What's the Difference Between Cosplay and LARPing?
Cosplay and LARPing are two distinct hobbies that are often conflated with each other by neophytes and bystanders. After all, both involve costumes and the idea of portraying a character, and those surface similarities are enough to create some confusion. If the roleplaying and cosplay worlds do overlap on many points, and share some members of their respective communities, they are truly separated passions.
What is cosplay?
Cosplay is a performance art in which participants use costumes and make up to portray a character, generally taken from popular fiction like anime, video games, movies, or television. The goals of cosplay are mostly focused around artistic and social aspect. Cosplayers may seek recognition as creators and artists, or to manifest their enthusiasm as part of a community or fandom.
If cosplay is often a way for fans to pay homage to a specific character they love, it is also a fully fledged creative outlet with casual amateurs and influential professionals. Many cosplayers craft their own costumes, or assemble them with what they find. The costume creation part of the hobby is, if not a mandatory part of cosplay, one of its most artistic and renowned aspects, requiring to own skills and to make clever use of various materials. This is what made cosplayers such as Yaya Han or Willow Creative famous around the world, and led to the emergence of influential businesses like Kamui Cosplay and The Evil Ted.
Cosplay is inherently a performance, and it is done with the purpose of entertaining a public made of fans and bystanders, may it be at a convention or on social media. Cosplay is also evolving, the definition of the hobby widening past the need to represent a specific popular character, or to aim for a perfect imitation. Gender swaps, casual cosplays, body diversity, and original characters (OC) are now widely accepted in the community, and are making the hobby more accessible than ever.
What is LARP?
Short for live-action roleplaying, LARP is all about getting immersed into a character and a fictional setting. To portray their original character, players will wear costumes and act differently than they would outside of a LARP event. LARP shares a lot of similarities with improvisation theatre, but the costume and acting are not meant as a public performance, but as a way to improve the immersion of the participants.
A LARP seldom has bystanders, and they are mostly private events in which everyone is actively participating and bringing their own character into play. LARPs are also roleplaying games, with rules systems and various ways for the players to interact together through this world's own politics, economy, and simulated combat. This additional layer of complexity comes from the tabletop and video games that influence the LARP community, and is a truly unique phenomenon that is not found elsewhere.
LARP is also inherently a team effort, requiring the combined efforts of many players and storytellers to function, as it requires a per-established context, or setting, rules, and interaction with other players acting as their characters.
For more info, you can always read our last blog on the subject.
LARP vs cosplay: the main differences
Cosplay costumes are all about the looks, with minimal concern for practicality or sturdiness. A cosplay armor may be made of sculpted EVA foam or thermoplastics, light materials that make it easier to imitate some outlandish fantasy designs from games and anime. Of course, that kind of material has nowhere near the durability of leather or metal, meaning that such a cosplay armor, even if allowed in LARP, would probably crumble after a few combats.
The reality of cosplay costumes is that they aren't expected to endure any kind of hardship, and are often made with the idea they will be worn for a few hours at a time, while LARP costumes are often worn for full days in rugged conditions, exposed to the weather and the possibility of combat.
LARP characters are also expected to be original, and thus, using easily identifiable cosplay clothes or accessories, linked to a known fictional character, is ill-advised and may cause immersion issues for some players. In practice, if a LARP outfit looks the part, it could probably be used for cosplay, but the opposite is rarely possible.
Most cosplay occurs at video game, anime, or comic conventions and public events, or in private settings such as photoshoots and videos for the purpose of exposure on social media. It can also be performed in some street festivals or even as an individual street performance in the right locations. Ultimately, all cosplay requires is a place and a public, since the setting doesn't have to be prepared that much to host a cosplay performance.
LARP is quite the opposite. Since roleplaying events require some degree of immersion, they are often located inside a defined premises, like a building, a wooden area, or a public space that has been reserved to host the event. The setting will often be prepared with props, buildings, or any details that can help create an atmosphere.
Also, unlike cosplay, LARP comes with a fictional setting as well, a layer of context that is used to define the situation the players will be faced to when acting as their characters. The most popular sub-genre in the LARP scene is fantasy, and each event often invites the player to learn about a unique and distinct fictional world for their character to enter and evolve within.
That fictional element is part of a LARP's game design and is a prerequisite to participate, since LARPs are first and foremost games, with specific gameplay mechanics, challenges, and objectives to achieve for each participant. Play isn't something you can opt out when you LARP. The game aspect is part of the rules, and is so central that it is assumed, with signals often being needed to designate something happening ''out of game'' and avoid confusion with acting. In LARP, you don't compliment a costume by pointing out as how good someone's goblin makeup is, that would be ''out of game''. That kind of comment will be shared after the event, or during breaks. In play, this person is a goblin!
Cosplay doesn't come with that dimension of play. Acting as the character is fully optional and interacting with other cosplayers and the public is pretty much going to be like it would be in daily life, maybe with a lot more attention and pictures being taken. A cosplayer isn't playing a game, they are performing.
The game aspect often causes LARP to involve much more rules than cosplay. There are rules related to acting and respecting players' immersion and the visual decorum; there are rules related for combat simulation with foam weapons; there are character creation rules; there are safety rules; and there are many other rules involving most specific aspects of the game like magic, politics, or trade. Many LARPs have literal rulebooks to compile all their rules system.
The rules of cosplay are often very minimal, with some basic guidelines set up by the convention or venue, as well as informal norms involving how people are expected to interact with cosplayers and respect their privacy and their personal space. Frequent rules often involve weapon replicas carried by cosplayers, as well as possible contests or shows where the cosplayers can perform and display their costumes, like the World Cosplay Summit.
LARP or Cosplay: which is best for you?
Knowing which of these hobbies is best suited for you will probably require you to experience them by yourself, especially if both resonate with you from an outside perspective. However, we find it important to note that aside from the fandom elements and the community exposure offered by cosplay, many of the more creative aspects of cosplay are also found in LARPing.
If you are interested in costumes, acting, and the thrill of participating in an immersive game where the unpredictable can happen, learning the rules and setting of a LARP will more than likely be worth your time and lead you to a very gratifying hobby. We guarantee you will experience things that would never occur in the ordinary.
For more information about LARP, don't hesitate to visit us at our store, where you can talk with active LARP players and enthusiasts, all more than willing to share their passion.