Inventing the ‘real’ in Life 2.0
Image: Lorenzo Herrera via Unsplash
[If you haven’t yet watched this fascinating and bizarre documentary, Life 2.0 (2010), click here.]
Have you ever just got tired of the day-to-day? Perhaps work has become slow and monotonous. Or maybe the opposite: are you being smothered by an oppressive to-do list? Perhaps home life, or even life in general, has become grey and without meaning. Hopefully you can’t see too much of yourself in these descriptions, but I’m sure at one point in your life you’ve wished things were different.
Well, enter the audaciously titled role-playing game: Second Life. It is a game that was released in 2003 and reached peak popularity by the end of the decade, the time of the documentary’s Life 2.0’s production. It’s an online platform where you can design your character, customise their world, and hang out in a virtual world inhabited by like-minded individuals.
The documentary follows three stories of users of Second Life. The first revolves around a blossoming romance between a Canadian man and an American woman, both middle aged, who had first met in the game. The catch? Both are actually cheating on their partners in their ‘first lives’ (albeit emotionally, not physically). The second story follows the illustrious Asri Falcone and her luxurious lifestyle as an in-game fashion designer. The real ‘Asri Falcone’ (who remains anonymous) lives in the basement of her parents’ house in the troubled city of Detroit. She is only able to pay rent with the real money she makes by selling her clothing accessories to other players. The third follows Aaya Aabye, a 13-year-old girl who likes to dance, party and explore Second Life with her friends. Except that Aaya is not a teenage girl, but a twenty-something with a neglected fiancée. Before you worry, her ‘friends’ are also male and of roughly the same age.
The film flits between scenes in the game and in real life. Interviews are conducted in-game over the game’s voice chat option. To see these low-poly, digital mannequins express their deepest hopes and dreams over the tinny audio is certainly a jarring, yet intriguing, viewing experience.
When the film transitions to real life, it offers an unmasked view of their lives. This view is largely an ugly one, as we bear witness as each of the participants’ lives chaotically unravel. The couple swiftly divorce their real-life partners in favour of their Second Life partners and move in with each other. No longer filtered through the rose-tinted lens of a video game, the relationship begins to show signs of collapse as the pair begin to argue. By the end, they have fully separated. The fashion designer, Asri, discovers that other users have replicated and distributed her clothes, undermining her only source of income. Aaya’s story is the most saddening, as we learn that he has neglected his real life so much in favour of a digital one that it has threatened his future with his fiancée. He is faced with an ultimatum: delete the game or terminate the engagement. Whilst it seems he chooses the latter, deleting Aaya for good, he covertly relapses and sets up a new account, costing him his engagement. It is clear that the game has become an addiction.
Overall, it’s a sombre picture that asks the central question of whether an invented world could be more ‘real’ than a physical one. After all, each player felt that the game gave their lives meaning that their first one could no longer offer. Perhaps not for the faint of heart, but certainly worth a watch for those seeking a thought-provoking cinematic experience.