The 501st Legion is an international Star Wars cosplay group that do large amounts of fan-based fundraising for different causes.
The organisation prides itself on authentic-looking Star Wars costumes and quirky fundraising activities from trash compactor photo booths to charity walks in hot costumes – physically and aesthetically!
501st member Ashley Bryson is an avid cosplayer who is constantly working on different costumes for pop-culture conventions such as Supanova, where he usually spends whole days at events showcasing these costumes – and he has an impressive collection: Indiana Jones, Severus Snape, and even Korean pop superstar Psy.
The pop-culture community is very involved in participating in conventions, with conventions such as Supanova getting up to 20,000 visitors in one city – which of course not only includes cosplayers, but regular folk.
“I just like how it’s a wide variety of different people in the cosplaying thing, and there’s all different reasons why people do it,” says Bryson. “It’s such a diverse world, but if you’re not in it you think, ‘Oh, yeah it’s just a group that costumes!’ but there’s so many ways people go about it and reasons why – some people just do it because they’re fans of the particular costume, some people just like that outfit so they’re gonna do it.”
In his collection he also has a highly detailed Storm Trooper costume, which he has spent over $1000 on and devoted a lot of spare time to perfecting, that he wears when representing the 501st Legion.
Bryson has been with the 501st for about three years now, starting out as a cadet before becoming a full member.
“I was a bit of a cadet for a while before I finally got through and made my Storm Trooper,” says Bryson, who has spent a lot of time and money perfecting his costume.
Fundraising-wise he is currently training for a 60km charity walk which he will be doing in October.
“We’re aiming to hit about $2000 per walker, I’ve raised about $1600 myself just for that walk,” says Bryson. “Even just doing things like walking from Southport to Surfer’s Paradise and back in Storm Trooper gear trying to raise awareness and rattling the tin – you know, people taking photos and entertaining people.”
The 501st has contributed to a lot of different charities including the Starlight foundation, Red Cross, The Salvation Army, all while doing what they love – turning their favourite fiction into reality.
“Any event – just say hi, drop a dollar in, we’re happy to get photos.”
Why does fundraising for illness have to be so serious, anyway?
Gaming has always received a pretty bad rap from the media. It’s not unusual to see wild allegations such as ‘video games are the cause of mass shootings’ or ‘video games are ruining the younger generation’.
With the launch of the world’s first true virtual reality technology, the ‘Oculus Rift’, just around the corner, surely these problems are just going to get worse? Society will most likely collapse!
But when I see these doomsday predictions, I can’t help but ask, why so serious? This new product is an incredibly exciting advancement in the world of gaming and I highly doubt it will have the deadly effects the media is always spouting.
The ‘Oculus Rift’ is an unprecedented breakthrough into virtual reality technology. With two angled screens inside a head mount casing it presents the user with a completely immersive experience. Using gyroscopes and other amazing technology it can track the movement of the users head to control movement in game.
For most gamers, this presents an exciting and new experience. The demand for the project is evidenced by the support it gained on crowdsourcing website www.kickstarter.com. The producer put up an original funding goal of 250,000 dollars, and at this point it has reached almost 1000% funding with nearly 2.5 million dollars currently pledged to development. That’s a pretty good measure of how excited the gaming community is for this development.
But for some gamers, the ‘Oculus Rift’ is more than just a cool new novelty. The Rift will allow many disabled gamers to access and interact with games in ways that have been impossible in the past.
The Able Gamers foundation is a group dedicated to helping people with disabilities access gaming. They build customized gaming rigs to suit the individual needs of people with disabilities.
I contacted the Able Gamers to ask them about their work and what the oculus rift will mean for the disabled gaming community.
A spokesperson for the group named Steve said that gaming is a powerful medium that opens windows into an otherwise inaccessible world for many with disabilities. In virtual worlds you can run, jump and soar like everyone else no matter your disability.
“So in essence, it’s not about the videogame so much as it is about providing a social outlet and even playing field,” Steve said.
The difficulty comes with the fact that games and their control interfaces are not generally made with disabled accessibility in mind.
The Able Gamers do a lot of work making customized controllers and software interfaces. But these modified individual solutions don’t come cheap, with many costing between 2-3 thousand dollars.
The Oculus Rift will be a powerful tool for gamers with disabilities as it only requires eyesight and the function of the head and neck in order to be used.
“For the person with audio impairments or slight mobility impairments, Oculus will be amazing.” Steve said.
Steve also said that AbleGamers sincerely hopes technologies will be developed to work along with the device to make it as inclusive as possible.
