Beyond the Game

Interview with Raahega: All dressed up

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Raahega's exquisite Valkyrie cosplay

You’ve seen those people who dress up as their favorite cultural icons at conventions? I can almost bet you’ve never seen anything quite like this. It’s almost Halloween, a time when donning our favorite costumes to trick-or-treat or become social pariahs is generally accepted. Cosplay is sort of like that, except it’s one of the world’s most fascinating cultural phenomena of all time.

Some ‘cosplayers’ equip simple costumes, like wearing a Spiderman outfit or yellow spikey wigs with an orange gi to instantly become Goku. And then there are people like Raahega, who’ve taken this to entirely new heights by cultivating something so unique and detailed, it’s honestly hard to believe.

In this edition of Beyond the Game, I speak with Raheega, a very modest cosplayer whose masterfully crafted works of cosplay art have gained her notoriety beyond anything she could’ve ever imagined.

The interview with Raahega

Locale: Discord

“I always liked looking at cosplayers and thought to myself, “I could never do that.”

Raahega interview with HighPingGaming.com, 2019

Estevan: So, Raahega. Before we even get started, let me just explain how I came across you and your jawdropping Valkyrie Kara cosplay. I was browsing Reddit, when I came across this post:

It has, at this current time, over 75,000 upvotes and was awarded 18 times in one post. Truly remarkable. So, tell me a little bit about yourself.

Raahega: I’m from Switzerland and 26 years old. I work fulltime as a laboratory technician in a biology lab. I’ve been cosplaying since 2016 as a hobby. I like cosplaying characters from games which I really love playing.

Estevan: It’s surprising to think that a laboratory technician would be making such elaborate creations, but that’s the beauty of cosplay, right? You never really know the person behind the mask. So obviously I discovered you from your Reddit post about the God of War cosplay, but what are some of the others you’ve made? Were they as time-consuming to create?

Putting in work

Raahega: Well I made a Valkyrie before the latest one also. The first Valkyrie took me around 1000hrs to make. It was my first big build, first time making really big wings. A lot of things failed and I had to remake, especially the stability of the wings. They snapped in half the first time I put them on. Before the Valkyries, I have made a Monsterhunter World armor which was also time-consuming because I had never built an armor before. And before that, I made Witch Mercy, which was the simplest cosplay I made.

Estevan: So have you always been interested in cosplay? How does one get into cosplay?

Raahega: Yeah, basically since I got back into gaming a couple of years ago. I always liked looking at cosplayers and thought to myself, “I could never do that.” One day I was browsing cosplay pics with my best friend and jokingly said that we should make her one. So we actually made a monster hunter armor for her. And then I wanted to make my own cosplay too, so I did! I haven’t stopped ever since!

Estevan: That’s really cool, you know? It’s cool that it just sort of ‘happened’. Now help me understand because I think that most people, myself included, have a hard time imagining what 500 hours on one item looks like, much less 1,000 hours. How do you manage that time, and for a project that massive, how many weeks and months are we talking about?

Raahega: Well for the 1000 hour Valkyrie, I worked around 10 months on that one. Most of the time I’d work on it after I came home from work. During the week, I spent three to four hours working on it. I barely worked on the costume on the weekend though, as I was spending time with my boyfriend and family and friends. The new Valkyrie I made in four months. Given that I moved much closer to work and gained two and a half hours per day which was previously spent commuting, it opened up a lot more time to work on my cosplay. So now, I usually work two hours a day on a project and spend the rest of my evening gaming and spending time with my partner.

Estevan: Oh wow. 10 months? That’s some serious dedication. Let’s talk about the Valkyrie for a moment. Can you explain what that is for people reading this interview who may not be familiar?

Raahega: Well, the Valkyries are the nine optional endgame bosses in the latest God of War game. They test the skill of the player in eight different ways, with the Queen combining all into one extreme challenge. They are based on the Valkyries from the Nordic mythology. Valkyries would roam the battlefield, choosing amongst the slain who they will escort to Valhalla, where the soldiers would feast until Ragnarok. In the game, though, the Valkyries are trapped in a mortal and corrupt form by Odin and you as the player have to defeat and kill them to set them free.

God of War’s “Valkyrie Kara”
Raahega’s Valkyrie Kara cosplay

Estevan: Very interesting. You said you’ve made two separate Valkyrie costumes, right?

