The Interview: Peter Brauer: Second Skin

Second Skin wallpaper
Second Skin wallpaper

Second Skin

With World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm expansion recently released there is no doubt you know someone who is an avid player. Perhaps you know someone who played a lot of Everquest in the past or someone who plays a lot to today’s MMO’s. Pretty much if you bring up MMO’s people will either be into them and have reasonably good things to say or they will talk about how bad it is, how it takes up to much time and can destroy your life.

On our Obsolete Gamer show about MMO’s we talked with a number of our friends and fans about playing these games and the effect on their lives. We were especially happy to speak with Sairys who was featured in the documentary Second Skin along with her guild The Syndicate.

Second skin takes us into the world of MMO’s as they follow various people and couples in their daily lives and shows us how MMO’s can have a positive and negative effect on the people and those closest to them. On December 8th Second Skin had its United States TV premier on Current TV.

Obsolete Gamer was able to talk with Peter Brauer producer of Second Skin about the film.

What made you want to create the film second skin?

Peter Brauer: Juan Carlos, Victor, and I were looking for a feature documentary subject at the time.  We are all gamers.  Victor and Juan had a friend who was a teacher by day and the mayor of a large town in Star Wars Galaxies by night.  He was devoted enough to run home during his lunch breaks to play.  His devotion to the game was affecting his relationships, and they saw rich stories happening in the games.  When they told me about their friend, I had just read Ogre to Slay, Outsource to the Chinese.  I told them about it, and we knew we were onto something big.  We researched if there were other MMO docs, and when we found none we started researching in earnest.

What was the process for selecting people to interview and profile?

Peter Brauer: We started out by driving to the GLS conference in Madison WI where we interviewed many experts, including Edward Castronova and Nick Yee.  On the way we interviewed Liz Wooley who I had contacted for an interview.  At her home we met Dan B chance, who re-contacted us after he left her home.  After cutting a short fund raising reel, we realized we needed to film stories happening in the present and posted a casting call.  With the help of Nick Yee that got reposted to Kotaku, and we got a lot of responses.  Among them was Andy Belford, who invited us into him home and introduced us to his friends in Ft. Wayne.  After filming them for a week we knew we had some thing.  Victor found Heather through a comment on the blog Terranova.  She invited us to film her first meeting with Kevin, and we spent the last of our first round of money filming it.  Once met our central characters, we knew we had fantastic people to follow.

How did you connect with the guild, The Syndicate?

Peter Brauer: Dragons (Sean) contacted us based on our casting call.  He sent us a list of 10 reasons to check out his guild.  Juan filmed in DC at one of their regional meet ups and met Sean.  Then he invited us to their LAN party in Ohio, where we meet a lot more of the guild.  Finally Victor and I got to film their annual convention in SF where we met Syndicate members from around the world.  They were incredibly generous and welcoming.  They hosted a screening of Second Skin at their next annual convention which we all attended.  I really can’t thank them enough for appearing in the film.

How much were you unable to show due to time, length ect?

Peter Brauer: We shot over 400 hours of tape. I think it was 700 pages transcribed.  Honestly Juan had to cut countless characters and interviews to fit everything in 93 minutes.  We shot Nexius Fatale extensively to cover Second LIfe, but realized there just wasn’t enough room in the film.  Nex is only in the film briefly at the beginning in front of the Subway, but we are still friends with him in NYC.  There are too many people to name, who we need to thank for sharing their stories with us.  So basically we couldn’t include most of what we shot.

Do you think showing the addictive side to MMO just adds to the negative stereotype considering there are so many gamers who play MMO and never become addicted?

Peter Brauer: We set out to draw a broad and accurate picture of MMO gaming, and therefore had to show the addictive side.  Though it isn’t that common, it does affect a lot of people.  When I started making the film I got my first WOW account.  I had been in avoiding it, because I was trying to focus on filmmaking.

I started playing 13-15 hours a day, and didn’t do much else for a month or two.  I had to seriously check my playing to start making the film.  I don’t regret the time I spent playing, because I reconnected with a childhood friend who had moved to California.  I just had to find the right balance between gaming and working.   MMOs can affect player lives differently depending on how they play.  We tried hard to show people who played positively.

