Top of the Docs #23 – Life 2.0

Welcome to Top of the Docs, Flip Screen’s hub for all things documentary. This weekly column takes a look at the crème de la crème of non-fiction media, with each month tending to focus on a particular theme. The theme for this month is video games!

The rise in popularity of MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) over the last few years has allowed the genre to break into the mainstream. With games such as League of Legends and Fortnite capturing global audiences, it’s strange to remember quite how marginalised this genre once was. These games’ predecessors, World of Warcraft, RuneScape etc., were often seen as quite insular places, global only in the sense that they had players worldwide and the community seemed to have a reputation for being inaccessible, or difficult to navigate for outsiders. Life 2.0 takes a look at a game from this era of MMORPGs, one of the most infamously addictive games of all time, Second Life.

The concept behind Second Life is fairly simple. It is an online life simulation game, wherein you create an avatar and live out your wildest dreams. Similar to The Sims, except Second Life lives online, and exists on a much larger scale than the EA franchise. Life 2.0 explores the lives of some of the game’s very invested community. We watch as a couple who have met through the game meet in real life for the first time, something apparently not strange within the community. We see a woman who runs a business within the game developing property. We see the existence of a completely virtual nightclub, providing a social hub for the community. These people live their lives through Second Life, and this documentary manages to capture this moment, and the stigma these people felt, only a few years before meeting up with online friends and creating businesses within video games would become normal practice.

In today’s world, where there is an entire economy being formed by your Animal Crossing island’s Turnip Prices, it doesn’t feel at all strange that these people are resorting to an online space to live out their fantasies. Be it financial or physical restrictions, Second Life creates a virtual space wherein you are completely in control of how you look, move, and act. It is a revelatory experience for some people, and Life 2.0 manages to capture that. One of the people we follow in the film has a difficult domestic situation, living with a controlling partner. Second Life had become a literal virtual reality for her, a place to which she could escape and live a life on her terms.

Second Life is a game with a history and culture that is almost hard to comprehend. For example, in 2007 there was a virtual riot on the site, when anti-racism activists stormed the game in order to remove the French National Front, who had established a stronghold there. Life 2.0 captures just a small part of this game’s history, and its player culture. Despite this, it conveys the spirit of this community, as well as giving us an understanding as to how and when the groundwork was lay for online gaming to become a global phenomenon. Life 2.0 is a documentary on a grand scale, and though it can at times feel slightly shallow because of this, the magnitude of the task that it is undertaking could fill up an entire series of documentaries. The fact that it manages to put across what it does in under two hours is an achievement in itself.

Trailer for Life 2.0

Header image courtesy of Sundance Institute