VGHSImagine, if you will, an alternate world of the near future. A world where video games have become more popular than any other form of entertainment. A world where high school varsity teams revolve not around physical sports but instead around computer-generated scenarios. A world where every teen dreams of being accepted to . . . Video Game High School.

Okay, so that’s enough of me channeling Rod Serling. 

I’ve said many times, though not on this blog, that webseries are the future of entertainment. That doesn’t mean that a mass of crowdfunded indie film studios will topple the big names; no, I mean that the big names will pick up on this plan and finally start shedding some of the dinosaur bones sticking out of their business models.

Some of the big names have started poking around the edges; but for now, this is the domain of indie productions, taking advantage of the phenomenal increases in technology we’ve had in just the last twenty years.  A couple of smart guys in their basement can do what Hollywood technicians used to only dream of, and can render it all in time for dinner. Years ago, my friends and I demonstrated this using both live-action and stop-motion animation films, and that was with a budget somewhere in the realm of “peanuts,” a casting pool the size of “who do we know who might help out?,” and a talent level as high as “What does this button do?”

A few years ago, a couple of guys named Freddie Wong and Brandon Laatsch got together (in a loft, not a basement) and started making fun videos. That wound up being so successful that they decided to make their own webseries called Video Game High School. What’s more, they decided to fund it using Kickstarter. It was, as you might imagine from my lead-up, a success. To say the least.

As I said in the intro, the show takes place in the near future, when video games have become major sports. The date is never given, and the characters use a lot of present-day technology; but it’s been long enough that producer Freddie Wong can play himself as the (not very likeable) father of one of the VGHS main characters. However, since it’s also a world where one of the other characters is the daughter of a former pro-circuit video gamer, we can guess it’s an alternate universe as well.

But the details are beside the point, since this show’s main genre is satire. It pokes fun at video games, sports, high school, dorm life, and basically anything they can fit into the plot. And yet the plot doesn’t suffer any more than it has to for the sake of satire, even in the first season.

VGHS Season One consists of nine ten-minute episodes, but taken as a whole it’s actually a feature-length movie — and it’s clearly written with that in mind, despite the episodic format. It starts as Brian Doheny (gamertag BrianD), the best player on his team, accidentally does what no one does: he kills Lawrence Pepperton (gamertag The Law), the most popular, most skilled, most arrogant FPS champion in the world. This gets him an immediate scholarship to Video Game High School, where The Law is the FPS varsity captain. Since this is a story about high school, this predictably means Law is the antagonist of the story, making it his personal mission to prove that BrianD is nothing more than a one-shot wonder.

502107108_1376969322Brian meets the three other protagonists of VGHS on his first day: best friend Ted Wong (son of Freddie Wong, master of rhythm gaming, who in real life did win first place in Guitar Hero 2 at the 2007 World Series of Video Games), Ki Swan (daughter of two famous game designers), and Brian’s love interest Jennifer “Jenny Matrix” Mattheus (daughter of Mary Matrix, former captain of the Denver Commandos, a professional gaming team).

Things don’t go well, but the story keeps well away from being a stereotypical Disney movie. In fact, despite how VGHS only teaches gaming (the acceptance video states, among other things, “You will not study physics; you will study physics engines”), it feels like an actual high school, and not just “Hogwarts for video games.” It’s a setting where you can take just about every problem a teen faces in school — bullies, young love, heartbreak, an overbearing principal, a demanding coach, crazy teachers, living up to expectation, the tyranny of public opinion — and we can sit back and laugh at it all because it’s satire.

Science fiction tends to do that, letting us step back from our ordinary light and reexamine it simply because it looks different enough from reality. In that, VGHS does what shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer never could: show us the real day-to-day life of teens in a fantastic setting.

A large part of that is the acting. Despite being “only” a webseries, Rocket Jump Studios has managed to attract phenomenal talent (and even gets a cameo from the one and only Stan Lee in the first episode of the second season). Brian and Ted are excellent as the classic clueless, loveable dorks; but Ki and Jenny are the ones who truly shine. I don’t want to say that the male leads only play off their female costars, because that would be completely untrue; but it’s clear who dominates the screen when the ladies are on.

Equally important for the series is the special effect suite, and Rocket Jump gives a strong showing in the first season and excels in the second. I’ve seen worse special effects from big-budget films in recent years. Any show about video games has to depend heavily on special effects, and they work hand-in-hand with top-notch stunt coordination and excellent camera work.

At the risk of harping on the quality too much, I want to repeat that Rocket Jump is doing this on a fraction of what the big names would use for something not nearly as fun. When I say this is the future of entertainment, I mean what I say. Felicia Day and her show The Guild demonstrated that webseries could be a profitable business; Rocket Jump is proving that webseries don’t have to think small.

With a budget nearly four times as large as their first season, the second season is comprised of six half-hour episodes. Unlike Season One, this actually does feel like a TV season, with an overarching storyline but separate episodes. I’m strongly tempted to say that this is the “real” season one, since as I said the previous season feels like a pilot film instead. It expands on the first season, introducing a few new situations, new games (including the amusing “Pokermon,” the game where you “Gotta Bluff ‘Em All”), new antagonists, and new rocks for our heroes to fall on.

I was delaying my review until the end of the season, and the final episode was just released. My spoiler-free review of the entire season is that I’m impressed, entertained, and very eager to see Season Three. The story ended on both high and low notes simultaneously, with three different arcs (Brian/Jenny/Law, Ki, and Ted) coming to ends that aren’t quite cliffhangers, but definitely promise higher stakes in the next installment.

This show is for anyone who’s a fan of gaming, indie filming, satire, or just wants to have a fun time despite not knowing your FPS from your RAM. The one and only thing negative about it is that only some of the first season is captioned, and I hope that will be fixed soon. I want Elizabeth and her husband-to-be to enjoy this too.