“Life 2.0,” part of the OWN documentary series, follows a group of people whose real lives are deeply impacted by their participation in the virtual world “Second Life.”
A woman lives in her parents' basement in Detroit. She is overweight, has health problems and smokes too much. She sleeps most of the day and joins her family for meals. This is her first life.
At 6 every night she logs in to a digital world as a stylish avatar. In this world, she makes real money as a well-known and talented designer of virtual homes and clothes. Her fashion lines are in high demand. She can spend six months designing a house. This is her second life.
“Life 2.0,” part of the OWN documentary series, follows a group of people whose real lives are deeply impacted by their participation in the virtual world “Second Life.” In addition to the woman in Detroit, the film tells the story of an American woman and a Canadian man, both married, who have an affair in “Second Life” that they eventually decide to pursue in the real world. It also features an adult male Web designer whose avatar is an 11-year-old girl. His belief that she is a manifestation of his subconscious is perhaps the most disturbing part of the film. He explains that he does not control her. Rather, she directs him to fulfill her needs and desires in the virtual world.
The film combines footage of the participants in the real world with footage of them interacting in “Second Life,” so you see them as both actual people and virtual people. The filmmaker also creates an avatar of himself so that he is seen interviewing the participants in their digital forms. The choice is a clever commentary on the blurred boundaries between the real and the virtual that is the film's overall theme. The avatars quickly become the subjects of the film as much as their real-life creators. As their stories unfold, the separation between them becomes less distinct. This is important because it brings the viewer into the world of “Second Life,” giving them a new perspective on what is a potentially alienating subject matter.
Still, some viewers will have difficulty getting their head around the “Second Life” experience. It may be difficult to watch an illicit affair unfold first with avatar sex and then clandestine meetings in the real world without passing judgment. It's admittedly hard to watch a troubled man deal with his issues through personifying himself as a female child without the urge to dismiss him and “Second Life” as a whole. The Detroit woman's experience, by comparison, doesn't seem so foreign, but I still found myself wanting more for her.
I also couldn't help wondering, as her story and the rest were featured on OWN, what Oprah would say if she interviewed these men and women. Are they, as she would put it, living their best life? I'm not sure I know the answer, but I would suggest that you watch this interesting documentary with an open mind and the thought that we're all searching for meaningful connections in our own way.
“Life 2.0” airs Thursday, Aug. 25 on OWN at 9 p.m. EDT.
Melissa Crawley credits her love of all things small screen to her parents, who never used the line, "Or no TV!" as a punishment. Her book, “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing,’” was published in 2006. She has a PhD in media studies. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @MelissaCrawley.