Sunday, August 16, 2009

UPDATE: Second Skin

Remember a couple posts down when I pointed out that the documentary Second Skin was available on Hulu and recommended that all interesting in gaming or MMORPGs check it out? Well, that was before I myself saw it. I’d now like to amend that statement.

Actually, no, I’d like to amend that amendment.

If you’re interested in the topic I would probably still recommend that you check it out but this is certainly not a film I would show to an outsider or anyone who has little or no concept of massively multiplayer online role-playing games or gaming in general for that matter. The reason for that is because I found this film to be extremely biased.

Nearly every second of this documentary focused on people who have had their lives ruined or otherwise significantly negatively affected by playing games like World of Warcraft and Everquest. Though I myself spent about a year and a half playing WoW nearly every single day and understand the compulsion many people have to play some of these stories downright depressed me: people living in dark, unkempt houses, sitting in front of their computers for hours and hours and hours and hours at a time and virtually not sleeping. The wife of one of the film’s subjects even reported – while holding their newborn twins – that when the power went out her husband grabbed an extension cord to plug his system into the only working socket in the house.

This was the norm of the film and what bothers me is that nearly 12 million people hold subscriptions to World of Warcraft and for every case like the one above there are millions of people who play causally and are just fine. Rather than focus on the social aspects and relationship building experiences - which are very capable within such games - its creators decided to virtually only show the extremely negative side of gaming. In fact, the creators had a perfectly good opportunity to showcase such a positive relationship: Starman and Renata are the hosts of the popular podcast World of Warcast. At the time of this film’s production, they had been putting out shows together for over two years and yet had never met face-to-face. They finally met solely for the purpose of this project. A two-year friendship developed solely from the love of MMORPG and the makers of Second Skin stuck them in for an irrelevant 15 seconds. Such an immense waste.

If I had to pin-point my single biggest issue with the film though it was with one man who decided to join a support group for addicted gamers - Online Gamers Anonymous - and then went to a safe-house of sorts for that very issue. This man depicted in the film detailed how he would spend 16/17/18 hours in front of the computer playing WoW each day to the point he would pass out in front of his system, wake up, and then continue playing. He lost his relationship, his business, and his life because of it. He then went to this “recovery” center and had advice given to him by a woman who had absolutely no business whatsoever dolling out any type of psychiatric assistance.

This woman’s son committed suicide after his in-game relationship in Everquest dissipated. It’s a horrible and tragic story but the game was not responsible for this man’s death. Sane, rational, and healthy people do not commit such rash actions but still this woman thinks that by just getting the addicted gamer away from his or her computer and praying they’ll be perfectly okay. Not cool. And not true.

Ironically, the man who sought her out for help thought so too and left shortly after arriving.

Basically, if you’re a fan of MMORPGs you will probably find at least some of the documentary interesting but whatever you do, don’t show it to someone who has only heard the rumors and stereotypes: it will only enforce them.

1 comment:

  1. Now, I'm not a fan of this type of gaming, but I would agree that a game can not be blamed for this kind of destruction. Addictive personalities would find another outlet to indulge in. That therapist's son's suicide was the result of an unhealthy lifestyle and disconnect from himself and the world, but not at the fault of the game. It could have been alcohol, drugs, gambling, stealing.

    However, I think gaming documentaries are a brilliant idea ["King of Kong," anyone?] and should still be attempted. A very well-done and controlled argument, m'dear! Nice!