We've all heard the warnings: addiction, isolation, a waste of time. But some 50 million people log on to online role-playing games like The Sims and Second Life—and many of them never log off. The makers of a new documentary called "Second Skin," which hits theaters in September, followed seven hard-core gamers to find out why. Victor Piñeiro, the film's producer, spoke with NEWSWEEK's Jessica Bennett:
Why make a film about gamers?
It all started with a teacher friend who got so into Star Wars Galaxy that he was leading a double life. He'd run home from work during lunch, 10 blocks, to check what was going on inside the game. He was staying up all night and would show up to class with bags under his eyes. From the outside it looked crazy. But from the inside it was kind of amazing. He'd become the mayor of his town and was leading hundreds of people.
What's the lure of such games?
What it comes down to is trying to find fulfillment and like-minded individuals. In a virtual world, you can choose your destiny. There's satisfying work, the chance to be good at something. From outside you might say, "Oh, that person's a nerd." But inside these people are well known and respected.
One of your subjects games 16 hours a day, sleeps by the computer and does it all over again.
Yes, and there's of course a point where people go too far—many lives are wrecked by gaming. But these games are very fulfilling to people, and to some that's not addiction, it's an extension of living.
Some of your sources say they found true love in virtual reality. Do you think that's possible?
In many cases I think real love blossoms best in a virtual world. We hung out with countless couples who met inside these games, and many were among the most madly-in-love people I've met. Each will say they had no expectations of falling in love, but that they really got to know each other from the "inside out."
What was the most unexpected thing you discovered?
There was a guy we met in Second Life who was really great: affable, funny, smart and fun—we really connected. Months later, we were shocked to find out he was completely disabled by cerebral palsy, to the point where he could only work one finger on one hand and couldn't talk. In that moment, the power of virtual worlds to enhance people's lives really crashed down on us.