Gaming community has a tremendous impact on many aspects of culture and everyday life. Just a few decades ago, the video game industry was nothing but a small group of well-motivated enthusiasts who searched for a way to provide the best experience possible — of course, within the hardware and software limitations of the 20th century. Nowadays, there are publicly traded, giant game companies, millions of fans all over the world, and a specific cult-like following, surrounding the whole game industry. But how exactly did we get from basically zero amount of game merch to such products as video game hoodies?
Back in the 70s and the 80s, game merch consisted mostly of small gadgets which were included into the box with a particular video game. They were mostly cards, bracelets, rings and other small products branded with the logo of a game, or a character from its lore.
Two key elements have contributed to the evolution of these products: fast growth of the video game market, and fast development of the advertising industry. More and more everyday objects were used as means to promote a particular brand or product. That’s how we got from small gadgets to technologically advanced gamer outfits, refined action figures and other products. Nowadays, basically any object can serve as either a product placement tool, or a method of broad artistic references to the gaming culture.
Back in the day, there was no such thing as a ”gamer outfit”. Most of the game-related products on the market were usually small gadgets, pins or stripes attached to the clothes. But rapid development of the game merch allowed to produce a whole new category of products, including gaming hoodies.
Hoodies are probably the most visually and technologically appealing elements of game merch. First of all, the target audience of such products usually have proclivity for technology — such features as smartphone controllable heating pockets of other IoT functionality is not a challenge for them to get hold of. Secondly, the possibilities of visual references on gaming hoodies are literally endless, especially in the context of retro-gaming. Game merch doesn’t have to be modern and minimalist. There is room for any design choices you want.
One of the reasons why the hoodies are an excellent choice for both the fans as well as manufacturers, is the fact that a hoodie itself is a very popular type of clothing. It’s easy to produce, well-known as a style choice, has great travel potential and can serve you well basically under any circumstances. In addition to that, they’re made of high-quality materials, which can be resistant to many types of damage: stains, water, food and so on.
Every designer who wishes to make a good visual product referencing the video game culture, has two basic options. First of them is to make a product which directly places itself into a certain game narrative. It’s a popular choice to make, especially in the context of cult following of the best old games like Mario, Tetris or Pac-Man. Creating a project like this with references to a modern game can be a little risky — nobody knows if any modern game will be well-remembered in 20 or 30 years for now.
The second design choice is to make such a product as a gamer hoodie, which does not contain references to a particular game franchise. Instead, it resembles a broad video game visual style. Such projects are in definition very abstract, and come in various forms — some of them elaborate on the futuristic steampunk aesthetic, others tend to be more minimalist and fitting many other styles.
As you can see, gamer outfits create a tremendous amount of artistic freedom for the designers — as well as a big variety of possible choices for customers. It’s a clear win-win situation for both sides, which underlies the success of video game hoodies.
But creating just a normal, ordinary product, even with a distinctive, state-of-the-art visual style, was one enough for video game enthusiasts. This industry is known for pushing boundaries as far as possible — that’s why it’s not only a great business branch, but also a gigantic cultural factor.
The target audience of a gamer hoodie is easy to define. It consists mostly of young people (millennials, Gen Z, late Gen X and others), proficient in computer software and gaming. This creates a great possibility for the manufacturers to create not just ordinary clothes, but technologically advanced ones.
The first new feature introduced to game merch is probably the heating one. This technology, although not particularly new, fits greatly into the high-tech narrative. It was designed in the beginning of the 20th century in the form of heating the back part of a jacket by specially designed wires, powered by a rechargeable battery. Some game merch manufacturers include this solution into their products, but others decide to heat only the pocket section of the clothing.
With the use of a li-ion battery, another opportunity emerged. Why should it only heat the gamer goodie, if it can serve as a power bank, too? This logical conclusion determined the introduction of the smartphone charging feature — wirelessly or traditionally.
But that’s not the end. The evolution of IoT (Internet of Things) has determined another gaming hoodie feature: smartphone connectivity. Just like in smart homes and wearable devices, some functions like the heating can be controlled by an iOS or Android application. Now, you don’t have to reach for a built-in thermostat to regulate your hoodie’s temperature. One or two taps, and the heating is provided with any intensity you desire.
The list will probably go on in the future. Even today, more and more gaming hoodies have body activity sensors, which can measure your physical activity. Just like in a smartwatch, but possibly better — mostly because of the sensors being physically closer to the most vital body organs.
The technological advancement in such products is indisputable — but what about the design of the clothing itself?
High tech elements are not the only one which defines these products. The second one is practical design, which determines their versatility, especially in comparison to traditional hoodies and jackets.
The area in which designers tend to get creative is the pocket section. A traditional hoodie usually possesses two or not many more pockets for small everyday belongings. But game merch aspires to more than just traditional functionality, which takes the form of dedicated pockets for particular objects like: styli, pens and pencils, sunglasses, smartphones or wallets. In addition to that, the pockets for wallets are usually protected from credit card electronic theft.
But let’s not forget about the reality we live in — some manufacturers like Jay23 have even included reusable COVID masks into their gamer hoodies. That’s a smart and strategically great move since it’s almost certain that these masks will remain in popular use even after the end of the coronavirus pandemic.
If you take a closer look at these products functionality, you’ll see that there’s nothing that prevents anybody from using them. The fact that they are designed with multiple video game references does not exclude non-gamer customers from buying them. After all, the great miracle of technology is the ability to unite different kinds of people, regardless of their age, interests and social status. Even in the gaming community itself, gamer outfits are not limited to professional gamers and are a common cultural good.
The fast technological development will introduce even more futuristic features to this product category, which will further widen its target audience. Who knows, maybe the community will welcome new game enthusiasts precisely because of the hoodies?