Jonas Odell, a Swedish filmmaker, has long been interested in animation and game design. Like many in his field, he has been keeping up with the recent spate of articles about video-game addiction. One thing Odell noticed, though, was that the addicts themselves were almost never interviewed. “Mostly it was experts or concerned parents talking about the subject,” Odell told me. “I was simply interested in hearing these people’s own stories firsthand.”
With the help of a therapist who specializes in addiction, Odell conducted interviews with gaming addicts. Three of these compelling personal stories form the basis of Odell’s inventive short documentary I Was a Winner. The interviewees are embodied in animated re-creations of their gaming avatars, which the filmmaker and his team created based on descriptions the subjects offered of their characters and the worlds they inhabit in game play. Odell based the avatars’ behavior on an experience he once had while watching a friend play Grand Theft Auto. “Whenever he stopped playing but left the game on, the character would suddenly seem at a loss of what to do,” Odell said. “It would start to wander aimlessly back and forth. I found that quite moving—this aggressive [avatar] who normally dragged people out of their cars suddenly seemed very vulnerable.” That was the feeling he hoped to re-create.