Okay, so first things first. I haven’t really blogged about Husker football for a while. And since Husker football seems to be all I blog about any more that means I haven’t really blogged about anything for a while. It started innocently enough–for one reason or another I missed several games in a row. Without seeing the games I couldn’t exactly say anything about them. But the reason changed when I read this article from TIME. It told the story of a high school player who suffered a traumatic brain injury and died during a routine football play.
Not a helmet-to-helmet collision. Not even a particularly violent hit. Chad Stover dove at the runningback’s legs, the back moved to avoid the tackle, and a helmet connected with a thigh. A few minutes later Stover fell to the ground as if his legs had turned to water.
The tagline of the article, “Is Football Worth It?” got me thinking that day. By which I mean I literally asked myself ‘How many deaths is it worth it to be able to enjoy this game?’
And as soon as I thought that, I was, thankfully, appropriately horrified at myself. Because the answer should be obvious. Stupidly obvious. It should be so obvious that the question becomes irrelevant.
So I decided I need to take a step back from football and evaluate how important it is to me. I’m not saying that no one should ever watch football again because it’s an immoral activity. I’m not even saying I’m not watching it any more. But I definitely need to make it a less important part of my life and less of a focus for me.
Which is probably good. It had really come to dominate my blog in a way that I never really intended. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve been meaning to blog about and had trouble finding time.
So I’m going to start by critiquing a popular internet series that ended two weeks ago and everyone’s already made up their minds about or hasn’t heard of yet!
Okay, so it’s an odd place to start, but there is something of a plan here. This actually is part of a planned series of loosely connected posts on a topic that I feel is very important and not very frequently discussed.
So, the internet series in question is the Freddie Wong creation Video Game High School. If you didn’t know that from the title of this blog post then you are obviously unacquainted. I weep for you. It debuted two years ago on YouTube and I loved it. I watched it several times, recommended it to anyone I thought might even slightly enjoy it, and quoted it incessantly to any of my friends who’d seen it.
But as much as I enjoyed it, I wasn’t satisfied. The show had created a world that intrigued me, a world where they interrupt news reports about the president’s being apparently kidnapped to tell you what happened in recent game of Field of Fire, the most popular (and apparently only) first-person shooter. A world where students have to get invited to attend a high school that only teaches them how to be better at video games.
I had so many questions. Are they the only school that does this? What happens to kids who don’t get an invitation? We know the FPS team is like the school’s football team, so what do their competitions look like? What was the situation with the president?
The show never got around to answering these questions, instead focusing in on the lives of a few of the characters. So you can imagine, then, my excitement when a friend informed me that season 2 was about to begin filming.
Season 2 expanded its scope on this little world, exactly as I’d wanted, and was followed by season 3, which showed us the playoffs our heroic FPS team had qualified for and culminated in an epic climactic showdown between the show’s heroes and villains. I loved it.
And at the same time I really, really hated it. Season 1 may have left me unsatisfied when it ended, but season 2, and especially 3, for all the good things you could say about them, and there are a lot, left me feeling frustrated and empty.
For all of its flaws and shortcomings, season 1 worked wonderfully because it knew what it was. And what it was was a professional wrestling storyline. Which is amazing, I love professional wrestling! They told the story perfectly (seriously, WWE, take some notes): the hero, BrianD, was likeable. The villain, The Law, was delightfully hammy. The main character is a clear underdog who has to overcome incredible odds, and does. It was well-crafted story telling. It may have been a simple story, but it was told well.
When the showed moved into the second, and especially third season the creators
tried to move it in a darker, more mature direction… sort of. And it worked… sort of.
It’s definitely possible to make such a transition. The Harry Potter series is a fantastic example of this. The first book tells a very lighthearted story about several 11-year-olds who save the world by overcoming obstacles that were designed to stop much older, smarter, more powerful wizards. No matter what mistakes they make, the consequences the characters face are minor, and no matter what the characters may tell us, the stakes never seem very high. Heck, one of the climaxes of the story is over who wins the school’s award for most brownie points. It’s definitely a story told from a child’s perspective.
Six book’s later, the story had completely changed. We had seen the characters face dire consequences for their actions over and over again, and the story was no longer told to us from the perspective of a child but of a maturing adult. Regardless of anything else about the story, one thing Rowling’s series did very well was to allow its characters, and its audience, to grow over time.
For a much poorer example of this type of storytelling, consider the character development (or lack thereof) of Barney Stinson in the otherwise great How I Met Your Mother. When the show started, Barney was a childish and insincere womanizer. Toward the end of season 3, the writers got bored of that or something and decided he’d be much more interesting with a love interest. So they made him fall in love with Robin (and then a series of other women probably because the show went on longer than they intended it to and then Robin again) and he
became a character we were supposed to sympathize with and take seriously.
Except he also wasn’t. The writers couldn’t commit to getting rid of the frat-boy character they’d created, so they kept him. Barney became a character we were supposed to alternately laugh at as he hatched yet another scheme to trick some girl into sex, then shed a tear for because he couldn’t land the girl of his dreams.
It’s no coincidence that this is when the show went downhill and never really recovered.
For its part, VGHS follows the Stinson arc much more closely than the Potter one. Possibly because there were “too many cooks” (the series had four creators, each of whom were also involved in writing and directing), but the series really lost a clear sense of direction, of even what it was trying to be after this first season. It became a show where its two leads can have a very well done, believable, even poignant breakup in one episode (a scene that definitely benefited from the fact that the actors are actually married), and the next episode squabble like a couple ripped straight from a sitcom while a laugh track plays in the background.
And when the sitcom gets dull, a main character dies and we spend the rest of the episode contemplating death and grief and the relationship between parents and children.
Taken by themselves, any of these parts are fine. Great, even. But pieces of a show don’t exist in a vacuum. There has to be a logic to it, some amount of internal consistency.
And this problem ultimately culminates in the series finale. See, I can believe in a world where a ragtag group of high schoolers come together and somehow beat a team of professionals at their own game (literally, in this case). And I can believe in a world where beating someone at a video game not only prevents them from demolishing your school, but somehow undoes the business deal that gave them ownership of it in the first place.
I could accept all that.
But I cannot reconcile that with a world where the two characters who clearly love each other, characters who the story has been telling us were meant to be together from the second episode don’t end up together.
If you want to tell a story, you can’t tell it in a world where some conflicts have resolutions that are easy to the point of stupidity, and other conflicts have no resolution at all.
If you want to tell a story, you have to have a clear idea of the story you want to tell.
And that’s where VGHS fell so frustratingly short. For all the great successes and lesser flaws in the series, that’s where it was ultimately, fundamentally flawed.