Credit: First Look
by Daniel Gorman Featured Film

Knit’s Island — Guilhem Causse, Ekiem Barbier, & Quentin L’helgoualc’h [First Look ’24 Review]

March 20, 2024

It’s hard not to view Knit’s Island as a sort of analogous, lo-fi version of something like Ready Player One. Strip away the virtuousic special effects and wildly energetic virtual camera from the latter, and you get something close to the former, an immersive video game world where players use digital avatars to construct a simulacrum of the end of days. Filmmakers Ekiem Barbier, Guilhem Causse, and Quentin L’helgoualc’h logged more than 900 hours in the open-world game DayZ during the early days of the pandemic, immersing themselves in a zombie survival simulator that houses numerous communities of like-minded players. Part sociological inquiry, part ontological investigation, Knit’s Island is a fascinating documentary that eschews any and all footage outside the confines of the game itself. Baudrillard would have a field day with this stuff.

As the movie begins, the filmmakers are traversing their new digital environs and introducing themselves to the various players they encounter. Adorned with placards identifying themselves as journalists, they ask for directions (the game has a simulated North Star for navigating) and test out the mechanics of the game (running, crouching, jumping, etc.). One of the three directors is always acting as the film’s “camera” — as the game is experienced via each individual player’s own POV, audiences are in effect seeing through someone’s “eyes” for the entire film. Remarkably, there are moments where the game world looks disarmingly similar to the real world — the graphics are so good that landscapes, foliage, and abandoned buildings could almost be mistaken for the real thing. The first “community” they spend any real time with refer to themselves as “Dark as Midnight,” led by a female-identifying avatar who explains that her group enjoys killing indiscriminately and are cannibals (some gallows humor, as a body lays splayed out on a table ready to be sliced into). The filmmakers go out on patrol with the Midnighters, but soon take off and attach themselves to a character calling himself Reverend Stone. He leads the “Church of Dagoth” community, a group that holes up in what appears to be a Russian Orthodox Church but in fact worship a wolf god of some sort. Later, the filmmakers encounter players with a more nebulously defined relationship to DayZ — a couple that drive around simply exploring the virtual world, and another group that spend hours running in straight lines in an attempt to reach “the end” of the game’s world.

Throughout these various encounters, the players are fairly articulate about their reasons for spending so much time in this game world. Some, like the Midnighters, recognize the power trip fantasy inherent to a virtual environment like this, killing and maiming with impunity. Others have nothing better to do during lock down, explaining that they play while their kids are sleeping or enjoy the game with a real-life spouse. A few admit that, after spending enough time in the game, it has become more “real” than the real world; multiple players admit to dreaming about the game world while asleep, and another recognizes the irony of enjoying the peaceful nature of the game while a real forest sits outside his house. If The Matrix proffered an anxiety about being able to delineate between virtual and real-world spaces, the intervening decades have brought us to a place where such distinctions seemingly no longer matter. The filmmakers have no interest in finding out if player’s immersion in the game constitutes an addiction or if their day-to-day life has suffered neglect. Instead, the proceedings are presented as a perfectly acceptable way to pass one’s time, suggesting that the digital and the physical are now so enmeshed as to be unremarkable. We’re a long way away from Neveldine/Taylor’s dystopian Gamer, let alone the rest of Steven Shaviro’s Post Cinematic Affect canon or Shane Denson’s notion of Discorrelated Images. It’s a brave new (virtual) world. Just watch out for the zombies.