Life Rewired Shorts: Extra Life by Matthew Harmer

Animated woman stands in front of a burning sun
2 Aug 2019
12 min watch

If you were inside a machine which could simulate biochemical processes - would you be real? Or would you actually be just a series of 1s and 0s? Enter the world of online gaming and meet the people who inhabit these virtual territories. 

Where did the inspiration for Extra Life come from?

Extra Life is a short experimental documentary that explores identity within video games and virtual worlds, delivered entirely through the medium of the games themselves and featuring various digital avatars people have created.

The film was inspired by the Japanese manga/anime Sword Art Online, as well as the book/film Ready Player One. In both these stories, the avatars people adopt in the virtual world differ greatly from their real-life counterparts, not just physically but also in their behaviour, and the avatar’s actions end up having real-life consequences. In this film we wanted to investigate whether this was a reality now, and how it may change in the future.

The digital identities people create for themselves will have more and more influence on real life

How does your film respond to the ideas behind Life Rewired?
With gaming becoming an increasingly bigger industry, people living more of their lives online, and virtual reality becoming more mainstream, the digital identities people create for themselves will have more and more influence on real life.

Focusing on how digital avatars relate to the real-life people, and whether people live different lives online, we try to reveal how gaming technology is changing the way people see themselves. This technology allows a closer merging of the digital world and the real world - what impacts digital worlds and digital identities will have on society in the future?

Can you explain the process behind the making of your film?
For this film we really wanted to take the viewer into some of the virtual worlds that exist within games and let them hear from people as their avatars. We were also keen to test the theory that people behave more openly as their avatars because of the anonymity it affords them. So we came up with the idea of making the film entirely within video games and interviewing people as their avatars in these virtual worlds.

So, after initially making contact with some people we knew in the gaming community, we started to find some willing contributors. For many, gaming was having a unique and positive impact on their lives. For each contributor, we asked them to select a favourite game to meet us in, and then we interviewed them live in the game, screen recording the visuals and talking over either voice-chat or text-chat. We then combined these interviews with recordings of the character creation process in the various games, as well as sections of playing the games themselves.

Perhaps the filmmaker of the future will be a digital human...

What does the filmmaker of the future look like?
Well, if you mean do they look like a machine, then I don’t think they do! I certainly think AI technology will replace a lot of jobs in the future, but I think the creative industries will remain a human
endeavour...or at least I hope so! Filmmaking has always felt like something driven by emotion and feeling, both in the making of the work but also in what you’re trying to elicit from the audience, and I can’t imagine artificial intelligence being able to work in an emotional way.

But who knows, perhaps the filmmaker of the future will be a digital human. People living in Second Life already create photos and videos of their digital experiences, so perhaps in the future people will be able to make films within their virtual worlds, their avatars working as digital directors, digital actors or digital cinematographers.

About the filmmakers

Matthew Harmer is an award-winning freelance director and DOP based in London, working in short-form documentary and branded content, with a focus on working with charities and sustainable organisations. He strongly believes that film is a powerful tool in raising awareness about the important issues the world faces, and through making engaging and empathetic films, filmmakers can have a positive impact on society. matthew-harmer.com

Tommaso Di Paola is an award winning film editor based in London. After studying Video Design at the Istituto Europeo del Design in Milan, he worked for Lost Values, a small design studio, followed by John Wright Photography and Nice and Serious, a successful creative agency that focuses on sustainability and environmental issues. He is also the co founder of Eyes and Ears, an award winning production company that focuses on documentaries and commercial filmmaking.