An Interview with MMORPG Documentary Makers Pure West, Part I
by Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle and Cody "Micajah" Bye
December 20th, 2007 - Though we've long heard rumblings that the EverQuest and World of Warcraft IP coming to the silver screen, it seems MMORPGs may make their cinematic debut far sooner than any of us expected - except that actual players, not the fantasy storyline, will be the focus. Pure West Documentaries, a award-winning company that previously focused its viewfinder on industrial and not-for-profit fundraising films, wanted a premier topic that they could call their own.
The culmination of their efforts is Second Skin, two years in the making and just released this week to start the festival circuit with March 2008's South by Southwest Film Festival. We begin a two part series today with Producer Peter Schieffelin Brauer, Director Juan Carlos Piñeiro and Producer / Writer Victor Piñeiro, who discuss the story behind the making of Second Skin.
"What we're exploring are the ideas of community, identity, and economy inside these virtual worlds, but we're trying to do it from a very human perspective."
- Juan Carlos PiÃ±eiro, Director
Jeff Woleslagle, Ten Ton Hammer - "For those that might be unfamiliar with Second Skin, please tell us a bit about the project. What led you down the path to Second Skin, and what were your goals as filmmakers?
Juan Carlos, Producer- "The road for us to get to making this film was that a teacher that we knew, named Ben, was actually really into Star Wars Galaxies. By day he was this mild-mannered teacher, by night he had this alter ego that he was essentially the mayor of this town in the game. He was spending so much time in the game that this relationship that he was in was taking a real turn, he was getting married to the woman. You saw this kind of unbelievable story kind of coming out of that. From there we started hearing about gold farming and so on and we realized this is something that can't be denied.
"This whole thing started with the idea of this guy that was kind of addicted to Star Wars Galaxies, as we started researching it, what we started running into immediately were the negative effects of these MMOs. But about a month later, we started uncovering people's stories and just kind of the idea that MMOs are a community builder.
"What we're exploring are the idea of community, identity, and economy inside these virtual worlds, but we're trying to do it from a very human perspective. Primarily, our film follows a group of gamers in Indiana through a year of their lives within and without of World of Warcraft. Alongside that, we have a couple that met inside of EverQuest 2 and we kind of follow them from meeting inside the game to meeting in real life all the way – nearly all the way to their wedding in real life. Our third story explores somebody who was addicted to EverQuest 2 and World of Warcraft and kind of his evolving relationship with the game as he kind of transcends the addiction, realizes that the game's not to blame for his addiction. It's a really neat story."
Cody Bye, Ten Ton Hammer - "What was the process for finding the subjects of these stories?"
Victor, Producer / Writer - "It was a really long process at the beginning. What started with just exploring all the message boards on sites like Ten Ton Hammer and the official forums of all these games, but what eventually happened was we built a website and really sent out… basically here is what we're looking for… and sent out a bunch of links pointing to our website. That's how we found the four Indiana guys; they wrote to us. The couple we found on the Terra Nova forums, I think. I responded to a message that someone was saying 'I'm about to meet my girlfriend in real life, this is exciting.' And I thought, 'Let's jump on this.' We quickly grabbed some tickets to Florida and followed her as she met this guy for the first time."
Peter, Producer - "Our third guy was really happenstance. We went to interview Liz Wooley, who founded Online Gamers Anonymous, which is a 12-step self help program for online gaming addicts. Lo and behold, she had this guy who was staying at her place, which she called "Safe Haven," who was trying to stop playing World of Warcraft. We didn't think a whole lot about it even though it was a very interesting, very passionate interview, but about a month and a half later, we got an email from him saying, 'I left there and I'm playing World of Warcraft again.' We went and talked to him again and just followed his story from there. This is a guy who had a lot of trouble holding a job, he lost his business, he lost a woman that was very important to him and lost a lot of stuff because he really couldn't make enough time for his real life. It was very interesting to see him come to grips with what he'd lost and then surge forward and seize life again."
Jeff, Ten Ton Hammer - "Speaking of the more negative aspects of gaming, did you run into any roadblocks from people on the outside, who see perhaps see games in terms of things like the "Hot Coffee" incident?"
"Of course, I'm a gamer, I care about the gamer's voice a lot more, but if I don't come out and acknowledge the other side, no one's going to listen to me."
- Peter Schieffelin Brauer,Producer
Peter - "Certainly we hear a lot about the negative aspects. But I think one thing we found was really important was to really give both sides a voice. Of course, I'm a gamer, I care about the gamer's voice a lot more, but if I don't come out and acknowledge the other side, no one's going to listen to me. I think there's definitely a time and place to broach the subject of what violence and whatnot is doing for our lives, but I guess the truth of an MMO is, violence is generally toned down to a large extent. Most of them are so fantasy based that it's not a GTA-style sandbox game where you're in this physical world visually. But people do complain about the sex side. We certainly asked a lot of questions of our gamers about the sex side, and what we found was: it's not very common. But we really don't focus on that in the movie; I really don't think that's how people view these games."
Jeff, Ten Ton Hammer - "Do you think its not common, or is it just that people just don't want to talk about it?"
Juan Carlos - "Probably a little bit of both, actually. We have a neat segment on The Syndicate, this enormous guild that's in WoW and I guess Ultima Online right now. We went to one of their [live] meetings and had a whole bunch of very quick interviews with about 30 of their members. I'm going to say 28 of them said 'No no no' very quickly and the other two blushed and laughed and plead the fifth."