Video Game High School: Play to Learn
If there is anything that Video Game High School really does well in this second season it's the show's ability to explore the video game generation. I'm on the tail end of that, myself, but the show is more interested in the types of kids that have really grown up with things like photorealistic graphics, constant online play, a nation wide leader board on all their play, and other advances in entertainment that boggle the mind.
And you have it wonder how those advancements and these shifts in social interactions have changed the world. I'm not talking about this, "Back in my day the best graphics were outside" ham-fisted old boy nonsense you hear people in their 50s spewing. I'm asking, "What is a world where Call of Duty is as integral to the American child as freeze tag going to be like?"
To judge by X-Box Live it's mostly posturing, racism, and arrested development, but, you know, that's always going on somewhere. What do you do?
More to the point is that those stories you used to see in film where a rebellious quarterback learns to be a man as he leads his high school team to the county championship or whatever? Those stories are now being told against the backdrop of first-person shooters and drift race matches.
That's what really makes episodes like this of VGHS so special. Much of it focuses on Ted as he is trying once again to measure up to the expectations of his racing team. The symbol of acceptance is a special car-USB drive, and to earn one you have to win a special racing game.
Rocky Collins as Drift King, the head of the racing department, has been something of a mixed bag this season after easily being one of the highlights of the first. He is such a wonderfully over-the-top character even in a show that has nothing but over-the-top characters, but so much of what makes him great is grandness in everything around him. Watching him walk into the secret room housing a racing game supposedly responsible for some kid's death is masterful, especially with the subtle nod to the approach to the Magus boss fight in Chrono Trigger that the scene has.
Yet... there are too many moments that he makes himself the butt of the joke. The fact that the key to the secret room is a book about building secret rooms on an otherwise empty bookshelf, his admission that he picked up the game on eBay, or that crap with the corndog a few episodes back all steal from an honest magnetism that the character used to have. I liked that the Drift King was genuinely something larger than the other strutting windbags of the school. He's sort of gone from Arthur to Quixote.
Back to Ted, who finds himself racing for 84 straight hours (By the way, do not do that. People have died doing that). The game contains a race that cannot be beaten or captured, and though Ted continues to win race after race, he's always thwarted when he tries to claim his prize.
Then, in what is one of the more bizarrely brilliant moments in the series, he witnesses the other cars bullying his opponent, spraying dirt on her, and ignoring her requests to race. Moved, Ted tells her that they'll just play the game. No winners, just fun.
It's a silly, but oddly moving moment where all this baggage of taking these games too seriously fall away. Again, it's like those football movies. Ted, who has always struggled for acceptance and always played second banana to everyone from his best friend to his father, unlocks the best of his talent by doing what ironically Drift King told him to do in the first place last season: quit trying to live up to someone else's definition of greatness and live up to your own.
On the Brian D front, he finds himself suddenly failing a simple disarming test in varsity play, and is costing his team matches when his efforts explode in his face. It's kind of one of those inexplicable moments where Brian is a failure just because, but it's also the first time since last season that we see what Brian is best at.
His mother sent him his cat Cheetoh, and after a hilarious side plot where Ki and her superior Shane Pizza fight over the cat being kept on the floor in opposition of school rules, Brian ends up overcoming his block and winning the game as his kitty sits hilariously on his head after being chased there by Ki and Pizza.
He pulls of those casually amateur spectacles of brilliance, and just as he did in last season's finale he worked best when bringing something from his home life. That's the message. Underneath all the training and seriousness and ego-driven showdowns that define every single person at VGHS, it's always Brian D that outclasses the lot of them through the simple act of not playing the game by PLAYing the game.
What will a world where faceless interaction over frags has become the primarily social engine be like? As long as we remember the lessons taught to us by a hundred high school football films it will be just fine. You can't beat someone that considers the act of playing itself to be the ultimate victory. When you're having fun, no one loses.
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