Ibelin – the life and influence of an unlikely hero 

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Ibelin is a documentary movie about a 25-year old young man named Mats Steen who unfortunately suffered from Duchenne muscular dystrophy. As a result each single year he was gradually losing control of his body due to the constant muscle loss. However, this led him to finding interest in video games, especially in World of Warcraft. In this virtual world, he was not restricted by the limitations of his body. After he passed away, his parents decided to publish the last post on his blog to share with others that their son has passed away. They also left his email publicly so others could contact them. To their surprise, many people started to contact them and share their stories about their son.

The structure of Ibelin

The documentary has three main sequences: the VHS footage of Mats and his family in various environments be it on their house property, sand beach, sightseeing or him playing video games as well as contemporary footage of his friends and others; footage taken from World of Warcraft, animated stories that are dramatized retelling of his life in WOW done by professional animators and actors, interviews with his online friends and guild members as well as one animated sequence for his female friend and her conflict with her parents. Additionally, all the text written by Mats allowed the documentary staff to recreate many scenes Mats was part of. Lines written by Mats were read by an impressionist with an intention of recreating his voice as closely as possible.

Video games breaking the chains of disabilities

Because Mats couldn’t have a normal life due to his disease, he quickly became interested in video games. He was not restricted there and could enjoy his time without being reminded that he cannot play and have fun with others because of his disease. He did play video games when he was at home either alone or with his siblings, on trips with his Gameboy and on his PC. When World of Warcraft came out in 2004 he immediately took interest in the game and dedicated most of his life to that game. What Mats really liked about WOW is that the game allowed him to be whoever he wanted to be without restrictions and go wherever he wanted to go. His creativity and will to live was manifested in WOW where Mats took the role of Ibelin Redwood the Ashenvale Detective and broke any limitations. He was free to do whatever he wanted. 

Mats was so invested in WOW that between 2004 and 2014 he spent 10000 hours in the game and wrote around 42000 lines of text in the game roleplaying and communicating with other players. All of them got archived on a WOW forum and thanks to that many scenes with Mats as Ibelin and other players could be recreated. 

Due to his illness, Mats had many doubts and insecurities about himself. One of them was that, Mats was afraid of talking to other women and trying to flirt with them. This was not an issue when he was playing as Ibelin in WOW, in fact he was pretty successful with women and even was in a relationship for a long time. He even used to party in taverns, roleplayed being drunk and dance. These were some of the many things that he was jealous about his classmates who would enjoy their youth like other young people.

Connecting broken relationships via video games

A screencap from one of the scenes from Ibelin (2024). On the left, Mats’s in-game friend in her avatar and on the right, Mats as his avatar, Ibelin.

Due to his empathetic and emotional nature he helped many WOW players deal with their real-life problems. Mats managed to talk to one of the members of his guild who turned out to be a mother of a very autistic boy. He used to stay in his room for hours, listen to music, occasionally play WOW and refuse to go to school for a long time. His mother couldn’t connect with him and didn’t know what to do about it. Mats advised her to try to connect with him via video games since that’s something both of them like. While the mother and her son couldn’t talk or hug to each other in real life, it was possible for them in World of Warcraft. Due to them interacting with each other in the virtual world, they could gradually get closer to each other, break the barrier and reestablish their mother-son bond. There were other instances where Mats would help others as Ibelin, whether they were part of his guild or strangers that needed his help.

Contributing to the development of specialized equipment

Mats also contributed to the research on the specialised equipment for the disabled. He took part in the documentary which focused on discussing the usage and properties of his equipment that allowed him to live and breathe, use his computer and interact with the online world with a mouse pad created especially for his condition etc.

Conclusions on Ibelin

Mats’s life is a testament to not only the will to live and resilience, but also the fact that video games can connect people together from all over the world, form friendships and relationships and even restore broken bonds. And all of it is really well-put together, in a friendly way for both WOW players and non-WOW players as well as the people who do not play video games at all. Ibelin also does not want to show Mats as a martyr. Instead it presents him as a normal person who suffered from an incurable condition and interacted with other people the way he preferred. I highly recommend the movie to anyone wanting to learn more about the life of Mats who greatly influenced and helped others with their struggles. 

I personally resonated with the movie, because my brother and I used to play World of Warcraft. I remember the scenery, the freedom, the beautiful environments, the atmospheric and epic soundtrack, the ambience… And of course both of us remember interacting with other players, it is an experience that you cannot replicate and we will not forget it. Ibelin made me realize how much of a positive and different experience it was to us. Again, if you have not watched Ibelin, please do. It is an experience worth your time.

Official trailer for Ibelin (2024)

You can also visit official article about Ibelin at Thessaloniki Film Festival website here. You can also read our Hollywoodgate article here.

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