Raahega’s Valkyrie Rota

Raahega: Yes, I made Rota first and then made Kara. I have also made the Mask of Sigrun and Mimir’s head and plan on making more Valkyrie masks to display at home.

Estevan: Oh wow. I hadn’t seen that one before. You’re incredibly talented.

What’s the most complex part about making a costume? I see people with really detailed costumes like Mysterio from Marvel or Lifeline from Apex Legends, and while very good in their own right, are nowhere near as complex as what you’ve made.

Raahega: The most complex thing about making the Valkyries was definitely the masks and wings. I think every cosplay has some complexity to it. I mean sewing Belle’s gown from Beauty and the Beast is something insane and something I could never do. There are even people out there who make full-body latex suits with 3D parts for their Mystique (from Marvel) cosplays or Widowmaker from Overwatch. They might not look as difficult compared to a Valkyrie with huge wings and an elaborate mask but are definitely just as challenging to make to perfection.

The most challenging thing about the Valkyries were obviously the wings. Since in-game they are mechanical and seem to consist of blades, you cannot just make them out of fabric if you want them to resemble the game. So I had to make them out of EVA foam, which is in theory lightweight, but when connected together weigh a lot. There are around 500 pieces on both wings together, all which had to be either engraved with a wood burner or decorated with clay rolls (which I had to make by hand, too). At some points, I felt like a factory worker—it was super exhausting. It’s also difficult to not lose motivation by engraving the 50th piece with the same pattern over and over again. Generally speaking, the most complex part is planning and making patterns. Once you get that down, it’s mostly smooth sailing (for me at least).

Estevan: Do you go to conventions? Have you won any awards?

“Conventions can be very tedious… people somehow don’t respect you anymore as soon as you’re wearing that costume.”

Raahega interview with HighPingGaming.com, 2019

Raahega: Yes, I’ve been to conventions, but only three with my Valkyries. I have also entered in 1 contest but unfortunately didn’t win anything. It’s a bit of a problem to go to a convention with a costume that size because you can’t navigate through the crowds. So I basically stand in a corner and stay there until I’m bored, then my partner has to disassemble the wings so we can move.

Conventions can be very tedious even in normal cosplays, because people somehow don’t respect you anymore as soon as you’re wearing that costume. They will try to take pictures while I’m taking a break and eating without asking. I’ve also been groped, stalked and harassed. People walk up to me and just touch the wings for example, which can be very dangerous because it can throw my balance off. I personally enjoy the crafting part the most. It’s a chance for me to be artistic and learn new stuff. I also love the photoshoots because it’s usually only me, my helper and the photographer.

The all-knowing head of Mirmir, created by Raahega.
The all-knowing head of Mirmir, created by Raahega.

Estevan: You mentioned the unwanted touching and how people lose respect for you in the costume. Has that changed how you feel about the cosplay culture? Is this a widespread problem? And I assume this behavior pattern is typically targeted toward female cosplayers?

On cosplay convention culture

Raahega: It has certainly changed how I feel about the convention culture. I only ever go if my boyfriend comes with me and my friend because he does scare off the gropers and creeps. Of course, that’s just a Band-Aid fix to the issue. It shouldn’t be that female cosplayers can only walk around without getting harassed if they have a man with them. He is, of course, also very stern and tells people to bug off if they try to touch my cosplay (I have limited sight in the mask, so I usually can only see what’s directly in front of me).

And yes, that problem is unfortunately very widespread. Especially at huge conventions this seems to happen a lot. Not so much at conventions where there are cosplayers only, more at like games conventions and such. But, men are harassed in cosplay, too. I had a conversation with a guy who was a carbon copy of Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. He said it’s the first and last time he’s wearing that costume because he can’t handle the groping and the female stalkers.

Estevan: Very interesting. Well, let me say for the record that I’m sorry people have to go through any of that when trying to enjoy something they’re passionate about. Hopefully, you can continue to show off these immaculate works of art in the future, care and worry-free.

Turning the tides a bit, I have sort of a two-part question.

What is your take on how people experience different mental health issues while playing video games? The global conversation on mental health is often excluding video games.

Recently, especially in the United States, the age-old concern of violence in video games has reemerged due to the recent amount of gun-related violence. So my question would be, how do you feel about that? Do you think there’s truly an issue?

And regarding cosplay, do you think cosplaying is just that; playing a costumed character, or is it more about being able to escape reality, whether that’s for pleasure to alleviate things like depression, anxiety, etc?

