Second Skin - A Review by a Gamer
- Thoroughly researched and featuring real people and the top authorities in the online-gaming world
- Focuses extensively on gaming addiction
- All-around a good film that every gamer should watch
The premier was part of the ACE Film Festival in NYC. I had left my cell phone in the cab by accident and so was in a bit of a foul mood when I arrived, only to find that the movie was starting half an hour late. I waited in the lounge and overheard many conversations about gaming. Half an hour bled into an hour and when the ticket holders were taken down to the theater we found it was already 3/4 full. If the premier wasn't sold out, it was nearly so. I assumed the people who were already seated were part of the film festival crowd and not the gaming crowd. My suspicion was confirmed when the movie started and the audience was laughing at the sequences blending the gamers' real and virtual persona's together. I didn't think the sequences were funny or meant to be funny, but yet the crowd not only found them hilarious but was also chuckling at the documentary stars like school kids in the lunch room.
As an avid gamer and not an avid film fest attendee I was looking forward to seeing the complexities of interaction between real and virtual life played out on the big screen. What I wasn't expecting was the audience snickering at people because of how they looked or laughing when they talked about gaming being an important part of their life. I would expect a more mature reaction from the crowd, but was definitely let down.
But this is a review of the movie, not the audience, right?
The movie follows three main story lines: 1) a group of four friends in Ft. Wayne that live close together and game together, 2) a couple that met in EQ2 and were meeting in real life for the first time, and 3) a gamer in Philadelphia struggling to overcome his addiction to WoW and the self-proclaimed online gaming addiction counselor he sought for help.
The Ft. Wayne boys were a lively crew. One is married and expecting twins, he and his wife both game together. Another is getting married and moving out. The other two continue on with their bachelor/gaming existence. It follows the crew pre-BC, their attendance of the Burning Crusade midnight release, and their race to level to 70. The two couple relationships are shown in a healthy light. Interestingly the couple that raids together (and is expecting twins) did have some tension surrounding play time, but I was glad to see this was not played up by the film. The crew did a great job of portraying the normal lives of these gamers to the point you're rooting for them and sincerely hope they all continue to find happiness, whether online or off.
The second most prominent storyline follows a couple that meets in EQ2, falls in love online, and eventually moves in together. Both have experience in taking virtual love into the real world from prior relationships, all with disastrous consequences. This couple's tensions play out on the screen in a big way. We follow them from their first meeting in real life, their decision to move in together, and a vacation to the Sony conference in Las Vegas. Thankfully their story was interspersed with interviews of other couples that fell in love online and made their love in real life work. Actually the other couples interviewed not just make it "work" but all very clearly share a vibrant love for each other. It was great to offset the drama of the new EQ2 couple with the success stories of the other gaming couples.
The final main storyline was of a single gamer seeking to overcome his outright addiction to WoW. He seeks the help of a woman in Harrisburg, PA who has an online gaming addiction website, but eventually he moves back to Philly and finds answers on his own. It's difficult to hear him talk about letting his life dwindle away to play EQ2 and then WoW but you root for him as he makes his breakthrough and deals with his own personal demons.
The creators of the film also tracked down Dragons, the founder of the largest and longest standing MMORPG guild: The Syndicate. His story and the story of The Syndicate could have been an excellent track if the movie was more focused on the positive aspects of online gaming. For more on The Syndicate pick up the book The Legend of The Syndicate
They also interviewed the two leading researchers of online worlds, Ed Castronova, PhD and Nick Yee, PhD. Both provide a academic and intellectual insight into gaming culture, community, and interaction. I highly recommend reading Synthetic Worlds as well as Nick Yee's site The Daedalus Project.
Ultimately, the addiction angle is of course a very powerful story to tell. Gaming addition can be broken down into a 30-second snippet on the nightly news, taking the one terrible case and wrongly generalizing it across the 50 million gamers worldwide. It is sensational and easy for non-gamers to understand. It is also the underlying theme of this documentary but thankfully it doesn't beat you over the head with it like a Michael Moore movie.
However, it is important to look at these peoples' lives in Second Skin and use them as a litmus test for our own. Am I addicted? What trade-offs do I make in real life for the online world? Am I happy with those trade-offs? I hope that you all take the time to watch the movie and find the right balance between your real and virtual selves.
Labels: real life