Submarine Channel

Interview with Douglas Gayeton

Molotov Alva and His Search for the Creator is a documentary shot entirely in Second Life. After a viral start on the net, the American network HBO acquired the TV rights for the US for this SubmarineChannel production. It is amazing to see how a story about a California guy named Molotov Alva, who leaves his real life behind to search for existential answers in the virtual world Second Life (SL’s popularity peeked in 2007) can spark so much attention. Is it all just a hype? Or does the story of Molotv Alva touch upon issues that a lot of people can relate to, including those who don’t frequent online virtual worlds. We asked Douglas Gayeton, creator of the film “Molotv Alva and his Search for the Creator – A Second Life Oddyssey”, who is also an avid explorer of alternate realities.

How did you come across Molotov Alva’s video dispatches? And why did you want to make a documentary with this material?
I entered Second Life as “Gayeton Ringo” for the first time in June of ’06. After traveling within the world for six months I came across the video diaries of Molotov Alva. I felt that they were the first truthful account of a person’s introduction to a new digital world so I worked with him to bring them out of Second Life.

Is the documentary an effective medium to document and critically reflect on life in online worlds?
Most people have never actually been inside an online world. Since this is based in technology, a learning curve is involved, one that requires downloading a computer program, then learning how to walk, talk, explore using… a computer keyboard. It just isn’t a natural form of exploration for most people. It’s antithetical to the seamless experience they have with other media, be it TV or books or film. In addition, without having a guide like Molotov, most people would be unwilling to make the necessary time commitment. Therefore, documentaries like My Second Life are the only way most people will see what these new worlds are about.

In My Second Life, Molotov Alva questions the world around him. Do you think he would have asked the same questions had he visited another popular virtual world, like World of Warcraft – a world in which the game element is much more important?
That’s a good question. I suspect that in the next year we should start receiving dispatches from Molotov as he continues his journey into a number of other online worlds, including WOW.

How do you feel about commercial companies and public and governmental institutes setting up their offices in Second Life?
It’s inevitable. Once you have enough people, be it in the real world or its virtual counterpart, you will have companies and governmental agencies arriving to address these audiences. In the near future Second Life and other online worlds will come to function as a 3D tele-presence tool, one that allows people to interact online and experience virtual simultaneity, which is a powerful enabler for social interactions. As for companies with new products, worlds like Second Life allow for a direct relationship with the consumer. Feedback is immediate. The data companies can collect from such interactions will be increasingly more useful as the demographic of this world extends beyond early technology adaptors and begins to reflect society as a whole.

Do you think Second Life is a new medium altogether, an alternative to the World Wide Web perhaps? Or will it be replaced by something new in a few years, similar to what happened to text-based MOO’s and MUD’s (text-based multi-user virtual reality environments), back in the early-nineties?
Second Life represents a major paradigm shift in terms of how the web functions. It is as significant as the introduction of the first web browser. As for whether Second Life remains the dominant online world platform, that depends on the path taken by its owner, Linden Labs. Will Second Life become Netscape or Real Networks, two players who dominated in the early days of the Internet, only to flame out in the face of competition from Microsoft (Internet Explorer) and Apple (I Tunes)? Only time will tell.

What is it about alternate realities and parallel dimensions that interests you?
Well, I’ve always been curious about how technology connects people in ways that would’ve been otherwise impossible. The impact of those connections lends itself to provocative stories.

In our real world, we like to read stories about virtual worlds and we watch Machinima. But it doesn’t quite work the other way around. Is the real world a taboo subject in SL (Second Life)?
It’s true that people in SL are rarely interested in the RL (real world) lives of those they meet. I guess that’s because it would break the seamlessness of people’s inworld experience.

Would you recommend Second Life to someone who’s never visited?
No. I never make recommendations when it comes to technology. I’ve found that people who are innately curious about such things usually find them on their own.

Douglas Gayeton was the mastermind behind ‘Delta State’, an animated TV show about a group of students with psychic powers with the ability to enter an ethereal realm. In ‘The Circuit Books’ he documents his experiences with Circuits – a real alternative to modern society. He’s also collaborated on several ARG (alternate reality games) projects. Together with William Gibson, Gayeton wrote and directed, ‘Johnny Mnemonic’, the first interactive cd-rom based movie for Sony Imagesoft. Gayeton has also created and designed online social networks for commercial clients. On the less techy side of things, Gayeton’s an Italophile of sorts, which is why he spends a lot of time in rural Italy.

Check out Gayeton’s Tuscan photoworks and more.
Watch the Molotov Alva documentary.

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