Reality bytes

If you’re like most non-gamers, chances are you’ve stereotyped those cyber-athletes obsessed with online games like World of Warcraft and Second Life as socially awkward virgins locked away in their parents’ basement surfacing only to heat up a Hot Pocket or attend a local gaming convention dressed as their favorite blood elf or hybrid warrior-cleric.

In director-editor Juan Carlos Piñeiro
Escoriaza’s first documentary feature Second Skin, which made its world premiere at the South by Southwest film festival last week, the one-time San Antonio resident attempts to humanize Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing gamers who spend a significant portion of their lives hiding behind an avatar and handle.

A graduate of New York University, where he earned his degree in TV and film, Escoriaza, 26, moved from San Antonio to Kensington, Maryland, when his father was transferred from Wilford Hall to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the late ’80s.

Escoriaza first came to understand the impact of the gaming subculture when he and his brother, writer-producer Victor, were introduced by a friend to the MMORP game Star Wars Galaxies. Although he and Victor had always been interested in console games (Escoriaza says he owned the first original Nintendo on his block), they were ready to jump starship after spending two months on the forest moon of Endor. The same couldn’t be said for their friend.

“We had a good time, but wanted to play something else,” Escoriaza said. “But `our friend` went deep into the game. He had this whole double life that he was leading. In the real world, he was getting married and having difficulty balancing all his responsibilities. He was a teacher and even at lunch he would go from school to his house and check up on `the game`.”

Realizing the amount of material there was for a documentary on online gamers, the Escoriazas decided to dedicate two years to the project. As a “coming-of-age-tale,” he follows the stories of seven gamers and how MMORPGs affected their lives. This includes Kevin and Heather, who meet and fall in love while playing Everquest 2; Dan, a successful businessman who loses everything because of gaming and must enter rehab to treat his addiction; and Frederick, a lifelong gamer who moves to Hainan, China, to manage a “gold farm,” a sweatshop where employees are paid to collect virtual items on online games that can later be sold for real money to other online gamers who are looking to escalate in levels more quickly.

“The virtual world is a microcosm of our real world,” Escoriaza said. “I think what is amazing is the power and feeling `a gamer` can have living a double life. What we wanted to do is understand why gamers do what they do and open up a world many people haven’t seen before.” •

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