For most, video games are just a fun escape. We select a character, and become whoever we want to be. We choose a level, and enter into the dream world of our choosing. It can be a nice break to experience a narrative completely different than our normal lives for a short while. But for others, this escape can become addicting and soon, time spent in the gaming world can begin to seriously affect time spent in reality. In today’s Staff Pick Premiere, “I Was a Winner” from Swedish filmmaker Jonas Odell, we hear three cautionary tales told with a unique animated style about video game addiction and the very real world ramifications that come with it.
Odell isn’t a gamer. But, when reading about gaming addiction before making his film, he was interested in the fact that the people being interviewed were never the gamers themselves. Instead, they always seemed to be the experts or the concerned parents. So, he interviewed around twenty gamers to understand first-hand how people become addicted to video games, learn what drew them to it in the first place and find out how it felt to try to quit. Out of the interviews, Odell found three stories that complemented one another and took the audio to begin the video-game-styled animation process for his film.
When approaching the visual tone for “I Was a Winner”, Odell referenced a vulnerable image he saw within the game Grand Theft Auto. He remembered that “whenever someone left the game or stopped playing, the character would suddenly seem at a loss and would start to wander aimlessly back and forth.” With that in mind and with the help of animator Niklas Lundgren, Odell created worlds for the three interviewees’ designed video game characters to roam around alone in the film as they told their story. It is interesting to note that as the viewer listens to the positive tales of connections made through playing video games and the personal achievements reached, we begin to forget about the actual person speaking and connect with the video game characters seen on the screen. It is only when the narrative turns to the depressing reality of gaming addiction and we learn how the interviewees had estranged themselves from their loved ones and personal lives, do our minds wander back to reality and the actual people who are telling the stories. It is a clever device and a reason why “I Was a Winner” has stayed with us since our first viewing of the film at its Tribeca Film Festival premiere in 2016. Two years later, the time we spend in front of a screen has only increased and while it is not only in a gaming universe, it makes us consider the stories captured by Odell and their implications for current and future generations relationship with addiction to technology.
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