Login2life: a review

It has been almost four years in the making – growing from the seed of an idea planted some five years ago -, has a truly global reach in terms of those involved, and spans two rich virtual environments.

Login2Life, a documentary directed by Daniel Moshel,  follows a group of people from around the world, each of whom spends some of their time engaged in either Second Life or World of Warcraft – and in some cases, both. On the 17th October, the film received its premier in Germany, and is being streamed for this week only on the ZDF website.

At a touch under 85 minutes in length, the film doesn’t have a specific narrative flow – there is no narrator’s voice-over to guide us from a given starting-point vis-a-vis virtual worlds or lead us to a particular conclusion. Instead, we’re left to meet each of those the film involves, and follow them as they engage in their virtual lives and voice their views and feelings on their lives, what virtual worlds provide for them, about love and relationships and family living and much more. Obviously there is a degree directorial influence involved here – the selection of which part of people’s stories made it into the final cut, etc., but on the whole, the approach leaves the person watching the film free to consider all that they see and draw their own conclusions.

The film opens in real life, with the story of Corey Shea Franks, a young man from California who, in 2002, was left paralysed from the neck down following a car crash. From here we journey to Aurora, Colorado and Alice Krueger, perhaps better known in SL as Gentle Heron. She is watching a performance in Second Life by Jaynine Scarborough (real name: Juliane Gabriel), a singer and vocal music teacher from Berlin, Germany.

Alice has severe multiple sclerosis, which leaves her reliant upon both crutches, or more usually, a powered wheelchair, rarely able to venture out of her own home. Within Second Life, as Gentle Heron, she has been central in the creation of a Second Life community dedicated to those with disabilities – Virtual Ability, with its hub at Virtual Ability Island.

Inspirational: the creation of Virtual Ability and Virtual Ability Island seen through Login2Life

However, it was not her original intention to found and build a community; rather she arrived in SL together with two friends she met via the Internet looking for a community in which they could join. This grew out of feelings that, as disabled people in real life, they were not a part of the respective geographical communities in which they lived. When they failed to find what they were looking for, they decided to make it, and bring people to it.

It sounds so simple – and the machinima accompanying Alice’s description of those early days is touching without being overly sentimental. Yet it is here that we see one of the powers of Second Life revealed: that it is an environment where people can come together openly and, with the right impetus, create something that is truly marvellous and beneficial.

The laughing gnome: Philippe Fatoux and his WoW character

Elsewhere in the film we get to meet Philippe Fatoux, a machinina creator in World of Warcraft – in which he delights in being a cheeky little Gnome, getting up to various amounts of mischief, and Thomas Bengtsson, Guild leader for Ensidia, also within World of Warcraft. There is also Chinese family who play WoW together with the express aim of farming gold – which can be exchanged for real-world currency.

This part of the did leave me feeling rather discomfited; there was something unsettling about seeing almost an entire family almost desperately farming gold in WoW as a source of income while others engaging in the game gave the impression they looked down on those who do this with either pity or disdain.

We also once more meet up with Corey Shea, himself a skilled player in WoW, and his family; and we gain a candid look into the life Kevin Alderman, better known to many in SL as Stroker Serpentine in SL, owner of Eros LLC and the SexGen brand, although he originally started out in  Seducity.

What is striking about the film is the way it naturally blends people’s virtual lives with their real lives. There is no sense of delineation between the two as the film moves back and forth between the virtual and the real. Nor should there be – what happens within the virtual environs is as much a part of these people’s lives as anything they do in the real world. I think it fair to say anyone who invests themselves in a virtual world to a similar degree will readily identify with this lack of delineation as well.

For me, the stand-out elements of the film are with Alice and with Corey’s family – in particular, his mother. Both women are dealing with the massive impact a disability has had on their real lives – Alice in terms of the limiting factors MS has created for her, including her inability to easily socialise and meet people in her every day life; Margeau Janae Franks in dealing with Corey Shea’s condition and the impact it has had upon her family. Seeing both women working through Second Life to bring Margeau Janae’s book, The Length of a Breath to an audience and in the hope of helping others is particularly moving. I felt very privileged to be able to share a part of both of these women’s lives through the lens of Daniel’s camera.

Margeau Janae Franks (podium) and Alice Krueger (Gentle Heron) with her back towards us, work on Margeau Janae’s presentation in SL

Similarly, it is fascinating to follow Kevin Alderman and his family. Here is a man who clearly loves and values his family and who, with them, has demonstrated how very disparate real and second lives can be brought together relatively harmoniously, to the benefit of both. Several of my favourite moments in the film came from being allowed to witness Kevin’s interactions with his family. I also very much liked the scene showing Kevin / Stroker meeting with Alice /  Gentle – to discuss the creation of a couples dance animation that would enable someone in a wheelchair in-world to dance with someone more able-bodied.

Alice and Kevin meet via Gentle and Stroker to discuss dance animation (inserts my own)

Given the range of subject matter covered by the film – including sex – Daniel Moshel is to be congratulated on his overall handling of the subject matter. What we see in this film are not oddballs or people who are socially inept – which is all too often the way the media like to portray those engaged in virtual lives.

Instead, we have people who both directly and indirectly have found that through the virtual medium they have been able to hugely extend their and enrich their real lives. This makes Login2Life one of the few films out there that provides clear insight into why people are motivated to spend a good portion of their time engaged in virtual worlds without pandering to the need to titillate through overt sexual references. The sex is there, certainly, but there is none of the nudge-nudge, wink-wink that many in the media find hard to avoid when looking at virtual world environments. Instead, Login2Life simply introduces us to some amazing people who in turn invite us to share a little of their lives.

Some might critique Login2Life for the lack of narrative flow – or at least the lack of narration; it’s fair to say that at times the jumps in the film are a little disconcerting as we move from story to story, and one’s focus is broken in the mental gear-shifting that follows some of the jumps. If I’m honest, it also makes the film hard to review – I’ve really only scratched the surface in this article and focused on those elements that held the core of my attention. There is so much more going on within Login2Life that in some ways, had there been more of a narrative arc, it would have been easier to review and give feedback.

But the film has not been made simply to be reviewed. It has been made to be experienced, and in that regard, I think the lack of narration / narrative arc works and makes the film more engaging than might otherwise have been the case. Without an apparent central message, the film is far more a voyage of discovering for the audience, and thus that much more satisfying to watch and absorb, as we are free to be drawn into those elements that engage us and come to our own conclusions as the vignettes unfold.

Which is not to say the film does not lead up to something very special. The last fifteen minutes bring so much of what has gone before together in a series of very poignant moments which I’m not about to spoil by describing. You’ll have to watch and see for yourself.

Daniel and the production team are to be congratulated for putting in the years of hard work and effort that were required to make this film. Their effort has been more than worthwhile. Login2Life is a tremendous film, and all those who participated also deserve our thanks for allowing us into their lives.

Login2Life  – why not login and watch it yourself? You can do so all this week, and you won’t be disappointed.