The three years Juan Carlos Piñeiro Escoriaza spent making his MMORPG documentary Second Skin were a bit of a wild ride, as he saw how much good these worlds could do for people, and just how badly they could spiral out of control.
Juan Carlos Piñeiro Escoriaza was a life-long console gamer until a friend introduced him to the MMOG space via SOE's Star Wars Galaxies. Though Escoriaza would eventually quit SWG due to the time investment, the experience - and the idea of real people choosing to take on virtual responsibilities - stuck with him. The seeds from that eventually blossomed into his feature-film documentary, Second Skin, which premieres tonight.
Though Second Skin's topic matter exclusively covers virtual worlds like those found in World of Warcraft, EverQuest, and Second Life, Escoriaza doesn't think the idea is limited to MMORPGs. In fact, people are creating online lives without even knowing it through social networking sites. "The more we grow our online personas and need to update every single piece of our lives," says Escoriaza, "this engagement in media creation and social activities in these spaces ... becomes more relevant to us as a whole. Virtual spaces in terms of online games? Those are really just the edge of where we're all going to be in a couple of years"
So, Escoriaza - himself a lifelong gamer - sought out real people who were "engaging both online and real space in an interesting or vibrant way that wouldn't relate just to us the gamers, but to an audience that might never have played a game before." In other words, he was looking for people who were having their lives literally changed by online games, and he found them - for better or for worse.
As he filmed the gamers whose stories he was telling, and whose lives he was becoming a part of, Escoriaza says his mood oscillated between extremes: "This is really good, the most empowering and incredible thing I've ever seen," and "This is the worst thing to happen to humanity." He had seen how people with real-world disabilities could spread their wings and thrive in the online space, and he had seen how crippling an addiction to MMOGs could truly be.
While he "desperately wanted to avoid" answering the question of whether or not these online spaces were ultimately positive or negative - preferring to leave that to the viewer - Escoriaza thinks that if there is any one message he wants audiences to take away from Second Skin, it's that "we need to talk about it. We need to discuss how we're going to keep on going."
"I might want to be embedded online for the rest of my life, but I feel that my eyes don't look at things normally anymore. I'm so used to this constant flow of information from me to the computer and back. The message should be education and awareness of where we are ... as we move into the next stage of our evolution ... we need to ask ourselves: 'Should we be farther in, or should be wary of how far in we are today?'"
Still, addiction is by no means limited just to synthetic digital worlds - Escoriaza laughingly admits that right now, he's addicted to XBLA hit 'Splosion Man.