Video Game High School Blends Gamer Culture With Classic TV Storytelling

VideoWatch review: VGHS seriously ups its game in season two

Video Game High School (or VGHS as it is commonly referred to) is a testament to the power of crowdfunding.

The series that found its start thanks to the support of over 10,000 Kickstarter backers is now rolling out its second season with serious audience momentum (episode three had close to 1.3 million views by the time I got around to watching it). This season the episodes are longer (clocking in on an average of 24 minutes), giving the creators ample time to properly construct and explore multiple narrative arcs and flesh out some of their characters. That's a welcome change, as it allows the show's high concept to thrive.

For the uninitiated (or noobs in gamer/netspeak), VGHS is a Web series about "best friends, first loves, and landing that perfect head shot."  Set in the near future where gamers have become the four star lettermen of high school, the show revolves around BrianD, who excels at the first person shooter game Field of Fire.

BrianD earns a spot in the premiere high school for gaming stars, i.e. thee Video Game High School. The show chronicles his adventures at VGHS, including his friends Ki Swan and Ted Wong as well as his love interest—VGHS junior varsity Captain Jenny Matrix.  Naturally, like any high school series, BrianD has a nemesis, varsity captain Lawrence Peppertin, who goes by his gamertag The Law. It's two thirds Harry Potter and one third Scott Pilgrim sans all the "chosen one" stuff, with better graphics, and a pinch of The Big Bang Theory. Overall, VGHS is smart, fun, and quite honestly far better conceptualized than a lot of the series that are airing on TV at the moment.

That's actually where VGHS scores high—the concept is unique but employs lots of classical structures and tropes. Unlike a lot of Web video, the show is well acted, well directed, well shot, and well designed. The dialogue, which at times was weak and clichéd last season, has improved dramatically for the better and is now one of the show's strengths.

Another fantastic improvement this season is the development of some of the secondary characters such as Ted and Ki who were endearing and fun last year, but also cartoonish and two dimensional at times. Particularly enjoyable is Ki's storyline involving her becoming an R.A. since it brings out some of the nuances of her character which were only hinted at in Season 1.

However, here's hope that Ki and Ted's storylines won't come at the cost of Jenny Matrix's screen time; she was such a strong character last season but has yet to show that emotional or physical prowess this year. Same for The Law, who excelled as a supervillain of sorts last season but has been relegated to comedic relief in early Season 2 episodes. And though I find the fallen Law funny (and High School me enjoys seeing the bully be defeated) I hope that he rediscovers his inner bad guy.

But overall, VGHS gets an A-plus, considering its production values rival if not beat higher-budget shows and movies created in that same vein, as well as smart writing, good acting, and just plain excellent storytelling. And while VGHS, like the aforementioned Big Bang, explores on a lot of cultural themes not everyone will appreciate, it still speaks to a large portion of the netizen population. Even if our only exposure the world of gaming consists of babysitting Pokémon-obsessed little brothers in 2001 and still secretly having the high score on Mario Kart on the family Wii.