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Pong on steroids

Wednesday was full enough that I didn’t get a chance to do any writing between screenings. I had brunch at Future Bakery with an old friend and then we went to a screening of Second Skin. After that, we parted and I went on to The English Surgeon, The Black List, and then finished the night with Stranded, I’ve come from a plane that crashed in the mountains. Then, on Thursday, it was lunch with another friend–this time at St. Lawrence Market–then he went back to work and I went on to see Who’s Afraid of Kathy Acker?, Mechanical Love, and one of the films to which I have most been looking forward: Dreams With Sharp Teeth.

But it is late and I wanna go to bed, so just a little right now…

Second Skin

Second Skin, directed by Juan Carlos Piñeiro Escoriaza, is a look at a handful of M(assively)M(ultiplayer)O(online)R(role)P(playing)G(amers) and the role the games, themselves, play in their lives. The games featured are World of Warcraft and Everquest and, yes, I’ve heard of them but this is the first time I’ve ever clapped eyes on them. My experience in this realm began and ended with Pong.

It was a very familiar sensation that settled over me as the subjects began to explain how they felt about gaming and we saw the players sinking into their virtual world. It came as no surprise, then, when, later in the film, we were introduced to Liz Woolley–the founder of Online Gamers Anonymous–who was trying to help self-admitted game-addicted Dan, who has lost his job, his health, his home, and his friends. Liz blames her own son’s suicide on his gaming addiction and has set out to help others. Now, bear in mind that I have all kindsa trouble not with what she is trying to do but how she is trying to do it. So I wasn’t surprised to see her fail.

We are introduced to lots of couples who met via the community of online gamers. Folks who met virtually–as the characters they play in the games–before they met in the real world as their real selves. The relationships that are the focus of the film, however, don’t seem all that stable or strong to me because the individuals seem so emotionally immature. The cutting between the real people and their avatars is almost cruel in that you go from a handsome, swashbuckling hero in the game to a bespectacled nerd with a bad haircut, crooked teeth, and a cheesy goatee at the computer. I mean, we’re talkin’ living clichés, here!

Of course, what exactly constitutes their “real” selves is in question. Some of the gamers do believe that they are more their “real” selves online. To an outsider like me, that is extremely sad. But I realize that their perspective is very different from my own so what do I know? I mean, there seemed to be a lot of gamers in the audience and they reacted very positively to the film. I get the feeling we’re only getting part of the picture, though. I’m pretty sure there must be gamers who aren’t as loserish as these folks seemed to me to be–people who are able to function as responsible adults in the real world and still find time to devote to this hobby.

The last game I played looked like this

→ originally published 2008-04-25

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