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Second Skin

April 1, 2016

SSWe see three sets of computer gamers whose lives have been transformed by computer games called Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs). World of Warcraft, Second Life, and Everquest. Millions of users to simultaneously interact in virtual spaces. There are couples who have fallen in love without ever meeting, disabled players whose lives have been given new purpose, those struggling with addiction, Chinese gold-farming sweatshop workers, wealthy entrepreneurs and legendary guild leaders. We see a couple who met in a virtual world, an addict whose life was ruined by MMOs, and a group of MMO gamers who spend most of their lives inside virtual worlds.

Dan is vastly overweight and tells us his WoW addiction cost him his relationship, his business and his home. Now, he’s living as what amounts to a patient in the home of a woman who runs a video game addiction support group.

But Dan can’t hack it there and leaves to head back home to Philadelphia where, he tells us, he quickly falls back into his old habits, playing too much WoW at the expense of the rest of his life.

Over the course of the film, however, he kicks his addition, loses many dozens of pounds, gets a job and rediscovers his life. And, he tells us, he likes life way too much to want to play WoW anymore.

Then there’s a group which lives together in a house in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and who play WoW almost every minute they’re not at work or asleep.

The town “is home to a thriving MMO community that lives, works and games together,” the film’s Web site tell us. “Andy is a seasoned MMO gamer who currently raids nightly in WoW along with his wife, Karalee. Their neighbours, Anthony, Chris and Matt, converted their living room into the Fortress of Dorkitude, where they also play MMOs for 40+ hours a week.”

During the film, we see Karalee get pregnant and have twins. But it seems that it’s all Andy can do to drag himself away from his gaming to deal with, first his pregnant wife, and later his newborns. The looks on his face are so telling during the movie: He wishes he could just find a way to make his life fit his WoW schedule a little more, even after his babies are born.

SS 2“We’re gamers,” says Andy. “It’s what we do. It’s how we choose to live our life.”

Or, as he puts it at some point earlier in the film when talking about his wife, “Before I met Karalee, I’d never met a woman worth giving up gaming for. And if she asked me to, I probably would. But I know she wouldn’t.”

Heather and Kevin, after meeting in EverQuest II, fall in love, even though Heather admits that she knows Kevin was also flirting with several other women in-game at the same time.

For his part, Kevin says he’s had online relationships going all the way back to the ’80s, and now just wants to make sure his new flame isn’t “attached in any way…and that she didn’t have a violent history.”

He’s been burned before.

Over time, they meet in person, consummate their love and eventually move in together. And while it’s never fully spelled out, my take on their relationship was that both of them were passive aggressive, immature and that if they somehow managed to make it past a year living together, they would begin to hate each other.

The idea of whether a virtual persona represents a person’s “real” personality more so that true life does is initially treated as a central theme, but the film mainly follows these individuals while they’re out of game and doesn’t document their behaviour online, so a comparison is impossible. There’s a scene where Kevin states that being a better person in virtual life translates into real-life courage, but he and Heather later admit that they still have a lot to learn about each other after months of living (and presumably gaming) together, which exposes the limitations of online interaction. As far as we see, these are generally nice, outgoing people both on and offline. Even in Dan’s case, the game didn’t necessarily bring out a hidden aspect of his personality or play out a wish fulfilment fantasy, but capitalized on a drive that was already there when he started his first business. Specifically, the satisfaction derived from starting with nothing and working to become the best at something. Once he redirects that drive from virtual life to real-life, he gets things back on track.

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