The friendship and fun that the guys in Ft Wayne got from gaming was and still is an very positive part of all their lives.  The leadership and cooperation that Syndicate members learn is also incredible.  The freedom Andrew Monkelban gets from gaming cannot be understated.  But ultimately if a player isn’t balancing the game with their life correctly, they can be brought down by avoiding their troubles in excess.  I hope people can watch Second Skin and see both sides, but a movie about MMO’s without covering addiction would not be complete.

As for the relationships formed by those who play MMO’s what would you say are the differences between those and what would be considered a “traditional” relationship?

Peter Brauer: I see no difference in online relationships and traditional ones.  Kevin and Heather were truly in love with each other before they met IRL.  That did not change when they met.  People can form relationships through nearly any form of communication.  The games are actually a great proving ground for friendship, because you are constantly put in situations where you have to trust and depend on each other.  I would say some friendships online are short lived, and the long term ones normally require meeting in person.  However, I don’t think it’s essential.  I saw time and time again people who gave and received real life support in MMOs.  The friendships people form online have contributed positively to countless lives.

What was your opinion of the friendship and family dynamic of those who play MMO and those in guilds such as The Syndicate?

Peter Brauer: There was an interview we shot with a father and son who played in the Syndicate that we couldn’t include for lack of time.  I wish we could have, because I have never seen a 14 year old boy who was closer with his father.  The games gave the son a place to show his leadership and expertise to his father.  While the dad was the boss about real world things like school work, in the game the son got to boss his dad around.  It made their relationship one of equals and very adult.  When I was 14 I couldn’t have dreamed of relating to my father in this way.  WOW gave them a place to be true equals and ultimately best friends.  We met several other families who gamed together in this way with very positive results.

What was the overall reception to the film?

Peter Brauer: The reception blew us away.  We when first premiered at SXSW we got a lot of attention at the festival and on the web.  The first day our trailer went online 45K people watched it.  180k people watched our premier on Hulu in one week last year.  It was truly an honor to reach so many people.  As for personal reactions, we have encountered just about every response.  Gamers have approached us to thank us for portraying them so honestly.  Other gamers have railed against us for showing too much addictive play.  Parents of gamers have thanked me profusely for helping them understand their children.  The diversity of responses to our film is one of the things I am proudest of.  I think all the different responses to the film are a testament to Juan’s even handed editing of the material.

Did you receive comments or e-mails from fans or companies that stood out?

Peter Brauer: We had one fan see our movie opening night in Portland.  He was a big time gamer and was disappointed that the theater wasn’t packed.  He contacted me that night and offered to personally print up fliers to canvas the city for us.  He told all his friends, contacted bloggers he knew, and attended every screening that week to drum up support.  I am still blown away by his dedication and generosity.  I am so thankful that our movie has touched so many people.  Not every comment is positive for sure.  But at least we have gotten some amazing responses. 

Do you plan to create another documentary within the subject of MMO’s?

Peter Brauer: Right now I am not working on any MMO docs.  Though we will probably re-release our DVD in the future and might add a lot of the material we had to leave out.  After Second Skin Juan, Victor and I got to make several short docs for VBS.TV called the oral history of gaming.  Juan and I got to meet and hang out with my long time idol/hero Sid Meier to make this: http://www.motherboard.tv/2010/4/14/oral-history-of-gaming-game-godfather-sid-meier-and-the-48-hour-game We also made these others about Richard Garriot, Ralph Baer, and Eric Zimmerman http://www.vbs.tv/watch/motherboard/richard-garriott http://www.vbs.tv/watch/motherboard/eric-zimmerman http://www.vbs.tv/watch/motherboard/ralph-baer-and-his-all-purpose-boxes They were a lot of fun to make, and I even got Ralph Baer to sign my childhood Pocket Simon which he invented.

You can purchase the DVD of Second Skin on the Official Website.

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J.A. Laraque

J.A. Laraque is a freelance writer and novelist. His passion for writing mixed with a comedic style and intelligent commentary has brought him success in his various endeavors. Whatever the subject, J.A. has an opinion on it and will present it in writing with an insight and flair that is both refreshing and informative.