Ever wish you could redo your life? Have you ever had a desire to be thinner, work as a clothing designer, or have the ability to fly? Maybe Second Life is the answer for you. The documentary Life 2.0 climbs into the virtual world to give us ‘real world’ people a look inside the very popular game. If you have never heard of Second Life, it’s a virtual online game in which you create an avatar to look like you, or the you that you want the world to see you as. From there, you can do pretty much what you want: network with others in the game, build things, buy things, the sky is the limit-literally, since you can fly around from place to place. Warning: this may contain spoilers.
The first time feature filmmaker, Jason Spingarn-Koff, created a ‘director’ avatar to go into the game and “film” interviews with these avatars, with the real people talking for them from their computers. We are introduced to three lives. One story is about two people who have met through Second Life, and become very close in a long distance relationship, there is one problem: they are both already married. Another story is a woman who still lives with her parents, and sleeps through the day so she can game all through the night, and the third story is from a young engaged man who has created himself on SL as an eleven year old girl. The film goes back and forth from watching their avatars talk in an interview like setting to watching the real people behind the avatars live their real lives and talk to the camera about their issues.
Most residents go online and claim that their avatar is a direct representation of their true selves and some are pretty accurate. For instance, the couple who are in this film seem to look very much like themselves and when they meet up for the first time, they actually recognize each other, although I’m sure there were pictures sent to one another. The man posing as a little girl is obviously not representing his outer looks so much as what he might feel like on the inside. The woman who lives in her parent’s basement is probably what most of the online community does with their avatars. They build their avatars to look like the younger sibling of themselves that became a major top model and claim that they look just like that. In other words, they make their avatar look like what they wished they looked like and play it off as real in a game where no one will know the difference.
Second Life got it’s start from all of the residents (users) that log in every day from around the world. When the game was created, it was just an island in the middle of an ocean with some trees on it. From there, residents came in and started clearing trees and building real estate, pretty impressive, I think. The creators only had to make sure that they had enough space on their servers to hold it all.
The documentary gets into some pretty heated topics such as making money on Second Life or committing “emotional adultery” while in the game. The young man who has created himself as an eleven year old girl starts discovering more about himself that he had been suppressing his whole life, which also causes a lot of problems for his life outside of the game with his fiance. The young woman who lives in her parent’s basement is one of the lucky ones who has been fortunate enough to make money from playing the game, by creating things like homes and fashion for residents to purchase in the game. However, is it hindering her ‘real life’ from ever taking off? How will she ever meet anyone else to be in a relationship with if she never leaves her parent’s basement? She starts encountering a copycat in the game that is stealing her designs and all but giving them away, causing her to lose a lot of revenue in real life.
The couple that fall in love in the game throw everything from their real life out the window to give each other a chance outside of the game. They both headed towards divorce with kids in the mix and homes in different countries, they tried the love outside the game and found it wasn’t quite as blissful.
The topics this documentary are teetering with are: is Second Life and other platforms like this good or bad? While watching this, I couldn’t help but lean toward bad. I happen to know a couple of people who have completely emerged themselves in games like these and they are only a shell of a person anymore. They seem to lack the care for hygiene and proper diet anymore. As long as it’s something they can rip the lid off and eat in front of the computer will work for them. These kind of games become highly addictive because they feel like they are missing something fundamental in their real lives. The young man posing as a little girl was doing so only subconsciously because of childhood trauma that had to be dealt with. The couple that dumped their lives for the virtual ones couldn’t handle the pressures of real life and all of the daily chores that come with it. In the game, there are no bills to pay, to children to care for, unless you choose so, and certainly no messes to clean up. When you purchase or gain a new item, it simply gets filed away in your inventory, never to be seen again, unless you choose to.
The documentary treads a fine line questioning whether these games can actually help a person achieve a “full person” status. The young man posing as a girl concludes in the end that he has been able to deal with some issues and feels that he knows where he is going in real life. However, he still seems to be dedicated to being someone else on a video game twelve hours a day.
Until seeing this documentary, hearing about people claiming they are “addicted” to video games seemed like an empty lie, like the “dog ate my homework” kind of excuse, but after this, I’ve seen more in depth into some lives that have been directly affected and I truly believe that some individuals really do need help. The young woman continued to make some money off of gaming, and as long as that works, that is one instance that gaming can benefit someone. But the couple who each went through divorces, didn’t end up making it work together and they are right back where they started and I would bet that they each got back on the game, maybe with new avatars and started looking for that missing piece again.
I can’t persuade you one way or the other to play or not play virtual games, but with evidence like this, it should be important to take caution and always keep your connections in real life strong. You won’t be seeing my avatar in any of these games any time soon.
I give Life 2.0 3 “Linden dollars” out of 5.
by Angela Davis