Second Life… I mean skin.

I recently was informed that there was a movie that dealt with the lives, and day-to-day operations of the MMO gaming community, and being that I have interest in this particular field, I couldn’t keep my nose out of it. Lucky for me, netflix had it streaming instantly so there was no need for piracy this night [you have been spared independent film]. Anyway, the basic idea of this little documentary is to go around to these gamer’s houses and see what it is their life is all about with the MMO’s and such constantly getting there in the way. The documentary focuses on a few very specific instances ranging from one of the single oldest guilds that still operates in an online format [The Syndicate] all the way to a man who was thinking about committing suicide because of his addiction to World of Warcraft. I think it worth noting that this was filmed at just about the point that the Burning Crusade expansion was released for warcraft, so it was pretty much taking the scene as the MMO from everquest and ultima online.

Now to start getting into why this movie irritates me [even though it’s decent], I think I need to make it clear that I am someone who is incredibly familiar with the MMO genre / world.  I myself have played World of Warcraft, had some experience with Everquest, and know friends that have played a whole variety of games including Eve Online, Age of Conan, Second Life, etc. Because of this, I think I’m a lot more used to the sort of MMO stereotypes that have begun to come out of the woodwork. You see, unlike “normal gamers”, there are some key differences between those who will sit there and play an MMORPG and those that will play say a first person shooter like counterstrike or Modern Combat 2. The folks who play the first person shooters, your puzzle games, essentially anything that is single player have a distinct difference in that eventually they will go out and get a new game, and if they don’t get a new game than they will sit there and at least eat or drink [for the most part] to sustain themselves. MMORPG’s don’t have such a straightforward history, because of the way they operate, you can’t simply put them down and walk away, there is no save. Now I say this, and I know a few folks who would stand up and argue that an MMO can be played just as healthily as any other game and that even FPS’s have their crazy players who stay up for days on end. But I think the way the standard MMO is set up, the behavior of becoming attached at the hip to the game is far more prevalent and even encouraged by the online community. The key difference is that while an FPS may have a bit of escapism, it and many other games in the single player genre or non static character genre simply don’t have the social aspect that makes us as social monkeys tick.

That’s the thing, is that beyond anything else this system of guilds in these games create a social pressure to be online and playing these games constantly, because World of Warcraft [and games of the genre] tend to reward you for putting time into the game. If there is something that can be done, you can essentially be assured that if you throw more time at the problem that you will likely be rewarded for it. Hell, I remember when I spent 6 months coming home every single day to make a run at the Auchindoun Sethic Halls instance just so I could get that silly Raven Lord mount. That was 6 months of time that I made sure that just like brushing my teeth or going to class, that I essentially had it scheduled that I would get online, go through the instance and try to get the bird. And this kind of behavior is reinforced by the game play. You’ve got guilds now who have been for 5 years scheduling times that they will get together as a group and set off to raid whatever instance happens to be popular that month. And because of the mentality of the guild kind of unified gameplay,  you have others who will be sure to schedule their lives around this raiding so that they don’t feel left out and they to can get whatever achievement they need to progress to the next boss, piece of gear, etc. It makes for incredible social pressure to be on, and preforming every night that these guilds have their scheduled runs. And the weird thing is that I think people just fail to realize how much more it’s about the social pressure of being at the top, of running consistently with the guild, to be the guild that downs the next boss that really does exist in these games. In the ventrilo channels you can here guilds talking about “Oh well I heard that got down so and so last night”. And this becomes this massive social competition to see who it is that can get out there and become the top guild, and when you get into that top guild you’re expected to preform. Because of this attitude there are incredible social pressures to be on and playing all the time, so that you can buy raiding mats, so that you can get gems, sell things, it becomes a lot more than a second job. It becomes very easily the second reality. You’re talking about a lot more than going and doing dailies, or going and doing raids, it becomes a social phenomena. But anyway, I digress, back to Second Skin

The movie itself tends to focus a lot on massive stereotypes, and picks them out as the shining example of all that composes an MMO. And while I will happily say that these stereotypes do exist, I’m hesitant to put the majority of the focus on these type of people. Yes you do have your basement dwellers who took vacation time so that they could play the burning crusade release, but honestly the majority of these gamers are in their mid to late 20’s early 30’s. They have pretty much replaced the bowling leagues of old in terms of social position. If you get into the game, you’ll find a lot of guilds that operate a lot like a small family, I mean even I’m subscribed to the facebook page because you start to get attached to the people that you work with on a pretty much daily basis. You don’t know these people except through the conversations you have through text and speech. And while the movie did brush on guilds like the syndicate, I can’t help but feel that’s an incredibly extreme example of the standard number of guilds. Most are honestly just composed of at their core a family or a close group of friends who know each other in real life, than they accumulate some other members for raiding, and that is pretty much the formula for how this works. And while yes I do know people who have fallen in love through a video game [I thought for about 2 months I had met someone over the internet that I could fall in love with, looking back on it… “The hell were you thinking?”]. But there is some reality to this online dating thing, the popularity of sites like okCupid and the likes prove that. It might not work out all that well, but there are some folks that do live happily after having met over the internet, I could throw out a few personal anecdotes that went both ways, so honestly the online dating success rate is probably about on par with the success rate for dating in the real world. The movie goes on to say that these folks are all addicted, that they all put heroine needles in their arm to get their fix, and that they just go to their jobs and than go directly to WoW. While there is some merit in pointing out that there are players like this, I would like to say that not all of the population in game thinks in this manner. I hesitate to call them normal social members mostly because I hesitate to call anyone normal, but for the most part I doubt you could spot a WoW gamer any quicker than you could spot someone who had played Halo. Like I said earlier it’s become a social phenomena to replace the bowling league in terms of its place in the world, and while for someone from the outside could easily see the “Gamer stereotypes” in Second Skin, I find it a bit hard to attribute the movie as an actual look at the WoW population. It essentially defines the player base by the extremes, and that is a bit hard to live down and accept as the only possible outcome.

Other than that, it’s an interesting documentary, and if you have netflix, it took me all of ten seconds to search for it and watch it [only 1 hour 30 minutes or so]. If you’re bored I would suggest it to you, it does go a bit into the life of your average gold farmer [which is interesting] and just kind of plays around with these folks who are made to represent the world of warcraft fan base / everquest fan base.

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