One of the key reasons why I opted to attend the Penny Arcade Expo this year was the exhibition of a documentary I've been following professionally for quite a while: Second Skin.
The documentary, created by two brothers and a friend who also happen to be long-time gamers, takes an in-depth look at the relationships that form when people spend literally months of their lives in online games.
Yeah, some of the stereotypes you have about these people aren't entirely wrong.
None of the film's 7 subjects are going to be the next host of MTV's The Grind, and at least once I was forced to cringe from the innate social awkwardness that accompanies a person's decision to retreat into a virtual world, but the key theme here is that these e-relationships are just as important and "real" as any you'd develop at work or school -- or even over a beer at your local dive.
I'm not going to review the flick here -- I'm the gaming guy, ask Erik if you want film critiques -- but I will say that I found myself relating to the experiences of the people in the film. I've had those same kinds of online relationships, as has anyone who has spent more than a few hours in any online world. It's human nature to connect with others in any medium, even if the world harbors prejudices against the idea that friendship (or even love) can blossom in the world of virtual swords and goblins.
I don't know that Second Skin will drastically alter America's perception of online gaming, but for those who have had e-girlfriends and spent hours enjoying the company of those they've never met, Second Skin goes a long way toward explaining to the rest of the world why our collective faux reality is held so dear.
I only hope the film receives the widespread distribution necessary for it to become more than a mere cultural footnote.