Virtual Environments

By May 23, 2014 May 6th, 2016 Digital Media Context

The film “Second Skin” (2008) takes an interesting (and slightly disturbing) look at the world of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games. It follows different gamers in different situations, each with their own important connection to a virtual world.

The film can often portray the more negative and stereotypical side of MMO gaming but it does show some of its benefits such as how people have met through the game and to some: how it is their escape from the everyday, which to some with disabilities is their way of becoming who they want to be.

As a gamer who has tried a few MMOs, I’ve never really been sucked into the virtual worlds enough to play them in-depth or for very long. I definitely see how players can become absorbed in their worlds. My closest comparable experience would perhaps be in the form of Skyrim. I played the game during the summer between high school and university. It was the first game I had played in the Elder Scrolls franchise and I became hooked on many of the same game mechanics that can be found in MMORPGs such as levelling, combat and story.

Second Skin looks at the more hidden and psychological aspect of playing these type of games, in particular those who spend the majority of their day online playing them. MMOs are designed in mind to take a very long time to complete as that is part of their nature, often featuring massive worlds. The longer the developers can keep you in the game, the more profitable the game can become. Surrounding players with often like-minded people all working towards a goal can be a great experience, but with anything, Second Skin shows how people can express addictive tendencies towards the game.

I found a similar documentary film called Life 2.0 which explores many of the same but also different social issues that revolve around virtual environments. The film centres of the game Second Life, which is a different type of online virtual word, based more off real life environments with players taking control of virtual avatars. The player can create an avatar to their own liking or make it up, they are then free to explore the world, socialise with other players, participate in activities or even trade virtual goods.

Second Life is more targeted towards the social aspect than your average MMORPG. However this social aspect in a virtual environment has often led to social issues of its own. As seen in both Second Skin and Life 2.0, the players become so absorbed into the game that their real life deteriorates. One player in Second Life had a second personality, a young girl avatar which became an extension of his own personality. Due to conflicts within his real life he decides to close his account. He had tried to get banned before because he was unable to leave on his own actions. On the final day that he plays this character, he pulls an all-nighter talking and sharing emotional with his online friends, hosting a virtual party and eventually hosting a funeral. While roleplaying is common in these games, the guy had become so absorbed it was ruining his real life. So while virtual environments can be an escape from the everyday, it can also be dangerous in some ways.

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