It’s pretty rough out there if you’re a gamer looking for old-world entertainment made for your culture. Network and cable television are pretty much no-gos aside from the occasional episode of shows like Community or a brief reference here or there. But what about shows just for us?
I know that a lot of of us gamers get our entertainment for free by pirating like the bad Lord intended, but some of us old-timers still like to pay for stuff. And let’s be honest, Netflix deserves our money in ways that companies like Apple, Disney, Comcast, and EA will never comprehend. Plus, they cater to absolutely everybody. Even gamers.
Most of the shows on this list started out as independent webseries because no way does any channel pick them up, but they became popular enough for Netflix to make available to the masses, which is pretty great because for a lot of them they edit the typically sketch-length episodes into feature length presentations, making Netflix the ideal venue to view them. Game on.
This one started way back in 2003 as a machinima using the multiplayer component of Halo: Combat Evolved to create comedy gold. It populariized the art form on the net, put Rooster Teeth on the map, and has even spawned an official Halo multiplayer mode, Griffball. And it’s still going.
The original premise was as simple as the title with two differently-colored groups of soldiers seeking to eliminate each other in often hilarious ways iterating the woes of mulltiplayer gaming. Early episodes include a plasma grenade stick to someone’s helmet mistaken for a spider, the coining of the phrase “team-killing fucktard”, and the funniest game of capture the flag ever played.
As new Halo games were released, RvB upgraded and evolved, satirizing its parent series all the way- at one point teaming up with Microsoft to release a pre-launch video for Halo 3 demonstrating the improved tea-bagging physics. While the show typically avoids anything approaching Halo canon it’s built up its own world and timeline to rival the game’s, becoming increasingly complicated as it’s progressed beyond the sitcom format. Not bad for a bunch of guys doing funny voices over video game footage.
It’s no surprise that the only non-webseries on the list is from Japan, given the way gaming is integrated into their culture, but SAO is an unusual show even by anime standards. Taking place almost entirely within a near-future virtual reality MMORPG, the premise seems silly enough: if you die in the game, you die irl (dum- dum-duuuummmmm!), but the series takes itself and gaming very seriously and opens the viewers up to the very real possibilities of future entertainment technology allowing bad people direct access to our brains throough VR interface.
In spite of the concerns of fusing our minds with technology, SAO treats gaming as a lifestyle rather than a mere hobby or pastime. When an insane video game developer traps all first day players’ minds in his virtual world, some of them don’t even mind, preferring virtual reality to their own lives. The world is populated by the different kinds of people one encounters online, from villainous player killers only out for their own gain to people grouping together and regimenting strategies to beat the next dungeon and everything in between.
Sword Art Online has the distinction of airing on Cartoon Network during the late night Toonami block, making it the closest thing we’ve got to mainstream success with a television show based around playing video games. And it’s not even a comedy.
I probably don’t have to tell you who Felicia Day is, but I will anyways: actress, writer, producer, avid gamer, veritable internet goddess, and patron saint of geek culture. The occasional Whedonverse occupant went on to create and star in her very own webseries where she pretty much did everything but play all of the characters herself, and it’s beyond entertaining.
The story follows a group of gamers who share nothing aside from a deep abiding love of the World of Warcraft-esque MMO and the guild they formed. Older episodes typically started with video diaries from Day’s character Codex putting the kind of anti-social anxiety and bizarre neuroses that often plague hardcore gamers on full display (although it’s somehow a lot more charming when she does it), which right off the bat puts the show in a league of its own.
“The Game” (as it’s referred to by the characters) is never actually shown on-screen as the show focuses exclusively on the characters themselves and the comedy of having so many different bizarre personalities colliding with one another. However, Day has written a comic series detailing some of the cast’s in-game exploits. Simply put, The Guild is one of the funniest things you can watch and another testament to the virtues of low budget do-it-yourself entertainment.
VGHS was a long-form webseries with surprisingly high production values (thanks to a very successful Kickstarter campaign) whose creators include pro gamer/actor/internet personality Freddie Wong. It managed three seasons leading up to a surprisingly epic finale and even beyond the other internet sensations on this list shows what can be done outside of the mainstream entertainment industry.
VGHS takes place in a satirical dystopian (utopian?) future where gaming is an extremely important cultural force and presidential elections are decided in a reality show competition. And the finale of said show is subject to interruption if a particularly epic FPS match breaks out. The titular institution is a world famous school where the finest gamers of the world congregate to learn to be the best of the best. Cliques are naturally formed according to gaming preferences, and the results are pretty hilarious.
The actual gaming is portrayed in live action with special effects which is a pretty cool approach. The cast were really charming with some really funny over-the-top performances and cameos from gaming industry figures. Good times are pretty much guaranteed if you give this one a try, and it’s probably the best example of what happens when gamers get together to make their own fun outside of their typical medium.