Gaming

High School Story and the Destruction of Social Cliques

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“Hey,” a friend said at dinner one night while she intently stared and clicked at her iPhone. “You should play High School Story.”

I didn’t get it at first (why would I want to relive high school?), until one night I got really, really bored and downloaded the free mobile game. It wasn’t more than a day before I was obsessed, waiting intently for my avatar, pink-haired Abbie, to complete various quests with her classmates.

High School Story

I look great.

PREMISE

The premise is simple: Live high school your way. The game starts with a few patches of land and you. You soon meet Autumn, a girl who attends Hearst High and wishes she could leave because she doesn’t fit in there. At first her dad won’t let her transfer, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to help you create a brave new world for her fellow misfit classmates.

Say hello to your new best friend.

Say hello to your new best friend.

See, Hearst High is the worst of the worst in high school. It’s ruled by Jock Max and Cheerleader Kara. They terrorize many of the other students, such as forcing Nerd Nishan to do their homework and benching fellow Jock Julian.

In High School Story, you create the high school you wish you had, and invite the other forgotten or terrorized students to join you in a world where no one is punished for being who they are–where they are instead celebrated for being themselves.

GAMEPLAY

Your currency in the game consists of coins and rings. Rings allow you to rush quests or the completion of construction, parties, or dates, while coins allow you to purchase decorations, hangouts, and classrooms for your school. While you can purchase coins and rings with real world money, it is not required to play the game, and they start you off with an extremely healthy number of rings. You can also watch videos to earn rings regularly, so never fear if you’re running low.

The game allows you to connect via Game Center or Facebook, and you can link your students to your friends. THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST FUN PARTS. I get updates on my feed every time Wallflower Courtney goes on a date with Wallflower Diego at my friend’s school. I also get rings every time Jock Courtney participates in a quest at Kelly’s school!

High School Story

You begin the game with a basic set of students: Preps, Jocks, and Nerds. I started off as a Prep, but what you choose doesn’t affect any of the gameplay. Your first few quests involve helping your newly admitted students. For example, my first student was a Nerd and I had to help her start a convention for a fake TV show that was obviously based on Firefly.

You earn money for each student you admit, but also through quests. Each quest is centered around assisting students with their problems. For example, my Dancer needed to win a dance competition and prove to her ex that she was over him and didn’t need him anymore.

The Vampire’s quest is my favorite so far. Yes, you heard me correctly.

High School Story

High School Story

High School Dracula

Classrooms allow you to purchase books (with often hilarious titles, such as “Protect Ya Neck”, “101 Garlic Recipes”, “Sparkles: A Fallacy”, and “Raising the Stakes”), which help you level up your students–necessary to complete certain quests. Another game element is Party Central, where you can throw parties with two students to meet new students to admit to your school. For example, if you throw a party with a Nerd and a Jock, you can admit a Gamer. If you throw a party with a Jock and a Prep, you can admit a Cheerleader.

There’s also the Isle of Love, but I don’t think it serves much of a purpose aside from allowing you to send characters on dates and earn money each time their relationship approaches a new level. I’ve taken to sending my favorite comics characters on dates. Cloak and Dagger are currently “Online Official”.

WHY THIS GAME IS SO GREAT

Despite how the game is structured, i.e. each character is defined by their high school stereotype, the entire point of the game is to deconstruct how we use those stereotypes to define our interactions. Instead of saying that a nerd cannot hang out with a jock, the game encourages us to throw the two together and allow them to see how they complement each other. Often no single character can complete a quest without help from a member of a different social group. With this storytelling device, the game shatters our ingrained notions of how high school should be, and destroys the high school clique as a way of restricting our behaviors, interactions, and social norms.

You can also make your students look however you want them to, and many of the “default” looks are people of color. Honestly, that’s one thing I find so refreshing about the game — it’s very diversity friendly. Even if you subconsciously (or consciously) want to make a school entirely of white people, the game doesn’t allow you to do that. Each of the main characters that you admit are people of color, or could very easily be people of color. The only exceptions to this so far (i.e. people who, to me, are pretty obviously white) are Cheerleader Mia and Slacker Wes. To give you a frame of reference though, the other “main characters” I’ve admitted are Jock Julian, Prep Payton, Nerd Nishan, Musician Ezra, and Artist Autumn. Even amongst your “rivals” and side characters the majority of the students you meet are not white.

High School Story

The game is also extremely LGB friendly. You can send characters (and your avatar!!) on any combination of dates — guys with guys, girls with girls, break the couple up and then send them on a date with a character of the opposite sex, etc. One of the main characters, Mia, mentions her ex-girlfriend almost immediately, and none of it is treated as a big deal. It’s just normal and a fact of life. Heck, during your first interaction with your (female) rival, you’re offered the option of flirting with her instead of fighting her, even if you’re playing as a female.

Also super cool–the game teamed up with Cybersmile to craft a realistic (okay, as realistic as a mobile game gets) story about cyberbullying centered around Julian’s little sister, Hope. She kisses a boy at a party who she didn’t realize was still dating someone and is subjected to harassment and online bullying. You help her through it, eventually earning her a new friend and the assistance of her school faculty and parents.

It’s a great arc, because up to that point mostly the answer to bullying has been, “Quit your school and come join mine!” While this is great in theory, it’s not exactly a real life option for many teens. Hope’s story provides a realistic solution to a very real world problem.

So, let’s sum up: High School Story’s premise is centered around accepting the people around you for who they are, embracing their differences as well as your own, and coming together to support and encourage each other. The game’s winning formula rests on its dedication to diversity and to stop bullying while offering a mobile gaming experience at a low price point and relaxed time commitment.

