Documentaries & Specials

OWNs Life 2.0 Explores the Boundaries Between Real Life and the Virtual World

OWN continues its pattern of delivering insightful and entertaining documentaries. This month’s Life 2.0 gave OWN viewers a glimpse into a parallel world that many never knew existed.

With the popularity of chat rooms rising so quickly in the late 80’s -early 90’s, it didn’t take long for online interactions to jump to the next level. Once the first 3-dimensional avatar entered a chat room, platforms for virtual worlds grew quickly. Suddenly people found themselves emerged in a decked out parallel life….where anything could happen.

Life 2.0 followed the real and virtual lives of three different people cloaked in their avatars. What they all share is an obsession for their Second Life worlds. Second life is a program that allowed each person the chance to create a fantasy life…which many of the users get lost in. Their virtual and real worlds become blurred. A world where you are able to create and exhibit your ideal self through your avatar – the perfect body, home, clothes, car, kids – everything!

With the everyday stresses of the real world, it is easy to see how someone could get lost in an ideal one. The only problem is that you can’t merge the two…leaving you trapped in a reality that will never live up to your fantasy. This is where the trouble starts – when your virtual life begins to impact your real ones.

Before I get into the individual stories of the three people that the documentary explores, let me give you a quick glimpse into the virtual Second Life they live in. There are stores to shop at with edgy clothes, luxury homes to purchase, adoption agencies to grow your virtual world, clubs to DJ and dance the night away and that is only the beginning. You can visit anything from raves to museums, attend concerts, join a book club, throw a dinner party and even online shop but be careful…you could end up in the AvaStar, a Second Life tabloid. In addition, there are serious corporations like Dell, IBM, Coca-Cola, American Apparel, Nissan and IBM who have a virtual presence in Second Life. This isn’t just a game…this is crazy!

The documentary first began with a story of fantasy, love and virtual adultery. Avatars of New York housewife, Amie Goode, and Canadian Bluntly “Steven” Berblinger found each other in their perfect, virtual world. “I was certainly feeling unfulfilled, looking for something more,” she shared. A world where there is no mortgage, garbage nights or kids to take care of…a simple, stress-free life. Both Amie and Steven were married in real life. Steven had been married for 20 years and Amie for 11. But within the first few minutes of the film, Steven was flying in to see her…in REAL life. They were taking their relationship to a real level, one that impacted their lives. Both separated from their spouses who had no clue how serious their online “game” had become. Within 6 months, Steven was moving in with Amie. Suddenly their fantasy lives were a reality. Digging in the dirt, emptying garbage cans, dealing with kids…it was all too real. Feeling as if Amie was “griefing” him, it was clear that Steven didn’t want reality. Within a short time, Steven headed back to Canada citing many excuses but the truth was…it just didn’t work out. “He’s fake and I’m real” Amie told us threw her tears. “I believed he was really the person he presented…he’s not real.” Of course! When you are online you can be perfect. Everything is thought out and manipulate. It doesn’t take much to fake it. Once real life stress was introduced, they fell apart. I wonder if they would make the same choices. Both had been married when they allowed this to get out of control. My thoughts…don’t EVER let yourself share something with a stranger that you aren’t sharing with your spouse. If you have to close the door, then something is wrong and you are jeopardizing your relationships. PLUS, any relationship built on infidelity will have trust and respect issues. Respect yourself enough to avoid one.

The next person Life 2.0 followed was avatar Asri Falcone who had turned her obsession into a job. She was making money by designing clothes, shoes, luxury homes, and skincare products….on Second Life. Yes all virtual toys. Living in her parent’s basement in Detroit, Teasa‘s days began around 6pm. She’d wake and spend about 15-20 hours a day designing and playing online in her virtual world. Selling her creations in Second Life, she found she was able to make money AND immerse herself in her virtual world. Although she claimed to make 6 figures at times, it appeared she was struggling to make ends meet. “You can have the house of your dreams within Second Life without the real-life price” she boosts. It was clear that she was living her own fantasy through Asri. Although her real world crossover included meeting another woman from online in Vegas, it was obvious that Asri’s life was bigger and better than Teasa’s. It left me wondering…if your avatar is living better than you, is it time to step back and reassess your life? I am not trying to judge. I just feel sad…all of her living is happening in a world that is disconnected from her family and non-3-dimensional friends. This can’t be healthy.

The final avatar was an 11 year old girl, Ayya Aabye, who was actually a web developer with a frustrated fiancée. Recognizing he was having a hard time removing himself from the virtual world, his fiancée asked him to cut back from a world that worried her. Spending most of his day online as a young girl that loved to dance was understandably concerning. “She’s guiding me. She knows what she wants me to do and I do it,” he shared about his relationship between him and his avatar, Ayya. As he watched his avatar dance, I couldn’t help but think there is SO much more to this. Once the door closes dividing yourself between the real world and your virtual world, there is an issue. “I think it becomes a problem when you ignore your first life,” his fiancée shared. I totally agree! When speaking of his avatar, he shared that “one of the things that I’ve learned from her is that nothing is ever enough” something he recognized in himself. It was taking a toll on his health (due to lack of sleep) and his relationship. It was obvious that his life was being destroyed by his virtual one; Ayya was consuming him. Knowing it was becoming an addiction, he decided to set an end date for alter ego. He said his goodbyes, grieved her loss and tried to move on. When his fiancée stated that “second life defines you” he replied “I define myself there.” His virtual world and real world didn’t fit. It didn’t surprise me that within weeks he and his fiancée were separated and he was back on…this time as young boy. “I had given up so much of myself that I was looking for myself in other places.” Soon after rejoining Second Life, he shared that he had been molested by his father, something that he was having a hard time dealing with. This WAS about so much more. People get lost in virtual worlds when they can’t deal with their reality. Instead of dealing with what was happening, he hid and it cost him.

Although a virtual world may be physically safer than real life…I am not convinced it is emotionally safer. What Second Life needs is a well-trained group of therapists. I don’t think there is anything wrong with role play or escaping a bit to feed your imagination, but if it is at the expense of your REAL life…something is wrong. Each person in this documentary had issues in their real world due to their virtual existence in Second Life. As I said before, this isn’t just a game!

It is important to be careful when you turn to anything as an escape. If you feel heard and attached to anything other than your REAL life, pause and look at it. Then, take the energy you use to create your fantasy world and redirect it into your real life. You may just find that you are able to connect on a deeper level with someone who isn’t hiding behind an avatar. Yes, life can get messy and there are days you have to take the garbage out, but that is REAL. Plus…a virtual make-out session can’t even compare to the real thing. Oh come on….you know I had to go there!

In all, OWN put out another fantastic documentary, continuing the Doc Club tradition of great, insightful films. I can’t wait to see “Most Valuable Player” on September 8th!

*For past documentaries check out our Doc Club section.

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