Film and TV

Video Game High School: Autosaving for the Final battle

Sometimes Video Game High School suffers from an identity crisis. Conversations I've had with producer Matthew Arnold show that the run is basically a feature-length film that's been cut up into Internet-sized chunks for serial consumption. In the past this has led to a few episodes that while very good -- they are all very good -- sometimes lack the internal pacing of a compact narrative since they represent a part of a greater whole. Ups and downs that operate on a two-hour span do not necessarily translate when displayed on their own, in other words.

The second to last episode actually has the opposite problem. The emotional previous outing gets recapped in a hilarious, if somewhat overblown, manner. Seeing Ted (Jimmy Wong) astride a WWII motorcycle breaking Ki's (Ellary Porterfield) heart as if it was the ending of Miss Saigon was a lot more fun than watching him scream at her for enrolling him in drift racing against the wishes of his bitter, rock star father.

And what of Brian D. (Joshua Blaylock)? Well, after being expelled from VGHS, it takes him all of one day to become a smooth-ass gangsta running a local arcade. It's a low-key existence where he caters to a gamer crowd interested only in a good time. There's none of the desperate need to prove yourself, establish catch phrases and teabag the fallen. It's just fun.

Still, Ted, Ki and Jenny Matrix (Johanna Braddy) all come back into his life to try and convince him to take one more shot at his dream since he entered himself in the VGHS system before being expelled and is therefore still eligible for tryouts. For a show that's built most of its appeal on the hysterical attitudes and near-psychopathic melodrama of gamers, much of what we get instead is a very poignant look into each character as they try to make sense of the puzzles life has dealt them.

Eventually, Ki and Ted make up and Jenny talks Brian into one last shot at his dream after the two share a much-beloved childhood dance game and a near-kiss.

Framed on either side by some...interesting choices of settings and homages to Hollywood nostalgia, the insular feel of the episode is both awesome and a little much. Here at the end of all that we've gone through with our little team, we don't really need gimmicks to try and sum up the story for us in a little bonus stage. Having rocked without apology to this point, the makers would've been fine just keeping on keeping on stylistically.

As we saw last time, Video Game High School is a place where, frankly, it seems caricatures go to grow up. Either they finish their asshole evolution, or they realize that gaming, even in the magical land where it's the most important thing in the world, is at worst play and at best art...and even art is really just highly organized play.

For capturing those moments of introspection, innocence and joy, I offer Arnold, Freddie Wong and Brandon Laatsch a four-way high five. See you at the end, folks. This is just the autosave before the big battle, and that's always how you know that shit is about to go down.

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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner