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Last night I saw Life 2.0, a new film by a friend of mine, Jason Spingarn-Koff, which follows three storylines of people heavily involved in Second Life, an environment that I use in many artworks. As a veteran SL user and ex-documentary producer, I was deeply impressed.
Spingarn-Koff expertly mixes live footage with that from Second Life (SL) and delves into the desires, motivations and homes of four subjects, covering three facets of the bizarre “in-world” culture of SL: romantic relationships, running a fashion apparel business and a journey into self-discovery.
What we watch unfold is tension between traditional notions of family and vast amounts of time the interviewees spend in Second Life. The film portrays people who live on the extreme end of SL culture, spending upwards of 14 hours a day in the virtual environment. One woman lives in the basement of her parents house in Detroit and is often shown smoking cigarettes and operating her business while wearing a shabby pair of pajamas. Another person, a 30-something man isolates himself from his fiancée while operating his avatar — a pre-teen (non-sexualized girl. The third storyline is a romance between two people who met in SL while in unhappy marriages and are now sorting out their SL romance while they break up their families..
As I watched the beautiful machinima, I kept thinking “this is not the Second Life that I know” as my own viewing experiences are ripe chunky graphics and awkward render legs. Its one I like about the environment: the lo-fi nature of it, but that likely wouldn’t translate well to the movie screen. The production values in Life 2.0 are excellent.
Spingarn-Koff deploys the classic tactic of “tell me a story” and connects us to the intimate world of several strangers, who live the lives that we simply do not want. And he does it with compassion to the subjects, displaying his sincere intentions. The stories are touching and the tone is subtle. The subjects are not misanthropic as many would think. Mostly serious, the film is punctuated with striking humor such as when a lawyer files a lawsuit against other avatars for copyright infringement then reads the avatar names of the plaintifs such as “Stroker Serpentine” and “Munchflower Zeus”.
My main criticism is that he portrays only the addictive side of Second Life with people who overuse the environment and become mired in it. Life 2.0 is one of the few mainstream windows into this unique culture, and the film reinforces the media perception that this space is ripe with addicts. My personal experience is that this p.o.v is overstated as most people in SL are moderate users of the environment.
Don’t miss this one! Its on the festival circuit right now. Also, the interviews with Philip Rosedale, CEO of Linden Lab, are fantastic. He looks like an avatar!
The next screening is in New York on May 11 at IFC Center.