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Inside the Metaverse 2010

Recommended with Reservations

Distributed by Films for the Humanities & Sciences
Produced by Steven Dhoedt & Brecht Debackere
Directed by Steven Dhoedt
DVD, color, 52 min.

Sr. High - General Adult
Anthropology, Computer Industry, Sociology, Storytelling, Technology

Date Entered: 12/04/2012

Reviewed by Steve Bertolino, Reference and Instruction Librarian, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT

This documentary revolves around a string of interviews expressing its main arguments: first, that virtual reality will dominate 21st Century life and is already beginning to do so through various gaming and entertainment technologies; and second, that virtual worlds offer us the chance to escape our geographical, physical, and other circumstances to experience a purely personalized freedom to become whoever we believe ourselves to be. If this sounds a little New Age-y, that’s because several (though not all) of the interviewees sound this way. Some are belated hippies, others high-powerful businessmen; some are rather scruffy professors and others are normal, everyday people who love playing around in virtual worlds. There is simultaneously wonder and delight at virtual possibilities, alongside very real economic and social questions to address. The strength of the documentary is that it lets many people associated with today’s virtual worlds express their ideas and treats them equally, but the documentary is very weak on exploring questions which interviewees’ comments raise.

The first half of the film focuses primarily on the rise of virtual worlds and the personal experiences of those creating and playing in them, and the documentary’s structure works very well here for the most part. The film’s second half, however, gets into more explicit – and contested in both negative and positive ways – economic and psychological considerations, and here the hands-off documentary style, while informative, doesn’t address the surrounding issues in a deep way. Though throughout the documentary there are many interviewees, only a select few get more than a brief focus. Once again, this is good for presenting a myriad of viewpoints, but not so good for exploring questions and issues. For these reasons I would recommend this film with reservations, as an excellent introduction to the landscape of virtual worlds (especially for adults who have not grown up with online gaming), but as only a jumping-off point for exploring the issues associated with virtual worlds, not as something to aid in engaging them.