SXSW Review: Second Skin

Behold, the first truly great, visionary film from this year’s SXSW Film Festival.
By  · Published on March 8th, 2008

Having known and worked with plenty of gamers in my day, I have always been aware of the constantly growing and frighteningly powerful world of online gaming. Those in the know call it MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Gaming), but you may just be familiar with the titles themselves, World of Warcraft, Everquest and Second Life to name a few. For years, this “fad” has turned into a full on cultural entity, with the interactive worlds created online closely resembling the communities of the real world, allowing anyone to leave their reality and become someone completely different in a brand new world.

The documentary Second Skin, from filmmaking brothers Juan Carlos Piñeiro Escoriaza (Director) and Victor Piñeiro Escoriaza (Writer/Co-Producer), explores the addictive world of online gaming through the eyes of those whose lives have been transformed by such games. From a young couple preparing to get married and move into their new home to a couple preparing to welcome newborn twins to the world to a gaming addiction help center that is more than it initially seems, the audience is thrust into a world that some may not be aware exists, a world in which their friends, neighbors, sons and even grandmothers live vicariously through digitally generated entities.

At its core, this is a brilliant vision for a film. Like a 101 level college course for understanding an entire generation, it provides insight into a cultural phenomenon that is often looked down upon by those who don’t take the time to understand it. The filmmakers take great care in telling both sides of the story, from the gamers who responsibly carry out their normal lives and retire to the game at night to those who are able to outgrow it to those who lose themselves in the game, often struggling with depression and tendencies that destroy relationships in their real lives.

For the most part, the subjects of the film are charming — many of them look at gaming as an extension of their lives, and though it is addictive, they seem to have a grasp on what is really important. Other subjects, including one gamer who suffers depression, represent the negative side of these immersive gaming worlds, those who find themselves in denial, unable to walk away from the game.

It is the dichotomy between these two extremes that makes Second Skin an immersive experience, though it also makes up its biggest flaw. The film is a very rough cut, jumping back and forth quickly in its closing minutes between the three core storylines, taking on the qualities of a kid with A.D.D, but ultimately that cannot be held against the filmmakers — it is a film that clearly needed more funding and could still use a little bit of polish before it hits the mainstream audience.

But despite its faults, Second Skin is a film that deserves some mainstream attention. For gamers, it is a relatable experience, one that will have them thinking “wow, they really do capture our story.” And for non-gamers, the often condescending masses that fail to understand these immersive, synthetic worlds, it could be an eye opening experience — they may finally understand the nature of this addiction, this obsession, this need to play the game.

For more information about Second Skin, visit the film’s official site.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)