So, when someone starts spouting game hate at you, saying that ‘violence in videogames is the worst thing since Hitler’, just ask them “why so serious?” Then tell them all about the Oculus Rift and what it will mean to the disabled gaming community.
The evolution of technology has brought about many advances in media production and content sharing thanks to programs and websites like YouTube, iTunes and Spotify. These creations have also ushered in a new era of internet piracy which has damaged the entertainment industry. At the click of a button anyone can download millions of songs, movies and other forms of media that are usually paid for. The boom in illegal downloads has led to many people in the entertainment industry announcing the impending death of profitable art. However, one positive in all this doom and gloom is the advantage the immediacy of the internet gives to independent artists trying to increase their profile.
Without the evolution of social media and music sharing websites, these three talented people would not have the profile they have today.
Jeremy Neale is an independent musician based in Brisbane who has utilized both social media and a number of music websites including Triple J Unearthed to his advantage. He believes that the increased social media presence of musicians allows them direct contact to the people who listen to their music, and this is very important.
“Having my songs on Triple J Unearthed meant I was eligible to be selected as the Unearthed artist to play the Brisbane leg of Laneway Festival earlier this year,” Jeremy said.
“I see a lot of artists that give their social media pages over to their label / management and I can’t understand. It’s one of the last things I could imagine giving up to somebody else to look after. It’s cool to be in direct contact with people who appreciate what you’re doing / creating.”
Jeremy does recognize the challenges of counteracting illegal downloads but he also believes that music streaming websites have the ability to create a proper working relationship with artists.
“The use of music streaming will be super commonplace across all age groups. However with any luck a new music streaming service will emerge that gives better cuts to artists.”
Karl Chandler is a Melbourne stand-up comedian who co-hosts a successful podcast called The Little Dum Dum Club and has written for a number of TV shows including Good News Week and The White Room. In previous decades, comedians were able to get spots on Rove and other variety shows but in recent years there’s been a lack of opportunities. Therefore, Karl along with many other comedians in Australia have taken to social media and podcasting to build their audience.
“As a stand-up, the only way I could previously get my name out there was to hope to get on a gig with the right people there watching, and have them decide to further my career. Social media is a shortcut. Through Twitter, Facebook and podcasting, a lot of new people can and have found content of mine, without TV or radio.”
The biggest positive for comedians and other podcast enthusiasts is that they have been able to transition this free content into a monetary venture. Merchandising, exclusive audio and live recordings are all ways that podcasters have created a profitable element to this new media.
Chris Hardwick was quoted in the CIO article as saying “Our culture is so niche-oriented now, you don’t need 3 million people to listen to your podcast. If 10,000 people listen, which isn’t a hard number to achieve, then 10,000 people listen to your podcast. You can do something with that, you can build a community, and literally change the world, just recording into a recorder.”
This exemplifies how artists from all realms of entertainment can revolutionize the way they deliver content to the public whilst also being able to make a living.
Ball Park Music at Triple J’s One Night Stand
Jen Boyce is the bass guitarist in Brisbane band Ball Park Music. She loves the immediacy of social media but is also wary of the dangers of illegal downloading.
“I think piracy of all media forms is only getting worse and worse. I think it’s up to bands and artists to help consumers understand how little they already get from being a musician and how if you were to actually support your favourite band or artist, they could potentially achieve a lot more. It’s already led to record companies signing less artists each year and made it harder for musicians to make money off their music.”
Ball Park Music have achieved significant national coverage thanks to their placings on the Hottest 100 and their appearance on Triple J’s One Night Stand which was broadcast live on ABC2. However, the band still places importance on social media and other forms of media sharing as a way to build their fanbase.
“Social media is one of the key contributors to getting and keeping fans these days. If someone can simply ‘like’ your page or site and get updates from you when you post them, that’s very easy for fans to do and they don’t have to put much effort into keeping themselves updated. If they see that when they interact, the band or artist interacts back, they’re going to keep coming back and are more likely to share it with their friends or invite their friends to interact too.”
Keeping fans updated with information on gigs and new music is vital to the success of any musician and Jen continues to utilize Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to accompany her creative ventures.
“YouTube is probably the biggest helper here. There’s so many things that go ‘viral’ that would have had absolutely no place in the world before the internet evolved into this mega machine allowing you to sit in front of the computer all day without getting bored.”
In an ever-changing technological landscape, who knows what the future of content sharing will be? Artists will need to continue to find ways to make people want to pay for their works, whether that’s through a new medium like podcasting, an increased quality in their performance or just intense social media interaction. In the end, people will always be craving top notch music, comedy and film, no matter what the price and so it’s just about finding the perfect combination of technology and talent.