Cosplay props and convention safety

This is not a topic I’d thought I would ever have to think about, much less write about, but the recent incident in Phoenix, Arizona has changed that. On Thursday, May 25thpolice arrested a man who had entered the Phoenix Comicon intending to kill actor Jason David Frank.

Frank was the target of Matthew Sterling who had entered the convention centre with a gun and other weapons. Sterling had also intended to kill any police officers who attempted to stop him. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Frank posted a statement on Facebook thanking his fans for support.

Following this unsettling event, Phoenix Comicon went ahead and banned all props, including those that didn’t look like weapons, from the convention centre. This isn’t the first time props have been banned from a convention; New York Comic Con has an incredibly strict policy on props and fake weapons.

Props, for those who aren’t familiar with term, are replicas of items used by a character in a game, comic, cartoon or television show, as part of a person’s costume. For example, someone dressed up as Link from The Legend of Zelda video game series would carry a copy of the Master Sword and Hylian Shield, both props, as part of their costume. Props can be made of any material — from cardboard, right up to plastic, fibreglass and metal. At certain conventions, attendees can bring in fake guns provided they have no trigger, no internal firing mechanism and marked with an orange tip. Many conventions ban props made of certain materials, including wood and metal, for obvious reasons.

Many conventions have prop checks/peace bonding at the main entrances. This is usually a set of tables where staff and/or law enforcement review any accessories brought into the venue to ensure it is not a safety hazard. Items that pass this inspection are marked with fluorescent ribbon as a visual indicator that the prop is approved for event. If staff find that the prop is being improperly brandished, the attendee in possession of that prop may be asked to take it back to their hotel room or vehicle or it could be confiscated by staff or police.

We live in a reactive society now, where one incident causes an immediate reaction to fix potential holes or to placate the public. Look at air travel — following several plots to destroy to aircraft with explosives hidden in shoes or liquid bombs, we’re subjugated to removing our footwear and pouring out our drinks before going through airport security. And that type of reaction now is spreading out to functions previously untouched by such stringent rules.

There’s two views on this topic: first in terms of safety and security, the banning of props is necessary to make sure staff and local law enforcement identify potential offenders easily and quickly, to minimize a dangerous scenario that could result in someone getting hurt. The second is that blanket banning all props is a knee-jerk reaction to an isolated event and unfair to all other participants because it covers everyone in costume and treats them as a likely threat.

You can argue that you can still cosplay without props. Sure, you can still dress up and look like the character, but it takes away from the experience. Continuing with using Link as the example, without the sword and shield, it’s just not the same. Sure, you can use one of other Link’s accessories, such as an ocarina, but it’s all up to the person based on their style and the look they want to achieve with their costume. But at the same time, there needs to be common sense — is it smart to bring a solid steel sword to a crowded venue? Or can that look be attained with a softer, plastic clone?

So now we’ve reached this point where we have to balance safety and fun. What are we allowed to bring in with our cosplay? Or do we just acquiesce because of the world we live in and accept it as the new norm that one idiot can ruin a space people can showcase their talent and love for a medium.

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