If you know absolutely nothing about Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG), Second Skin will get you up to speed in a hurry. Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza's documentary specifically revolves around a group of players who are obsessed with the World of Warcraft game, spending every waking moment in front of their computers, lost in an animated, medieval world of honor, loyalty, battles, romance, ceremony, and gold, always the gold. But it's not just World of Warcroft that attracts players -- it could just as easily be Second Life, Everquest, or dozens of others.
The film wants us to know that MMORPG are not just for kids. Of the 50 million players, two-thirds are in the much coveted 18-35 age range. (Here is your lost audience, Hollywood.) The folks that appear on camera are, by and large, wonderfully pleasant people, well aware of the outsider status that gaming places upon them in the eyes of the general public and (mostly) not caring. As one of the interview subjects says, maybe there are better ways gamers could spend their time, but the same could be said for people who watch sports all day long, guys who tinker with their cars all night long, or, really, any other hobby on the face of the earth.
Second Skin pumps out a lot of on-screen facts, offers plenty of sincere testimony from gamers, talks to various experts, gives lip service to the idea that gamers come from all walks of life -- and then proceeds to reinforce many of the worst stereotypes about gamers. It starts down this path with the factoid that 1 in 3 gamers have been involved in some kind of romance with someone they've met through gaming. Massively Multiple Online games would appear to be fertile breeding grounds for the development of online relationships, since players join together to achieve greater success as a team. There's also the idea that players create idealistic avatars to play in the games.
We hear from gamers who have gotten together romantically and appear to be very happy. We also see one couple from the point they meet for the first time in person and then make the decision that one of them should move hundreds of miles to be with the other. But there's nothing new about online dating -- cautionary tales have been spun for more than two decades -- or the pitfalls of long-distance relationships, and Second Skin doesn't shed any new light. It also ignores the collateral damager that can occur to marriages and families.
It also doesn't help the cause to focus almost exclusively on men who live in cluttered, trashy apartments, so obsessed when a new extension pack for World of Warcraft arrives that one dedicated soul says he plans to urinate into a bottle so he doesn't have to waste time walking into the bathroom. Another plans to buy a cooler so he doesn't have to waste time getting up from his computer and walking into his kitchen. With his wife expecting twins, another man still anticipates gaming three nights a week.
Various experts line up to express concern about the addictive nature of online gaming, concerns that have been expressed since Pong came out in the 1970s. We hear from a man who says he lost everything because of his addiction -- his wife, his house, his car, his job, his life savings. He makes a recovery of sorts, ranting and raving about the evils and dangers of gaming, a voice crying out in the wilderness. It's a good story, and the man is a natural subject, but he's the only ex-gamer we see.
To be sure, there are interesting side trips. We learn that China is a hotbed of gold farming, in which low-paid gamers, working in what looks like a computer sweatshop, accumulate valuable amounts of gold that is then sold to gamers overseas who want to sidestep the rules of the game to their own benefit.
We hear briefly from disabled gamers who have been transformed by being able to play the games and connect to a world that doesn't judge them by their appearance.
Second Skin is a fast-paced doc that's probably about twice as long as it needs to be. It covers a lot of old ground and features too many scenes in which the actions of the gamers in real life are contrasted with their heroic deeds in the virtual world. It glosses over some very interesting aspects -- like the disabled gamers -- and pounds away with a bombastic soundtrack that tries much too hard.
But, to borrow a phrase from an Elvis Presley album title, 50 million gamers can't be wrong, can they?