V.G. Movies #47: Second Skin.

[Welcome back to the Evolution of Video Game Movies series. Every week, I will be moving forward through time, starting with the earliest and ending with the most recent of video game movies. I will be detailing the histories of the games and how the films came about, and both my and fan reaction to the adaptations. Practically all of my background information is either common knowledge or from Wikipedia. So without further ado, let's move on to the next film on the list.]

(Special Note: This was originally supposed to be Ace Attorney, but that movie proved impossible to find. So I had to go back a few years and pop in another documentary.)


This year I've talked about films based on practically every type of video game: fighters, platformers, first-person shooters, simulators, horror, action/adventure, side-scrollers, volleyball, mission-based, puzzles, and role playing. I've talked about everything from arcade to console and at least one computer-based. But in this year, I have not talked about one of the biggest and most addictive genres currently available (next to first person shooters)--MMORPGs.

The Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game genre is for the most hardcore of hardcore gamers. Why? Because it takes all your time, money, and personal investment to play. Like regular RPGs, you get a character (though oftentimes you get to create that character nearly from scratch) and get to choose his or her destiny and evolution. But unlike regular RPGs, the worlds expand and evolve even when the player isn't playing as the games take place entirely online.

The genre pretty much began before it was even a genre, if that makes sense, with Dungeons & Dragons. This game inspired many types of early online games called MUDs, or Multi-User Dungeons. These were typically text-based adventure/fantasy games where you pretty much played D&D (or something similar) over an internet connection in a chat room-type setting. (They, of course, evolved from there.) MUDs soon became graphical MUDs, which--if you couldn't figure it out--added graphics to the text-based setting.

The first major fully graphical interface, multi-user RPG was Neverwinter Nights in 1991. These games continued evolving until 1997 when a man named Richard Garriott released a game called Ultima Online and coined the term MMORPG, and the genre hit its stride and became popular in 1999 with a game called EverQuest. Many incredibly popular games came out after, both for free and for pay. But none could ever come close (before or after) to the success of the fourth installment to a real-time strategy series called Warcraft. The fourth venture into the world of Azeroth changed its genre to MMORPG and has since become the most popular and best selling of its kind.

Unfortunately, with this came a whole new world of psychological studies. People became legitimately addicted, risking personal lives, health, and job security to continue playing WoW and other games like it. Entirely new ways of interacting began happening, including to the point of online marriages. These are games that can be fun in moderation but have literally destroyed many lives in the process. The following documentary follows the stories of some of these people.


This is normally where I talk about the film's story or characters, but there's nothing really concrete or central to really focus on. The film actually focuses more on the positives and negatives of MMORPGs and gaming addiction rather than looking at the games themselves. There are a couple constant people and stories to follow, which includes a couple who falls in love online, a group of friends who struggle to balance social lives with gaming, a woman whose son was a huge gamer and drove her to start up a self-help group for addicted gamers, and a guy who completely hits rock bottom due to gaming and seeks help.

This documentary's biggest issue is that it has a weak "thesis statement" (to put it in academic terms) and is, therefore, all over the place. It doesn't seem to know what it wants to say. What point is it trying to make? Yes, it has a fair and balanced look at the positives and negatives of online gaming. But at the same time, it throws in all these other things, like Chinese Gold Farms ("illegal" aspects of these games where what are essentially technical support sweat shops in China are run where people can use real life money to buy in-game gold to level up their characters faster). And then there are things like focusing on people who are clearly psychologically imbalanced (or, in some cases, socially incapable) prior to being involved in gaming, so it's not exactly a fair look.

A lot of these people in this movie are incredibly unlikable. Of course, not all of them... but a good chunk. For instance, there's one story where a guy's wife is pregnant with twins. She ends up delivering both but nearly dies during childbirth. This sends a bit of a reality check to the gamer husband (though not for long, as he does eventually become obsessed again). Immediately after this happens, his gamer friend comments that what sucks is his friend is going to stop or slow down on gaming now. Yes, that is the terrible thing that is happening in all of this.

The most memorable story is a guy named Dan who hits rock bottom because of gaming--he loses his business, his relationship, and his home. He considers suicide because his life is in shambles. So he goes online and finds this gaming addiction anonymous place run by an older woman named Liz. She proclaims she even goes so far as to have a safe house for people considering suicide, which Dan eventually goes to. Liz is another personality they interview throughout, and she's pretty strong against online gaming and how it ruins lives. As it turns out, she's a bit of a crazy lady who actually suffered a personal tragedy and decided to blame gaming for the issues. But this 12-step anonymous program she started was worthless; the safe house was nothing more than her own house that she would force Dan to sign a lease for*; and she would go around and demean and insult Dan in front of everybody else. (*Note: Some of this information came from a personal interview from Dan after the film was released.) The program was useless, and it's somewhat implied that this woman's domineering attitude might have been at least been partially responsible for the tragedy she faced.

The film also focuses pretty heavily on romantic relationships formed through MMORPGs, though the film doesn't really come to much of a conclusion on the matter. The primary couple meet playing EverQuest II (one's from Florida and the other is from Texas). As the film portrays them, it's clear both of these people have issues--the guy is a bit of a loner with social problems and the girl is the type who probably identifies with Bella from Twlight... she falls deeply in love easily and is too insecure about herself to drop a failing relationship. There are red flags everywhere, and the two have zero chemistry (at least on screen), but she ends up making him move to Florida to live with her in a new house they got together. As far as I know, they're still together, so more power to 'em.

On the flip side, the documentary also shows how things could work in a very positive light. There are couples interviewed sporadically that met online and work well together (though these sections are more of an ad for online dating than MMO players). There are experts who discuss the psychological aspects of why people play these games, and it totally makes sense. One of my favorite aspects of the movie is one of the shortest--it shows a young man named Andrew Monkelban who is mute and is mostly paralyzed from cerebral palsy. All he could do is move one of his index fingers, which is how he typed and would play these MMOs. As the story goes, the director found him while playing online and got to know him... but he didn't know about Andrew's condition until they met. The director was incredibly uncomfortable during their interview and didn't stick around too long. (This is immediately followed by another brief interview with another handicapped person who shares similar sentiments.) I would have loved to see more on that aspect of this subject. What about these people who need to escape to these online worlds because that's the best way they can live and be free to be who they are on the inside? That's the best way to express themselves.

Instead, what we end up with is a mostly depressing and confused documentary. It would have even worked had they spent the majority of the film on the negative and then, bam, pulled out the positive for the last third to show it's not all lunatics or people with addictive personalities who play MMORPGs. I mean, this is a bit of an overstatement, but this film is like the Requiem for a Dream of online gamers. It's just uncomfortable to sit through most of the time. The negative far outweighs the positive. It's pretty clear that the director saw this as an easy documentary subject to show a negative side to gaming, but the more he got into it, the more he saw that wasn't the case... so he tried to put in some very positive things in there, too, but it was a too little too late kind of thing. All of that being said, it's not a bad film, and it does have some really interesting aspects to it, but I do believe it shows a lot of things a bit unfairly and misrepresents some other things by leaving out some key information.

Stop Saying OK! OK.

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