Just give it a try. I promise you’ll be just as obsessed as I am in no time.

Crazy cat lady and comics enthusiast. Addicted to regency romance novels and young adult lit.

11 Comments

  1. Rachel

    January 22, 2014 at 8:23 PM

    Ah, shit, a new game for me to stare at on my iPhone.

    • Courtney Lang

      January 22, 2014 at 8:50 PM

      Yes. Good. Join us.

      • Kelly

        January 22, 2014 at 9:00 PM

        You and your HS Story Cult (WHY CAN’T I STOP PLAYING)!!

        • Courtney Lang

          January 23, 2014 at 6:03 AM

          BECAUSE IT IS THE BEST
          ps I finally got a Wallflower girl.

    • Kelly

      January 22, 2014 at 8:59 PM

      I play it on my iPad for maximum resolution >___>

  2. Jackie

    January 23, 2014 at 9:16 AM

    While the game is well served with it’s POC representation, I argue the LGB representation is within the game’s “canon” is pretty slim. Sure you can send all characters on dates with students of the same gender, but the game’s various storylines only involve heterosexual couples. Julian and Autumn have little crushes on each other, Nishan’s got a girl back at Hearst, and Ezra is strictly a ladies’ man. Any attempts at adding LGB representation in the main cast are entirely forgettable. Now, maybe later storylines later in the game feature LGB characters.. but I’m already on level 11 with no “canon” LGB characters in sight. How long am I supposed to wait?

    For people who don’t know what “canon” characters are, these characters are automatically added to your school to move the plot forward. You get them as rewards for achievements and they cannot be customized or sold. Apparently their sexuality is uncustomizable as well, since the narrative projects them all as straight. Sure I can make them go on dates with members of the same sex, but that doesn’t stop the game from pushing its suggestions for hetero couples. It doesn’t matter if I want Julian and Nishan to be online official, the main storyline will hint at the “true” pairing for canon characters is always between a boy and a girl . I don’t really judge a game for trying to hold my hand through some clique breaking romances (I happen to think Julian and Autumn would be cute together), but apparently it’s too much for Pixelberry to suggest same-sex romances in its main cast. After all, if within the game’s narrative Mia hinted at having a crush on Payton, you can still hook her up with the Vampire guy you just met at a spooky party. The game won’t stop you from making a character LGB, but it sure as hell won’t encourage it. The only time it does is when it says you can “flirt” with a bullying cheerleader to throw her off guard, even if your character is a girl. Excellent, the only use of homosexuality in the canon storyline is as an attack.

    The cyberbullying plotline also is bizarre for it’s lack of LGB issues. Yes, Hope’s story does offer real solutions for kids who might be struggling. If only we could clear up the misunderstanding between Hope and Chelsea, she’ll stop bullying. Sure, but what about for the kids who are cyberbullied over their sexuality? The only misunderstanding there is that the bullies believe this is an acceptable way of treating their peers. The Hope storyline offers nothing to LGB kids who might be struggling with oneline harassment, short of “tell an authority figure.” I’m not saying the Hope storyline needs to provide all the answers, but given the growing percentage of LGB kids affected by cyberbullying who resort to drastic measures, their absence in the game’s “very special episode” storyline is worrisome. I’m happy Pixelberry created a game which exists in a world where kids won’t be bullied for their sexual orientation, but erasing them from the story does nothing for issue.

    That said, once I hit post, I’m immediately gonna see how many more hours until I admit my Homecoming King.

    • Courtney Lang

      January 23, 2014 at 5:17 PM

      These are all really great points, and hopefully Pixelberry will address this in the future. I’m honestly holding onto the idea that maybe in Mia’s next plot we actually have something addressing her sexuality and using it as a plot device. But hoping and having proof the studio is taking care to highlight LGB diversity through the main storyline are two entirely different things, and very important to point out.

  3. Victoria

    January 23, 2014 at 10:09 PM

    I am sad that this doesn’t exist for Kindle. Because I would totally play.

    • Kelly

      January 24, 2014 at 8:51 AM

      It’s on Android!

  4. Andrea

    February 11, 2014 at 3:24 PM

    (1) Wish I could add somebody here. One of the downsides of being a grown up Is that inviting a buddy to play this game is no way. (Not even so much because it is about high school, as because Each step of the game can take hours to complete! BTW Please pardon any weird capitalization, as I am dictating into my phone and editing for picky details wastes time saved. :) )
    (2) more to the point of your review, when a date between characters went particularly really badly, with one character being incredibly rude to the other one, I took that as a cue to break them up. to my amazement, the game wasn’t programmed to connect one character’s bad behavior with the other character wanting to break up, so the rude character (Boy) broke up with the insulted character (girl) because of her supposedly liking her car a lot. in a game not supposed to teach anyone anything, I would overlook it more easily than in a game having a subtext of “here is how you treat people.” it’s probably too complex to expect, but it would be nice if the game could keep track of someone being rude to another someone and connect that to a subsequent break up.
    (3) on a much more clearcut programming front: what on earth is up with the homecoming queen costing something like 18000 while the king is more like 500? I’ve noticed that for some character types, there is a small disparity between a boy and a girl, but this is bizarre. it may really be about rarity, but for a lot of girls, it would suggest homecoming queens are much, much more important than homecoming kings … and there is just something uncomfortable about that in terms of gender roles. but whatever, they are trying.

  5. Agitha Rhynes

    February 16, 2014 at 2:53 PM

    The trouble I find with sweet games like this, is linking them to real world people playing. I don’t nearly have enough friends willing to play weird obsessive games like this with me, which is a tragedy all in its own. But i’m definitely going to try it out on my android!

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