My friend Josephine and I just saw a screening of the new MMORPG gamer documentary "Second Skin." For people who want to understand better the remarkable growth of online games over the past five years, what makes them so compelling, and how they effect the lives of their most avid fanatics, "Second Skin" is a great introduction. The filmmakers Juan Carlos Piñeiro Escoriaza, Victor Piñeiro and Peter Brauer pull no punches in talking about both the dangers of addictive online game play (wrecked relationships, lost jobs, poor health) and its merits (real friendships, romances, community.) Quite an accomplishment.
More after the jump…
The first 30 minutes of the film has a propulsive, slick quality to it that really moves the story along, giving the viewer a crash course in MMORPGs, the basic player experience, and the overall magnitude of the phenomenon they are examining. There is one particularly brilliant sequence of a set of four guild members walking slowly down the street ala "Reservoir Dogs," which then fades into their four game avatars doing the same thing.
The rest of the film doesn't quite match that energy, unfortunately, but makes up for it with intimate portraits of the day-to-day lives of the people who inhabit these worlds during virtually every free moment that they have. If I have a criticism, it's that the film tries to cover too much ground — going from gold farmers in China to a long-distance gamer couple meeting for the first time to a severely addicted gamer checking himself into a "clinic" for MMORPG addicts. They are all fascinating subjects, but the quick cuts back and forth between these stories got tedious at times.
Also, as a documentary about MMORPGs, it would have been good to have some actual footage of a raid or group quest, with some commentary about what was happening. For those that have never played, understanding the social, collaborative nature and ridiculously entertaining quality of a killer quest seems to me important to include. I'm thinking of the footage of gameplay from "King of Kong" for example.
Ted Castronova features prominently as the main "talking head"
commentating about the intersection of MMORPGs and our culture. In
fact the film could almost be considered a cinema treatment of his 2007
book Exodus to the Virtual World.
Ted is so good at flipping the typical questions about the effects of
online games on their heads. I.e. if hundreds of millions of people end
up fleeing the real world to inhabit virtual ones, what does that say
about the reality that we have constructed?
The best thing I can say about the film is that it doesn't take sides or insert any obvious editorial commentary about these gamers. It seems to me that the filmmakers went to some lengths to try and show various facets and sides of the debate on the merits and disfunctions of the gamer lifestyle.
As a side note, it was cool seeing friends Nexeus Fatale, Tony Walsh and Mark Wallace make appearances in the film! Great job, guys!