The thing is, Microsoft had nothing to do with it.
It's called "Player Two," and it's been gathering steam online since Wikstrom posted it on YouTube and Vimeo. The short tells the story of a young man who logged quality time with his father while playing a game called Rallisport Challenge, released in 2002 for the original Xbox—"you know, the first ruggedy, blocky one from 2001?" the youth says in the voiceover. When the father dies unexpectedly, the console is banished to the garage. Ten years later, now age 16, the boy retrieves the dusty console, only to discover …
Well, we won't spoil it. Watch the video before we continue.
Wikstrom, 25, graduated from Florida State University's College of Motion Picture Arts and moved to Los Angeles four years ago. He found some work as a treatment designer for the directors of commercials. But he hadn't made any of his own.
Initially, Wikstrom planned just to make a 30-second ad on spec and post it—and in fact, he finished such a spot. But he pulled back at the last minute because another idea had been haunting him.
It was a story he had stumbled across about a year earlier, posted in the string of comments below a YouTube video titled "Can Video Games Be a Spiritual Experience?" The story (presumably true) was of a boy losing his father, and reconnecting with his ghost via a shared video game.
"It was this beautiful comment," Wikstrom said. "And I remembered thinking it would be great if there was some way to do it."
With help from cinematographer Idan Menin and actor Zac Pullam, Wikstrom found a way. They shot in the Angelino Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, whose winding streets and Victorian homes furnished the requisite "dreamy" feel. Young star Pullam had actually appeared in some of Wikstrom's student films years earlier and, like him, had since moved to L.A. in search of a career. So that casting call was easy.
As for the voiceover script, Wikstrom decided to use the YouTube post verbatim. "The comment itself is so beautifully written, and this is that guy's story," he said. "I wanted to be respectful to it."
He was, and viewers have responded. Wikstrom's short is, as of this writing, lurching steadily toward the 1 million mark on YouTube, and has been praised by gamers on Reddit and other platforms. The anonymous poster who inspired the film has reached out to Wikstrom to thank him—though his identity remains a mystery.
"Video games aren't usually talked about in the context of positive, meaningful emotions," Wikstrom said, explaining why his work seems to have struck a chord with so many people.
And what about Microsoft? The young director said he's heard from "someone high up" at the software giant, who wrote him personally to praise his work, but nothing official from HQ. Adweek contacted Aaron Greenberg, Microsoft's head of Xbox's game marketing, who told us:
"This is really inspiring. Connecting players through gaming is one of the best rewards of creating video games, and stories like this are always touching and inspire us to do our best work. We applaud this fan's courage in sharing his story and the filmmaker's artistry in bringing it to life so vividly."
Wikstrom maintains the project was "a labor of love." Still, this is tinsel town, and Wikstrom has his hopes up. "Yeah, obviously," he said. "It would be great if [the video] resulted in more work."