Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cosplaying 101: Don't forget the gloves!

The Japanese have an obsession with gloves.

Before you start throwing objects and call me a racist, hear me out.

Have you noticed that a lot of games, television, comics, manga, and movies out of Japan feature a lot of characters wearing gloves?

Plumber's wear gloves.

Hedgehog's wear gloves.
Even prosecutor's wear gloves.

The glove bonanza moves beyond arcade boxing and fighting games. They're seen everywhere. So I pondered if this was more then a fashion statement. (clearly, I was super bored at work today) It's like Final Fantasy and belts. If you're going to make a game, we need to get as many gloves on as many characters as possible!

A friend of mine proposed that the gloves were meant as a way to prevent artists from having to make the details of the fingers. In 32 bit days, I'll give him that. It's difficult, not impossible, to make individual fingers on a pixilated figure. Solution? Throw on a glove.

My reasoning for the gloves comes from something my Nihongo sensei (Japanese teacher) said in class one day dealing with feet. I know, that's not hands, but stick with me a moment. She was talking about how when she was younger and living in Japan that she was always taught to respect her feet. They were the livelihood of humans and needed to be taken care of. At the same time, they were also dirty after a long day of work. So, they needed to be covered by tabi, jika-tabi, etc to protect them from the elements while to maintain civility. It's still considered an offense to some in Japan to walk around in shoes that have your toes exposed unless you are wearing a sock. Toe socks became popular because of this, allowing people to be expressive with their footwear without worry of offense. Have you seen a barefoot game character from Japan? Even Sonic wears shoes.

I can see this applying to the left hand, in particular. The left hand is considered taboo in many cultures, and Japan is no exception. Speaking with friends currently residing in Tokyo, they have been told by waiters at resturants to not use their left hand while eating, or will get glares from others when writing with their left hand. I don't believe that it is still a do or die notion of "you must be right handed only!" but that stigma is still ingrained into the culture. Calligraphy is a great example. The Japanese kana system or stroke order is based on use of the only the right hand. So you cover the left hand to keep the right hand good.

Digging online I was able to find a comment from someone regarding why pilots, taxi drivers, and politicians wear white gloves. J-bird commented that white gloves signify purity; in a professional setting they show that an individual is committed to their job. Job commitment. I can buy that with our lawyers and prosecutors in Ace Attorney. And I can let our world saviors slide with gloves. I'm sure holding a sword that's 3 feet long can cause wear and tear on the hands. But what about the DDR stand-by characters and the plumbers? What reason could they have to wear gloves?

"To guard our hands and prevent them from being unseemly to those around us." Direct quote from my friend Kai in Osaka. So my logic with the feet is sort of correct. But she continued to explain to me that gloves are to show respect for yourself and others around you. Meaning you wear gloves to "keep yourself from harm of any germs and what-not, but to also show to others that you are concerned about their health as well." The health route. I can buy that. So how does this apply to video games?

The response that I got from my JP companions was emulation of Western culture. Early animations from Disney and Warner Brothers had a showcase of characters wearing gloves. Gloves signified an attachment to wealth and a desire to become greater then ones-self. Working classes would wear gloves in an attempt to appear wealthy and drive their goals. Considering Mickey Mouse got his start in 1929, the logic would coincide. There was a resurgence in Western animation in the 1980's, just in time for Mario to make his debut. Put the two together and there you have it.

My friend Kai also pointed out that gloves could also be a connection between the audience and the reality the game characters live in. This is a topic I preach with film a lot. All science fiction movies will follow this formula --> every alien will have a human attribute. By giving an alien some element of humanity, we, the viewer, can easily absorb ourselves into the story. Something as simple as a glove on Mario can help the audience, subconsciously, accept his world.

It's hard to say where the real answer lies. I am empathetic and can see how early games would use gloves on characters to represent hands with graphic limitations. But today, that argument doesn't hold up. Cultural identity of gloves, that I can buy.


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