Video Game High School

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So many video game movies are such serious affairs. Not so much serious as in humorless conversions (though those certainly exist), but serious as in serious business: the producer stands by checking off things that will make a successful video game a successful video game movie. Hitman, Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider, Doom, the list goes on. And generally these fall flat, they don’t ring true to the built-in gamer audience and they certainly don’t draw in regular movie-goers.

I recently rewatched Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which isn’t really a video game movie, but thanks to a snappy script filled with gaming references and action scenes that pay homage to the 8-bit classics of our youth, it bucks the system. Instead of a video game based in reality, Scott Pilgrim is reality based in a video game. This idea inspired me to find at least one other entry in this genre, and I discovered Video Game High School.

You get what you expect in Video Game High School: a high school about video games. Set in a world where e-sports make headline news and its players are superstars and celebrities, VGHS imagines a Hogwarts-like school where potential prodigies are invited to learn about music games and try out for FPS Varsity. While not as sharply written or acted as Scott Pilgrim, it still manages to be a really fun two hours.

Beginning as a Kickstarter project which funded a nine part web series, Video Game High School was later edited together as a feature film. If I hadn’t done a bit of reading about it beforehand, I would have had no idea this was ever a bunch of episodes strung together, let alone a successfully funded Kickstarter. There’s already a Kickstarter for season two which is a bit more ambitious, but the goal is apparently set at the exact amount it cost to produce the first season and movie.

In Video Game High School’s equivalent to the “shot heard ‘round the world”, BrianD kills The Law in the game Field of Fire and manages to become the number one story in the world for weeks on end. The tone is quickly set that video games are a Big Deal in this world and worthy of multiple EPSN-like channels and interruption of news that the President of the United States is still missing. It feels a bit like a prelude to Ready Player One, an excellent dystopian novel where essentially no one has a social life outside of a worldwide MMO virtual reality game.

BrianD is invited to attend VGHS, a prestigious institution where games are everything and instead of trying out for Varsity Football, students strive towards Varsity FPS. There’s also a leaderboard that ranks everyone in the school by skill, sink too low and you’re expelled, rise high and become an international superstar like The Law.

Our hero, while highly skilled, faces bullying from other students including The Law, who see his fame as short-lived and undeserved. In some aspects, Video Game High School is a pretty typical adolescent movie. Brian faces the challenges of attending a new school, making new friends, and pissing off the wrong people. It’s easily identifiable and made even more interesting with the video game setting.

But the real highlight is Field of Fire, the first person shooter featured throughout the film. Instead of looking over the characters’ shoulders while they stare at a monitor, Field of Fire is portrayed as a live action interpretation in pretty well directed scenes. The violence is honestly a bit shocking at first, there’s no blood or gore or deathly screams, but the teenagers are still running around wielding realistic looking weapons shooting at each other within close range. It’s made palatable by the hyper-pixelated sprays the characters explode into upon death, similar to Scott Pilgrim’s fight scenes. While not exactly kid friendly, these extended battle sequences are highly entertaining and always relevant to the story in some manner.

And while Monster energy drinks are everywhere and various keyboard and mouse manufacturers seem to have lent their hardware and name, I don’t believe there are any actual real video games mentioned in the movie. It’s a bit jarring at first when they break out the Dance Ex Machina arcade cabinet to play an obvious DDR clone, but overall it’s not too distracting. There are still plenty of overt references tossed in to Super Mario Bros. and such, and part of the fun is figuring out what game the fake game is representing. Surprisingly, most of the onscreen gaming footage actually looks pretty well made. That Kickstarter money was well spent.

Video Game High School walks a very fine line between camp and crap, but manages to stay on its feet and be funny the whole time. I would definitely recommend checking it out either online or through Netflix.

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