How My Favorite Video Game Characters Changed the Way I Dress

What the hell will I wear at this year's gaming conferences? It's a good thing I have iconic female avatars for inspiration.

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Mar 15 2016, 7:15pm

Lightning from 'Final Fantasy XIII' is one of the faces of Louis Vuitton's "Series 4" campaign

Okay, so I am by no stretch of the imagination someone who is knowledgeable about fashion. My wardrobe consists of a lot of neutrals, and then whatever else my best friend has forced me to buy to try and help me break out of my habit of only wearing black, white, and variations of beige and grey. I'm not not fashionable; it just takes me a while to get what looks good and what I feel good in. For game jams, sometimes I rock a maxi skirt with a high slit up the side, or jean shorts and an oversized Godzilla tee. It all depends on my mood.

Clothing as a woman in games can be a contentious thing (either professionally or personally), especially when planning on attending industry events like the Game Developers Conference (GDC, going on right now in San Francisco), IndieCade, and PAX. Maddy Myers wrote a great article for Paste in 2014, discussing the thought process behind why she dresses the way she does at game industry events, and a lot of it resonated with me. When women have to navigate male-dominated industries, the way we dress is going to become a topic of conversation.

When I was at PAX East in 2015, promoting a game I was doing marketing support for, I noticed a change in the way people responded to me based on how I dressed. The first day I wore a graphic tee and ripped jeans, and there was nothing to really report. The second day, though, I wore a high-waisted skirt and a dark-blue tank top, and immediately people started treating me differently. I got more unsolicited comments on how I dressed. Looks lingered a little bit longer, and in places they didn't the day before. People were nicer to me. People were meaner to me. It was weird.

I didn't think about any of this before going out that day at PAX. I was thinking about the game and who I wanted to play it; how sore my feet were going to be, because those booths are not kind to feet; and which of my international friends I'd be able to meet up with. But now, planning my trip to this April's IndieCade in New York as an independent game-maker and freelance critic, it's something I'm thinking about again. A lot.

What the hell will I wear?

It's weird, and it's something I'm trying to just bury, not let it bother me, and to move on from. But with the #GameDevFashion hashtag going around Twitter back in February, and now again during GDC, maybe it'll be less weird. It's cool to see people sharing their own personal style and to challenge the idea that game developers aren't fashionable people. I mean, I rock a plaid shirt as much as anybody else, but it's not the only style in my closet.

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This isn't the first time fashion in video games has had a spotlight shined on it. Gita Jackson wrote a fantastic column for Paste about fashion icons in video games, as well, called "Wardrobe Theory." Check out her talking about the fashion in Dishonored and Yuna's style in Final Fantasy X. But it is cool to see how Lightning's new role as brand ambassador for Louis Vuitton is further highlighting the ways video game characters operate as fashion icons. And with game developer Barbie now sure to inspire little kids growing up, the way women dress in the video game industry (and in games themselves) is worth acknowledging and celebrating.

So, in the spirit of trying to be unapologetic in how I dress as a woman game-maker and critic (and in trying to plan my wardrobe for IndieCade), here are my top video game characters who have inspired my current brand of casual, kinda cute style. Special note: since Lightning is now the fashion ambassador for video games, I'm leaving her off this list. It's just not fair to everyone else.

Jill Valentine ('Resident Evil 3: Nemesis')

Her Look: Blue tube top, black tight skirt, knee-high leather boots.
What I'm a Sucker For: Her tight skirt and high boots.

This is my go-to winter outfit, albeit usually paired with a chunky knit sweater. (Sorry, Jill, I just can't rock a tube top anymore.) Throw on a pair of sheer tights underneath, and you're good to go. I often call this my "zombie apocalypse" outfit, since it's the one that I feel pretty confident I'd be okay with wearing for many days on end if the world suddenly exploded and I didn't have access to a revolving door of clothes and styles to wear. Dressing like Jill Valentine at video game events gives me the added backbone of knowing that if she could take down Nemesis wearing that skirt and those boots, there's no reason why I can't navigate con floors and hoards of strangers wearing a similar outfit.

Tifa Lockhart ('Final Fantasy VII')

Her Look: White crop top, brown shorts, suspenders, gloves, and combat boots.
What I'm a Sucker For: A white T-shirt, shorts, and combat boots.

This is great for the summer. I usually skip the crop top for personal comfort, but this is really a perfect outfit for hanging out. In fact, the avatar that was created for me in the first game I worked on shows me rocking a Tifa-like outfit: a white shirt and combat boots. I keep my brown hair long because of Tifa, too, despite my urge every once in a while to return to my Jill Valentine hair days. This was my typical outfit as a kid. Sure, it looked plain to everyone else (like me), but secretly I knew I was rocking the look of one of the coolest, sweetest, and strongest gals in video games.

Rinoa Heartilly ('Final Fantasy VIII')

Her Look: White halter-style dress, sheer overlay.
What I'm a Sucker For: That dress.

I was no stranger to falling in love with Final Fantasy ladies as a child/pre-teen, and Rinoa was no exception. I have a T-shirt with angel wings cut out on the back in the hopes of channeling her heart and compassion. But that's not my real take-away from Rinoa. What really got to me was her dress, the one she wears at the SeeD ball (and the one that consequently proves to Squall that he doesn't stand a chance against her, the original manic pixie dream girl in video games). This dress epitomized the look I wanted to communicate when I wanted to dress up: elegant, fun, and simple.

Aya Brea ('Parasite Eve')

Her Look: Ripped jeans, dark blue tank top, knee-high leather boots.
What I'm a Sucker For: Everything. Ripped jeans are my jam. But particularly that and her necklace that hangs just under her throat.

I never played 1998's Parasite Eve growing up (never had a PlayStation of my own until the PS3 came out), but that didn't mean I didn't spend much of my time poring over video game magazines, scrutinizing Aya's style and look. She was gorgeous, strong, and she had a game all to herself. I mythologized Aya as a youngster, and part of me thinks that my unrelenting love of women in creepy games and horror was born from this adoration. Aya's style still remains with me: her side-slit dress informs my choice of side-slit skirts, her simple black dress lets me feel strong and capable in my own black dresses, and her ripped jeans and tank top enables me to feel like a force to be reckoned with on the days when I don't have the strength to think about how my outfits and appearance are going to be taken by everyone else around me.

Follow Kaitlin on Twitter.

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