how to handle mild harassment in the video below.

How, then, do we combat the plague of harassment in the gaming community when ignoring it and just putting up with it is clearly not helping? We don't have to stoop to anyone else's level in order to defend ourselves. If you are streaming, record it. If your harassment is via text, screenshot it. Report that player and keep reporting the people who think that the culture of being as offensive as possible is acceptable because there are no consequences while being online. Petition game developers and platforms to update their policies on harassment and to hire staff to specifically deal with harassment. And if you see someone being harassed, don't just sit there and watch. Do something! At present, Halo 4 is the only online gaming platform that takes a "Zero Tolerance" stance on harassment. It's not impossible just because people don't want to put in the work. We do not have to foster a culture of harassment. We don't deserve that. We can do better. We all deserve better.

Have you experienced harassment in gaming? How did you handle it? We want to hear about your experiences.