China: Cosplay dating trend to bring virtual crush into reality

Bringing the virtual crush into reality: This is what the cosplay dating trend in China is trying to do

The cosplay, which originated in Japan, is now internationally popular – in China, more and more women are now hiring cosplayers in order to be able to date their virtual crush (archive photo)

© Bao Gansheng / VCG / Picture Alliance

In China, more and more women are paying cosplayers for dates to bring their virtual crush to reality. They should then style and behave in the same way as male characters from online games that deal with dating.

Online games in which the female protagonist can date the fictional man (or several) of her dreams have been popular in China for years. Now many women want to be able to spend time offline with their favorite male characters from the games – at least it feels like it. To make that possible, they hire cosplayers.

This type of games are also called “Otome Games” or “Dating Sims” and originally come from Japan, but have also been popular in China for years. The focus is on the love life of a female protagonist – the aim of the interactive games is to establish and maintain romantic relationships with the male characters. Players can choose between different scripted scenarios and thus advance the story. Often, in-app purchases improve the chances of successfully keeping the virtual relationships going and leveling up – and many spend quite a bit of money here. Countless people, mostly young people, exchange information about the games and their favorite characters on social media or forums.

The trend towards fictitious partners in China was reinforced by the corona pandemic

The predominantly female fans of these games are also referred to as “Dream Girls” because they often imagine and daydream about a relationship with their favorite fictional character, for example from a game or series. According to media reports, the corona pandemic could have further strengthened the trend towards “virtual friends”, the number of users of the “Otome” games is said to have increased sharply during the lockdowns.

However, more and more of them apparently want more than digital exchange with the male characters of their favorite games, as the Chinese online magazine “Sixth Tone” reports. Many young women place advertisements on the Internet, including information on the desired costumes, payment, and whether kissing is also desired or not. The special feature: The cosplayers who hire the women for the dates are often said to be female themselves, but disguise themselves as male characters – because many women would feel safer and more comfortable, as some reported to “Sixth Tone”.

Such dating trends are not entirely new. As early as 2019, the AFP news agency reported that more and more young Chinese women are using the services of “virtual boyfriends”. You pay for services such as texting, chatting or calling – but in these cases there is no real meeting. Most women are in their twenties, single and have a stable income. The services should not be of a sexual nature. Many simply want a sympathetic ear, emotional support or romantic conversations, some young men who offer their services online told the news agency. Chris KK Tan, a professor at Nanjing University who has studied this phenomenon, puts it this way: “People have figured out how to commodify affection.”

In the gallery: Photographer Niccolò Rastrelli photographed passionate cosplayers in Italy – but not at a convention, but together with their families in their own parents’ house.

Sources: sixth tone, tik tok, France24, Tokyo girls update, Jing Daily, Quartz

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