Education is often a battle for kids’ attention in the classroom, pop culture and technology often leading the charge in innovation. With gaming growing in popularity and even more entering mainstream awareness, could cosplay join the classroom?
We put this question forward to John Roberts, a former art teacher from the UK and an experienced cosplay creator. He and his son bring video games to life, creating the first Big Daddy suit to ever be shown off at a UK convention and full Fallout 4 power armor complete with laser rifle. I took the opportunity to sit down with John and his son, Will, to learn about their venture into cosplay, and whether or not, as a former teacher, John sees cosplay and gaming in the future of the educational curriculum.
So for those who don’t know anything about you, tell us a little about yourselves.
John: I’m an ex-art teacher, and I taught art in mainstream comprehensive education for 25 years. Before my teacher training, I did a degree in Fine Art at Loughborough University, specializing in painting. I’m a painter at heart I suppose, but now I work as an Art Director at a community project working with those with special needs.
Will: I’m an IT technician for a business in Bootle. I got into cosplay by accident as I have no background in it, so I’m not really sure where I’m coming from. He’s got a better history than me really, he’s got the years.
You touched on this very briefly then, Will. How did the pair of you get involved with cosplay?
John: I’ve always liked Science Fiction and fantasies, that’s my chosen reading matter. But when I was at Art College, I was more into painting and looking at early 20th century painters, particularly people like Matisse and Bonnard. So it’s through my son… I think he got dragged into it by his girlfriend and then through beginning to support him in the outfits and things he made, the props particularly, as a family we’ve been sucked into it.
Will: Yeah, because after college, me and a few friends had a couple of drinks and we decided to go on a spontaneous trip to London for Comic Con. I did a really shoddy 11th Doctor one for it, too, as my first go.
John: Yeah because someone said you looked like Matt Smith… and you liked tweed jackets. So that’s the long and short of it really.
How long on average does it take for you to complete each project? The level of detail is incredible.
John & Will at the same time: ALWAYS three months.
Will: It’s really strange, no matter what it is it almost always works out at being three months.
John: We tend to have binge weekends where we’ll just get a lot done at once. But yeah, it always seems to work out at about three months. Then again, I’ve got to move on for a bit after this for about two months because I’ve been commissioned to do one for a horse and the Tauntaun for my daughter. So that’s going to be a two month one for the horse.
*I look curiously at John with regards to the horse.*
John: Oh, an ex-pupil of mine’s girlfriend has a horse called Hech. Hech the handsome horse, and he’s got to be turned into a dragon for the Iberian National Finals at the end of July… So I’ve got to build a big outfit with horse-sized dragon wings. I’m really quite daunted by it, but it’ll happen. Anyway, to answer your question, three months.
Do you think that cosplay has in a sense, helped you to keep a close relationship with one another?
John: It’s been erm … Well we’ve had some terrible rows. *laughs* Yeah it has, we’ve done more as the two of us rather than the girls. In fact, the shed is a bit of a refuge for us. It’s a family hobby, though really.
Will: Eve (John’s daughter and Will’s sister) doesn’t get involved too much, but she was the little sister when I was the Big Daddy. She asks for bits and bobs occasionally, like the Tauntaun for July. So we’ve all had a go. The whole family has gone to cons together.
John: Even Mom has got involved. She’s got this uncanny thing where she can sit down, cut shapes out, stitch them together without measuring and it’ll all magically come together. She’s made quite a few things too.
Will: I think cosplay is a good way to keep in touch with friends too. I think a lot of my friends that I keep in touch with and see is only because I go down to the London MCM.
John: It’s a more corporeal, more physical manifestation of gaming. You’ve got people who are friends through gaming where they’re just talking through the headsets, whereas with cosplaying you’re meeting people with a similar interest in the flesh. It’s a funny community. There are people you just recognize who you’ll just end up talking to each time you go.
As a former teacher, do you think the education system, and art in particular, could benefit from cosplay being introduced in the classroom?
John: I think so because I think one of the things we’ve noticed is that for a lot of people, it’s an expressive way of working. I’ve worked with a lad who’s got a very poor self-image, and what I picked up on is that all the people he likes are masked. He loves Phantom of the Opera, Batman, and Iron Man, and it’s like his way of being somebody else. So I think there is definitely a role for it.
Will: If I may add in a point too, I met someone who was wearing a full set of Final Fantasy armor at one of the conventions and I thought, “Wow, that’s amazing.” I asked how he had done it all and he’d 3D modeled and printed it. That’s something that, especially with the way that art and design are going, could definitely be introduced into the curriculum as well.
John: Exactly, imagine your teacher telling you that if you learned a set of skills like 3D modeling and printing that you could make your own Pip-Boy from Fallout. That’d be one motivated class!
So perhaps not necessarily limited to art?
John: No, I think I could see it being used in Personal, Social, and Health Education (PSHE) lessons too, as well as Art and Drama. But I think the whole idea, like a lot of aspects of art, is there is so much problem solving involved in making an outfit that again you could make a project where you covered drama, computer design technology, art, and even history as well. You could use this kind of thing as a vehicle for education. So yeah I think there could be a really good role for it in schools in general.
Also, because it’s a current piece of pop culture, and with it getting bigger and becoming more mainstream, it’d be a means of incentivizing learning. I know for a lot of the guys I work with they’d love to go to a convention in the costume they made.
With the way that gaming is taking off in popularity, do you think it could soon be introduced?
John: I think as a vehicle for learning it seems really silly to ignore it. But also – one of the things that really attracted me to gaming was the Tomb Raider games. And what amazes me when I play games such as Tomb Raider is the amount of research into cultures and history that the developer has done. So I think there’s lots of aspects of gaming as well as the actual ICT [Information and Communications Technologies] and puzzle-solving skills that games like Tomb Raider require from you.
But yeah, I think gaming has an important role. I’m sure there was a point when people said that books would never take over people telling stories by word of mouth, and yet here we are.
I think VR has got to have a place in education, hasn’t it? And again, you think about being able to tell a class to put their headsets on and go to visit Medieval London before the plague and see how they lived, being able to wander off and explore would be great.
So, you’d say pop culture is something that should be introduced into the classroom as a means of helping to modernize the classroom?
John: Yeah definitely. I mean it’s not going to appeal to everyone, but I think it would definitely motivate a lot of kids nowadays if you were looking at something like that.
If people want to check out more of what you’re getting up to, where can people find you?
John & Will: You can find all of our stuff at Shipwreck Cosplay on Facebook. We post all of our finished projects up there and give little updates on how things are going too.
Thanks very much for your time John and Will. We look forward to seeing all of your future creations.