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Is School an Appropriate Video Game Setting?
by Nate Paolasso on 12/20/12 05:02:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

This article was originally posted on GamerXChange.

School is a huge part of most people’s lives. Whether they’re still a student in high school, or are studying at a college level, almost everyone experiences a school setting for a good portion of their life. During the years spent at school, a lot can happen and change in lives. Friendships start and end, romances come and go, experiences are made, and drama spreads like wildfire. So if such a big part of the average life is spent in school, how come video games aren’t using this setting more often? Or is it even appropriate to use this setting for a video game?

Bully

A few games have used a school as their setting and were pretty successful at that. The Persona series uses a high school as the main setting and it works well for that series. Even games as old as Final Fantasy VIII use a school of sorts as the setting. But by far, the game that best suits this setting, and is the main inspiration for this article, is Bully. Rockstar nailed it on the head for this game. The main protagonist is a student whose parents sent him to a private school for the misbehaved. Think Grand Theft Auto, but replace the guns, cars, and mobsters with baseball bats, bikes, and cliques. Time is spent going to class, or skipping, and performing tasks for cliques and teachers in hopes of taking over the school. Even though many criticized Bully for being a “watered-down” version of GTA, with less violence and gun-play, it is probably the best game with a school setting to ever be made and is one of my personal favorites. Even with its rather cliché portrayal of the students, meaning that the school grounds are littered with very stereotypical versions of bullies, greasers, geeks, jocks, and preps, it still represents high school life better than any game I had played previously.

Developers so readily rush towards the generic settings, like war zones, for their games, that they have become normal and quite boring. Now gamers can expect the yearly Call of Duty, Battlefield, and the odd third-person shooter. It isn’t that these games are bad, they just seem overdone. And if giant developers such as: Atlus, Square-Enix, and Rockstar can use the school setting successfully, and without stepping on too many toes, then I see no reason why other developers don’t take advantage of this hardly used setting. Making this type of game can be tricky, mostly because school deals with children, but time has shown that it can be done right. The school setting is something that I think everyone one can relate to and whether out of love or hate, revisiting this setting through video games is something special.


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Comments


Harold Myles
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I don't really think a setting itself for a video game can be appropriate or inappropriate in general. Possibly a better question would be 'is a particular setting appropriate for a specific audience?' For example if your audience is young kids, then a strip club is not an appropriate setting for a video game. However, if your audience is 30-something male bachelors, well a strip club may be very appropriate.

And then there would be context. If the characters in the game are typical teenagers then a school setting seems very appropriate for those characters. On the other hand, if your character or story revolve around drug dealing murderers, then possibly a school setting is not appropriate. But we do have Super Columbine Massacre RPG!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Columbine_Massacre_RPG!

That seems appropriate for the context, yet some would argue the game is inappropriate in whole.

Anyway, my point is you probably need to be specific about the audience, context, or goal of a game in order to start determining what is appropriate or not.


k s
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I think you nailed it.

Oh and Nathanael Paolasso I too very much enjoyed bully and also thought it represented a school setting very well.

Alan Rimkeit
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This. Took the words out of my mouth.

EDIT: I would like to say that for the sake of a devs game it would be prudent to avoid setting any games in a school for the foreseeable future. Especially if the game has any violence in it. Don't want all the effort of making a game to completion to go to waste because of negative press.

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E Zachary Knight
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Alan,

Why should game developers avoid using schools as a setting, even if violence is present? Because of the recent shootings? I don't see why that should make the setti9ng taboo. Even if temporarily.

Thibaud de Souza
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I was expecting this article would actually raise/discuss (possibly sensitive) issues rather than offer a quick, casual advocacy in a 'let's have a school as setting for a game' format based on... a single game title? Bully at school hardly echoes any school memories I might have.

@Harold - thanks for bringing up Super Columbine Massacre! indeed how could this fail to come up in a discussion about whether or not School is an appropriate video game setting, and for what kind of content!?

What strikes me as deafeningly obvious is that, School is simply a natural setting for a variety of Japanese games, in continuity with its prominence in anime and manga. So, the question may be turned around "why do game developers ignore school as an obvious device that a younger audience will easily connect with?"

With Harry Potter the rabbit has been out of the hat for long enough that, a successful video game franchise using school as its setting is probably well overdue (and I would expect this to be quite different from a 'watered down GTA').

Michael Joseph
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"So, the question may be turned around "why do game developers ignore school as an obvious device that a younger audience will easily connect with?""
--

Great question! And what does the answer reveal about us?

Maybe it's a product of a male dominated industry and associated male power fantasies. it really is odd that there aren't tons of games set at home, church, work, stores, hospital, schools, social gathering, etc. Western developers at least, often avoid making games set in places most of us have been and can easily relate to and instead focus on the places most of us have never been and cannot relate to.

And I suppose if you're bent on making a violent game, to avoid getting caught up in a maelstrom of criticism, you'd better not have it set in the everyday world. (and why in GTA you can't enter homes, churches, schools...)

or maybe too many game devs have bad memories of their primary education years and as a result setting a game in the "real world" does not readily come to mind as being "fun." :D


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game design challenge: make a game that takes place in a car that the player (and any occupants) cannot exit (or where exiting is an abstract game mechanic) and which doesn't involve breaking the law, racing, sport, or performance on a track or course (i.e. no demolition derbies or stunt courses)

Justin LeGrande
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Depends on the game. One Nathon Maton created a concept for a game called 4see on Kickstarter back in April, this year. Since the game was about youth team building and investigation skills, a school setting fitted the game's subject matter naturally. I would say a school setting would typically be most appropriate in a story-based or training-based title.

Georg Fischer
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"Even games as old as Final Fantasy VIII"

That's like 1999(?). 1985 says hello, "Skool Daze" for C64 and ZX Spectrum ;) (and that might very well not have been the first). I don't remember much of the gameplay, I only played it a bit at a friend's house, but what I do remember is that it plays out in school and you're a mischievous boy. There are a couple of gameplay videos on youtube.

Roger Tober
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Personally, I think no, it's not a good idea. If someone is a student, they probably want an escape from a school setting. If someone is out of school, they want to forget what a horrible experience it was. It's like writing a game about slavery, where others tell you what to do and you have to do it or get punished, and there is no escape.

E Zachary Knight
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If what you say is true, then why do movies like Fast Times At Ridgemont High so popular? If people really didn't want to revisit school as a setting, then that movie never would have been a success.

The same with slavery. Why is slavery not a valid topic and/or setting for games but it is for movies and books?

The problem isn't games, it is the developers and designers. We have not moved outside the Blockbuster mentality as of yet, at least not in the mainstream industry. The Indie industry seems to be well suited for exploring topics and settings that are taboo in the mainstream industry.

I am fine with that. I don't mind having blockbusters and indie hits. There is room for them both. However, what I can't tolerate is game developers who want to tell other game developers "No. You can't do that."


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