Consumer Struggles to Maintain Communal Ludic Experiences

It is often taken for granted that consumers who identify with a consumption activity will in a sense “find a way” to pursue that interest. But the contemporary cultural environment presents a lot of obstacles for maintaining deep engagement in a consumption activity (say, a hobby): family demands, work, stress, monetary woes, just to name a few. This research project, conducted in concert with my co-author Anastasia Seregina from Aalto University, tackled this issue through an ethnographic study of cosplay (short for ‘costume play’), a form of masquerade and craft consumption where consumers produce outfits inspired by pop culture source (mostly from the ‘geek’ culture variety) and perform in these outfits at events such as comic book conventions or ‘cons’.

The first article from this research project has recently been published in the hallowed pages of Journal of Consumer Research.  Here is the paper’s abstract:

Communal consumption is often described as inherently playful; previous research focuses mainly on successful ludic communal experiences and largely disregards their potential pitfalls. Moreover, the marketer is usually seen as the primary facilitator of ludic experiences, which has marginalized the role of the consumer. This article explores how consumers produce and sustain ludic consumption community experiences in the face of growing instrumental costs. It assumes a practice theory lens and is based on an ethnographic inquiry into cosplay, a time- and resource-intensive form of pop culture masquerade and craft consumption. Prolonged engagement in the cosplay community leads to growing emotional, material, temporal, and competence-related costs, which hinder playful experiences. Consumers practice modularization, reinforcement, and collaboration to overcome these costs and maintain the important ludic sensations that motivate communal engagements.