There’s nothing like the joys of playing a good video game. The hard work, the competition, and endless nature of losing yourself in a screen-full of pixels. There’s a sense of accomplishment when a level is completed, as you look forward to the next game. But what if you could make money playing video games? What if you can amass a following, travel the world, and take on others from all across the country for monetary power? What’s just a relaxing time for you is the bread and butter for a countless few. Trying to break into the field of eSports is not as simple as one may think. It requires countless hours, abandoned friendships, and true fortitude to never give up.
Welcome to A Gamer’s Life: Win or Starve, a behind-the-scene documentary into the world of professional gaming which reveals the struggles of successful gamers trying to turn their joy-sticking skills into dollars. Unlike 2007’s The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, this film takes us one step further by revealing not just the players, but the often invisible yet important members of professional gaming, like commentators.
While the format of the documentary is generic and filled with simplistic questions about how and why gamers begun their journey, the subjects — with their often colorful personalities and engaging stories — truly standout. As each person invites us into their life, it becomes easy to relate to them. Even if you consider yourself a casual gamer, there are moments that speak to you. Imagine when you first heard about or saw a Mario game or found yourself memorized by the brutality of Mortal Kombat. These are the same feelings that are shared across the world. No matter the journey, we all share the same emotion.
It’s in these moments when the documentary begins to feel welcoming, and there’s a closeness you share with the subjects. The more they talk, the more relatable they become and the more you become invested in their success. We follow them to tournaments, cheer when they win, and sympathize when months of hard work go up in flames in one round. Commentators become our eyes when we miss a move and or can’t express our feelings.
As the cameras continue to follow the subjects and they become more comfortable being on-screen, something drastic begins to happen that yanks you away from enjoying the film. Completely unexpected and uncalled for, the focus of the documentary shifts to mental and physical health risks of childhood gaming; whether it stunts mental functions and encourages anti-social behaviors.
Our subjects are replaced with physicians and psychologist who are more judgmental than informative. Their inclusion seems awkward and unwarranted. The documentary goes from supporting and education people about this exciting niche community to vilifying causal to experienced gamers everywhere. By the time their twenty-minute segment is finished, the heart of the documentary is lost. Even though it tries to refocus its attention back to the gamers, it never finds its way back and becomes uninteresting and draining.
A Gamer’s Life tries but fails spectacularly to impress. Instead of supporting gamers and building up the community it follows, it talks down to them, sucking the joy out of those who are trying to find their happiness while paying their bills. Squandering away a wonderful opportunity to invite its viewers into a world that’s truly magical and reach a larger audience, it spectacularly implodes and become a boring, confusing uninspiring diatribe about gaming that’s more of a turnoff than an eye-opener. In the dawn of gaming documentaries, this is a film to stay far away from.