Criticism of “The Gamer”, the psychology of e-sports (CPH:DOX 2023)

It is not difficult to find films about the psychological aspect of traditional sports such as soccer, baseballswimming and boxing, but with the rise of e-sports (video games) as a recognized and popular sport, a window has been opened for filmmakers to explore the psychological difficulties faced by gamers industry professionals. “The Gamer”by Petri Luukkainen and Jesse Jokinen, is the first film on this interesting theme that I’ve had the opportunity to see, but I hope it’s not the last because it definitely falls short of the potential of its premise.

Verneri “Bona” Junkala is a young man who wants to become the best “Counter-Strike” player in Finland, however he has a big problem: he has never been able to win a tournament because he always succumbs to the pressure of the moment. To overcome this obstacle, Bona starts working with an e-sports psychologist.

The backbone of “The Gamer” is formed by the conversations between Bona and his psychologist, who tries to bring the introverted young man out of his shell and guide him towards a healthier life. All these introspective scenes are the best moments of the film thanks to the sincerity that exists in them and the interesting parallels with other sports that are generated here: practice is important, but an excess of it can cause physical and emotional exhaustion that, in the long run, it will impede the professional’s progress and lead him down an unhealthy path. Like everything in life, it is necessary to find a balance.

However, the documentation of Bona’s progress is chaotic, as Luukkainen and Jokinen have trouble generating interest around their subject. Why does he love “Counter-Strike”? Why do you want to be the best? Does his family play any role in his performance? For example, directors never tell us what Bona’s life is like when she’s not in front of a computer, and as a consequence, when we have scenes like the one where she learns that she has to balance e-sports, exercise, and eating, her impact is minimal because she doesn’t even we know the kind of life the young man leads.

Another big mistake is that the direction never explains what “Counter-Strike” is. By not worrying about explaining to the viewer what the videogame consists of, not only does the film become somewhat inaccessible to audiences that know nothing about e-sports or videogames in general, but it also loses the opportunity to create emotion around the sporting feats that we see throughout “The Gamer” and feel Bona’s passion; the documentary never manages to capture that connection between the subject and his sport. This is exacerbated by irregular editing that never shows the rigor of esports competition; the edit fails to help explain why Bona’s introspective personality hinders his sporting growth.

“The Gamer” is a solid initial approach to the psychology behind a gamer professional, but it falls far short in its attempt to communicate the complexity behind the sport and the emotional aspects that all those who dream of becoming the greatest exponents of the world of videogames must juggle.

“The Gamer” was part of the Nordic:Dox section of CPH:DOX 2023.

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