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Good Game is a gaming culture based drama-comedy that just finished its first-season on Youtube Red. Created by internet personalities Jesse Cox and Michelle Morrow, produced by Dan Harmon, and staring Arin Hanson and Dan Avidan of Game Grumps fame, this show is made by gamers for gamers and has been received positively.
Good Game has the potential to both suffer and benefit from being made for such a niche audience. While those with little experience in the gaming community could be turned off by the show's premise, others who identify as being part of gaming culture could become dedicated to a show that gives a comedic but honest portrayal of what the culture is like.
There are some who are angry that this show is on a paid service when they are used to getting most of these creator's content for free. This show is premium content, however, and feels like it belongs on a service such as Netflix or Hulu, which is a first for something on YouTube Red. The rest of YouTube Red's catalog is lackluster and seems like more of the same of what's on the free side of YouTube.
The story of Good Game follows Alex and Ryland, two broke nerds played by Dan Avidan and Arin Hanson, as they embark on a last-ditch effort to get rich. Alex discovers an E-Sports tournament with a payout of one million dollars. To win the payout they must put together a competitive team for Killcore, the show's version of DotA.
They assemble each member of the team within the first episode, but their divergent personalities get in the way of them developing a good dynamic. In each episode, they explore a different character as they work out their flaws. These flaws never get fully resolved. They're still bad people at the end of the season, but they manage to get it together so that they can work as a team
Throughout the season, Kamal (Rahul Abburi) learns to stop being toxic to his teammates. Sam (Jade Payton) learns that she can't overtax herself with her competitive nature. Ash (Michelle Morrow) finds that she can pursue her dream career, but not as she expected it to be. Lorenzo (Michael Ornstein) finds a group of people that mostly accept him. Alex becomes the coach the team needs and receives the recognition he needs. Ryland moves on past the traumatic events that put him in the position he was in at the beginning of the series.
The end of each episode is capped off with the story of Killcore's creator, Jesse, played by Jesse Cox, who is also one of the show's creators. Jesse views his game as a soul-sucking monolith that people dedicate their lives to, ruining every other aspect of their existence. He wanted Killcore to be nothing more than a casual hobby. To remedy this, he seeks ways to create a stigma around the game, causing its player base to collapse.
There are many strengths to this show that make it stand out from any other YouTube based media and make it feel more like the kind of premium content you'd see on Netflix or Hulu. The center point of the show is the characters. Each character is a fully-fleshed personality with flaws, strengths, and a development that continues throughout the entire first season.
Each character gets a full episode dedicated to them as they explore their flaws and try to find a way to work within the team dynamic. Even the main plot of the show is an arc for the two main characters, Alex and Ryland, which starts in episode one and doesn't complete its development until the last episode of the season.
The focus on character was a smart choice on the parts of the creators, as the premise itself, as stated by the show, is inherently inaccessible for a large portion of the population. These characters are strengthened by snappy dialogue that is indicative of the show's executive producer, Dan Harmon. None of the jokes fall flat and the show is full of references for gamers and non-gamers alike.
Like Dan Harmon's other creations, it walks the fine line between being offensive and being witty with grace. Good Game makes commentary on parts of internet culture such as SJWs, toxicity, and swatting but instead of aggressively taking a side, it asks the question of, "Why can't people just be decent to each other?"
For those familiar with the internet personalities, they might think that it would be weird to see these people in a scripted show. This is something that Good Game handles remarkably well, as each member of the cast put time and care into perfecting their craft to embody the characters they play. Arin and Dan from Game Grumps portray characters modeled after their own behavior, but they do it in such a way that makes them unrecognizable in moments of high tension.
All of this praise is not to say the show is without weaknesses. The major downfalls of Good Game come with the beating out of the series itself.
Episode one is by far the weakest episode. It feels like any other pilot of a show that isn't revolutionary. It gets bogged down in exposition as it tries to establish the cast, Killcore, and the backstory. The show quickly picks up the pace in the second episode, but it was the wit of the dialogue that saved the pilot.
As the show progresses, there are some beats that feel forced or out of place. This is most prominent with episode four, where the team streams on a service like Twitch in attempts to raise support for their team. While there is a roughly explained reason for them to want to be raising support there are no stakes being raised in terms of their current objective. It is not until the midpoint of the episode does a new threat come into play. It feels like this episode was created just to have a streaming episode.
The new threat is resolved but then it falls into another reoccurring issue the show has. Throughout the series, they open plot hooks that could make for great episodes but they don't have any sort of payoff. At the end of episode four, Ryland has blackmail material he could use on his longtime rival Steaming, but all he does is mention it. There isn't any additional conflict added because of this material being introduced. It would make sense if this development leads to a game of brinksmanship between the two, but instead, it falls flat and is never seen again.
Another hook is revealed in the last episode where Sam, played by Jade Payton, reveals that she has a bad habit of hooking up with other people's significant others. This hook is acted upon when she kisses Lorenzo's companion at a party, however, there is no payoff. Lorenzo and Sam can work together without any issues throughout the rest of the tournament. The scene could have been cut without any effect on the rest of story,
One of the most standout features of this show is the communication between the creators and the audience. Good Game's creators Jesse Cox and Michelle Morrow, and the lead actors, Arin Hanson and Dan Avidan, are all prominent internet personalities with their own productions available for free viewing on YouTube. They used this avenue to open a line of communication with the audience where they discussed the show's production.
Jesse and Michelle uploaded a Creator Talk-Back a few days after each episode where they answered audience questions regarding that week's episode and posed them new questions to think about going into the next episode.
Arin and Dan mounted a 360 camera in their office and invited the audience to watch select clips with them in a VR Watch Party. They would talk about the intricacies of filming each scene and the process they went through going from being voice actors and comedians to being trained screen-actors.
This effort on online community building is unheard of with most traditional media and appears to be the result of merging new-media talent and platforms with traditional media methods. It pays off. This is already a product made for a niche-audience with a high-potential for dedication. By involving the audience this much, the creators may have weaponized them until Good Game is greenlit for a second season.
What Knights of Badassery was for the LARPing and RPG community, Good Game could become for the PC Gaming and MOBA community. A piece of culture that says, "We get it. This is a fun community and we're proud to be part of it." A centerpiece of a gamer's DVD collection that they can use to introduce others to their hobby.
Overall, Good Game is quality-content well worth watching. Despite its downfalls, it is strong enough to carry on and makes for enjoyable viewing.