On the eve of the grand premiere of his documentary Second Skin, director Juan Carlos Piņeiro Escoriaza was kind enough to speak with me about the making of the film and what he had learned over the three or so years it had been his life.
The first question that came to mind, of course, was, why make this film? That is, what made Escoriaza think that it was time for the world to have a proper documentary about MMORPGs and virtual worlds? Well, it all started with Star Wars Galaxies, said Escoriaza - after being a console gamer for most of his life, a friend had introduced him and his brother to SoE's MMOG set in George Lucas' galaxy far, far away.
Though Escoriaza ended up quitting the game out of a reluctance to spend the amount of time necessary to become a Jedi, his friend remained - as the mayor of a virtual town, no less, which meant he was responsible for virtual people. "At lunch, he would go home to check on Star Wars Galaxies," says Escoriaza, "And I said 'Wait a minute,' this is a fascinating experience to have with the game ... the whole universe, creating communities within these virtual spaces."
Beyond that, though, Escoriaza realized how relevant these worlds were becoming - or as he puts it, he saw them as little "microcosms of the universe." Nor was it just limited to games or worlds like WoW and Second Life, as Escoriaza specifically pointed to social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter as virtual lives and virtual selves that need just as much managing and consume just as much time as EverQuest might have.
"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.
"What is it about these spaces that are beautiful and incredible? What of these universes should we take and scrutinize - is it a good thing or a bad thing?"
That was the question Escoriaza was determined to ask, though he was determined to do his best not to go in with a preconceived answer in mind. He, too, was a lifelong gamer, after all. "I wanted to find out what was going on in this space, to find real people that were going through significant events at this time ... someone who was 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."