Video Game High School: Parents Just Don't Understand
It's Parents Day at VGHS, and oh my God it's the most depressing thing I've ever seen. I don't know why I'm surprised. I made a list of all the orphaned characters in the Final Fantasy series once and it got so sad I had to go outside and sit in a field of dandelions for a while. Video games are hard on parents.
At VGHS, it's not much better, and I think that the show did a really brilliant thing with this episode. Sit tight, it'll take awhile but we'll get there.
The last time we saw Brian D's mom she was in a trance even as her son became world famous and was on his way to VGHS. Ted's father is already notoriously horrible. It turns out that Ted has been giving him $5,000 a month because his dad lied about what child support meant. Then of course there's Jenny's type-A mother, who cares almost nothing for her daughter outside of her achievements in her footsteps.
Right off the bat you realize, "Oh my God, nobody has any type of loving home structure at all. No wonder everyone is made of posturing one-liners and works their insecurities out through first-person shooters.
Amid all this is Ken Swann, played with wonderful quirky warmth by John Ennis. He's come to visit Ki, but his real reason is to take her out of school on the premise she isn't learning enough. Ki is a design prodigy, and is probably the smartest on campus. Yet her father feels that she's being degraded by exposure to other kids, while Ki feels more at home than ever because of her friendships.
It's truly wonderful to see a loving family relationship in the show, even as you silently hate Ken for not realizing that his daughter needs to grow. That's why the payoff is so amazing. He does realize it, but he was worried that her sheltered upbringing might have stunted her a bit. It's only when she stands up for herself that he warmly embraces her and allows her to stay.
It draws this wonderful contrast, and actually gives the whole show a new dimension that speaks not only to the characters, but video game culture in general.
The generation that this speaks to has probably grown up in more single parent homes than any other in the last hundred years. It's almost certain that both parents worked. This is not me dropping in a "return to traditional values" line of bullshit, I promise, but it does remind me a lot of when I was growing up.
Video games matter so much for this generation because they were fantasies you controlled. You beat the boss, you rescued the princess, you saved the world. In a time when kids are more out from under supervision and guidance than ever before we naturally retreated to these safe zones with rules and boundaries that allowed us both narrative and familiarity.
But they were still video games, and for the next generation coming up when online play and much more violent and mature content that sort of expression becomes the norm. Then you see the world that VGHS is in a much clearer light.
In short, the episode shows us how important it is to be as big in your kids' lives as the game if not bigger. To paraphrase Bill Hicks, don't let them forget it's a ride and it's not real.
Nothing shows this off better than Jenny Matrix. Her mother has been awarded a Mother of the Year title, and Jenny is roped into giving a speech explaining why that should be so. Johanna Braddy continues to show off her incredible skill as an actress as we watch her breakdown unable to remember a single warm memory with her mom.
Nonetheless, she powers through and talks about her mother actually went into labor during a championship match, giving birth only after she had one. Jenny talks about looking up to her mom, about her mom being her hero. It's a complete triumph, and one of the most heartwarming scenes I've ever seen in a show.
Jenny's mom responds with, "See? Was that so hard?"
Whether it's through over-protection, apathy, barely concealed envy, or a crushing focus on career, the message is clear... pay attention to your freakin' kids. What an amazing episode, and worth whatever awards they give out for web series these days.
If there was one complaint to be had it was The Law. Ki has developed a VGHS game that The Law becomes addicted to, and through his play he finds his way back to self-confidence.
Brian Firenzi plays it to the hilt as always, of course, but the storyline is pushed so far to the back of the episode that even as we watch him moving towards his ultimate triumph it's just not quite enough to really pay off. His final showdown in the game is even interspersed with Ki's battle monster match against her father, which actually weakened both.
I guess they'll never top that dance-off/drift duel from last season, which is understandable because that was a ridiculously awesome moment that always brings a smile to my face. A look at 16-bit The Law as he lost himself in Ki's virtual world looking to reclaim his throne had a lot of potential. Too bad it didn't really work out.
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