On mental health

Raahega: So, to answer the first question. I do think people experience depression when playing video games. Or more like try to numb it through games. This is not wrong, per se, but it can easily plummet into an addiction, especially with people who struggle mentally. I don’t think it’s the game’s fault. I believe it’s more of a social and cultural problem. People still look down upon mental health and its not taken seriously. That means people struggling are often ashamed to reach out for help and instead drown their sorrow in videogames so they can escape their thoughts. I found myself playing games excessively after a nasty break up because I was depressed. The games took my mind off of things.

And I do find myself playing far less now that I am happy. I think mental health needs to be taken more seriously. People should not look down upon others who struggle and seek help, especially amongst men. There is a huge stigma about not being “manly” enough if you suffer from depression and seek help. It’s an awful mindset and needs to disappear ASAP.

To answer the second question: I think this is thought by people who don’t understand the mental illness that’s behind it all. Yes, the mass shooters sometimes have played a lot of shooting games in the past, but that’s not the cause of it. I think its merely a symptom of depression and other mental problems. Instead of asking, “Why is this person playing videogames for 12+ hours a day?”, they should be asking, “What’s behind all this? Why are they playing for so long?”

They just shrug it off and see them as addicts or “losers” or whatever. Instead of trying to get them help, they just leave them be, or bully them which spirals them further down the hole. I don’t think there is an issue with video game-related violence, because the vast majority of people who play shooting games would never go on a mass-shooting spree. It’s like saying every tattooed person is a criminal. While most criminals might be tattooed, it doesn’t mean every tattooed person is criminal.

As for the gun violence in the US, I can’t really say much as I don’t live there. I feel super safe in Switzerland, despite it being one of the countries with the highest amount of guns per capita. The military is mandatory in Switzerland for young men. They allow soldiers to take their guns home after duty. The difference is that it’s very hard to get ammunition. You need a license, several background checks, etc. Also, healthcare is amazing here. Everyone has insurance and you can go and get help without paying much at all.

From left to right: Rota, Sigrun, Kara, created by Raahega
From left to right: Rota, Sigrun, Kara, created by Raahega

I think the cost of healthcare and getting help is scaring off a lot of people in desperate need of help. And I think cosplaying can be an escape from someone’s grim reality, but for most, it’s an artistic escape. I’ve only found it induce anxiety and depression because of social media and the community itself. The cosplay community can be very toxic towards newbies. The constant pressure of perfectionism is always present and you do get criticised heavily sometimes. People will go as far as bullying you if your face doesn’t look like the OC, same goes for the body. Because of this, I personally prefer masked cosplays, because then I don’t have the pressure of looking like a certain character.

Speaking on body shaming

I think it’s sad people go and criticize someone’s face and body. Of course, it’s awesome if you look exactly like Mercy, for example, but it shouldn’t be the standard (as most people see it now). Cosplay should be for every gender, body type, skin color, and age. But I’ve found that behavior more common around people who don’t cosplay themselves. Like they see some cosplayer on the internet whose face and body greatly resembles a certain character and sets this as a standard. They’ll sometimes start bullying people who don’t fit that standard.

The best example I have is a lot of Kratos cosplayers. Kratos is a beast of a man. You can only get a body like that through heavy bodybuilding. That’s not manageable in a normal person’s life who has other hobbies (like cosplay and gaming). Most Kratos cosplayers are not as bulky as Kratos. You wouldn’t believe the amount of bullying those men receive for being “too thin“. Most of them, mind you, are still more muscular than the average person.

Estevan: That’s an incredibly profound point-of-view. It also sounds like some of the cosplay community suffers from some of the same social pressure that we face every day as a society with fitting in, acceptance, etc. I truly hope that this changes for the better. Body shaming and the need to “fit in” cause serious damage to someone’s mental well-being.

Raahega, it has been an absolute pleasure to speak with you. Thank you so much for allowing the world to get an in-depth look “behind the cosplay”. It’s been an incredibly enlightening experience I hope you’ll keep us updated on all of your future creations.

Where can the people find you if they want to know more?

Raahega: Thank you, I really enjoyed it! People can find more about me on my Instagram: @raahega.cosplay

Estevan Zamora
An entrepreneur, photographer, and writer. He likes capturing beautiful images, scrubbing it up in various competitive FPS games, and browsing reddit like it's about to shut down.

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