- Video games have been a part of culture since the ‘70s, rising to prominence with the creation of powerful home consoles and video arcades in the ‘80s. Kids born in the ‘80s grew up in a world where Mario and Mortal Kombat weren’t parent-scaring novelties.
- Pure fashion brands were certainly aware of gaming’s growing influence. Now, with the trail blazed by streetwear, other brands had room to engage with what many saw as a full-fledged part of the 2010s.
- Gaming is first and foremost about having fun in a thoughtful, interactive world. A brand that connects with gamers by making something polished and legitimately entertaining would go far.
Gamers fashion used to be a punchline—hoodies on one hand, cosplay on the other. But now, the fashion world can’t resist the urge to get in the game. An evolving intersection between gaming and fashion was one of the biggest stories of 2020. News like the Gucci x The North Face garments in Pokemon Go, Balenciaga’s video game, and the countless Animal Crossing shows felt to many like the first steps into a brave new (virtual) world. However, a quick dig beneath the headlines reveals that gaming and fashion have a history. As brands think about how to plug in to this emerging space, knowing that history is essential.
Video games have been a part of culture since the ‘70s, rising to prominence with the creation of powerful home consoles and video arcades in the ‘80s. Kids born in the ‘80s grew up in a world where Mario and Mortal Kombat weren’t parent-scaring novelties. They might be more underground than movies, but they were just part of life—teen life, at least.
Since streetwear sits tightly with youth culture, it makes sense that the first gaming-fashion crossovers came from streetwear brands. Brands like Nike and adidas had an authentic reason to participate in gaming. Not only were they a part of young gamers’ worlds (compared to, say, Louis Vuitton) but as sports brands, they were a part of some gameworlds themselves.
In 2003, Nike and sports game publisher EA Sports released a collaborative Air Force 2 sneaker, considered to be the first bonafide gaming-streetwear crossover. Then, three years later, Nike opened the aperture to all gamers with the Nike x Playstation Air Force 1. By 2008, adidas had taken it all the way across the gaming spectrum with a special “Halo” colorway of NBA star Gilbert Arena’s signature shoe. The Gil II Zero may have been a sports shoe. But with one limited release, it made big budget titles of all types fair game.
Pure fashion brands were certainly aware of gaming’s growing influence. Now, with the trail blazed by streetwear, other brands had room to engage with what many saw as a full-fledged part of the 2010s. In 2012, Prada featured characters from Japanese role-playing game Final Fantasy as faces of a seasonal campaign. Three years later, one of those same characters, Lightning, was featured by Louis Vuitton.
Part of fashion’s gaming embrace has to do with its view of Asia (specifically Japan, China, and Korea) as a growth market. Gaming is more popular in Asia than in Europe or the Americas, and it’s no stretch to say that the East Asian consumer is the strategic focus of many luxury houses. There’s a reason it’s Final Fantasy in the spotlight and not, for example, The Elder Scrolls.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Regardless of the intent, the precedent had been set. By 2015, fashion and gaming were now in each other's orbit. The time between then and now saw various gaming/fashion partnerships of all sizes: German techwear label ACRONYM designing a coat for the game Deus Ex, Louis Vuitton dropping skins for League of Legends, and of course, the past year’s headlines.
Fashion has grown to see gaming—and gamers—as a legitimate area of interest. Partly, this is because gaming has gone from underground to mainstream. Time normalizes the new, and today’s teens make up the third generation of gamers. Gaming as a hobby is now a destigmatized part of culture. That makes it prime for mining as brands seek inspiration in the zeitgeist.
But more than that, fashion sees the potential of gaming as an immersive media form. Fashion is, at its core, about experience and storytelling—sometimes referred to as “selling the dream.” In a virtual game world, an idea can be brought to life in an interactive way without the baggage of reality. For a fashion houses and retailers alike, the promise of creating a hyper-engaging “dream” that customers can explore and enjoy seems like something from a dream itself.
POWER TO THE PLAYERS
Despite the recent heat around gaming-fashion crossovers, it’s my opinion that fashion has yet to activate in gaming in a meaningful way. Dating back to the earliest sneaker collabs, most of what’s been done in merchandising. The few efforts outside of that read as culture-jacking (see: LV’s “Endless Runner”) and little else. Either there’s a disconnect around what gaming culture means today, or brands choose kitsch over substance. Either way, it means a huge opportunity for brands willing to embrace this rapidly-growing space.
Gaming is first and foremost about having fun in a thoughtful, interactive world. A brand that connects with gamers by making something 1) polished and 2) legitimately entertaining would go far. Wendy’s and Marvel Studio’s recent Fortnite activations are the case studies here. Both brands didn’t have a deep connection to the game itself. But they embraced that they were part of culture, put thought into how they’d show up, and then made the experience fun for gamers.
But that’s just one approach. If jumping full-steam into game development feels too ambitious (or out of budget), fashion brands thinking about exploring the gaming world should look to these three spaces.
1. Collaborations around game launches. Movies, TV shows, and album releases are celebrated with merchandise. Why not games? Tasteful, high-quality “inspired by” garments are perhaps the most immediate way a fashion brand could interact with the gaming world. Case Study: For the release of Cyberpunk: 2077, fragment design released a capsule collection rooted in the game’s retrofuturistic graphics.
2. Collaborations with game developers. Forget about shameless product plugs—that’s not what this is about. Every production needs a costume department, and while the developer has a talented team of designers all their own, offering to work with a game studio on the clothing they’ll use to populate their world could lead to an amazing creative collaboration. Case Study: Errolson Hugh’s ACRONYM designed the coat worn by the protagonist of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
3. Make high-quality gaming accessories. There’s room for brands that make home goods to expand their lines into gaming accessories. Imagine a Fendi Casa gaming chair. Or a Louis Vuitton keyboard. LV already makes wireless earbuds. Why not go further?