Gaming

Dangerous High School Girls is Fun But Potentially Triggering

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Inventive, hilarious, and relatively diverse, Mousechief’s Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble! is the kind of game you can fall into easily, but just as easily pause when your real life duties call. However, despite its charm, it isn’t for anyone who might be triggered by content like sexual assault.

Gameplay

Indie dev Mousechief obviously put a lot of enthusiasm into DHSGiT!, as well as a love of 1920s Americana, satire, and feminism. And I want to say upfront that the game is rated “TEEN”, so go into it expecting mature content.

The premise is pretty simple: you choose a “Queen”, one of several aforementioned dangerous high school girls. Your Queen forms her gang (also composed of ladies with questionable hem-lengths) and they taunt, flirt, gamble, and fib their way through a vintage board game-style town still mired in tradition and xenophobia. You level up against the townsfolk, which sometimes leads to long stretches of your gang grinding by getting into taunt fights with local pharmacists.

DHSGiT!: Board

I was impressed by the selection of potential Queens. There’s a variety of skill sets, interests, and hobbies among them, such as political action, nature, fashion, or flirting. None of these things are painted as inherently more or less important than the others, simply individual to each girl. And they’re not all great, either: Mildred, my chosen Queen, was into suffrage (whoo!) but also prohibition (spoiler: that’s not gonna work out well, Mildred). The Queens are also pretty diverse: there were definitely women of color and at least one Queen in a wheelchair.

Story

One thing I’ll give DHSGiT!: for once, the point-of-view was all about the kind of women I relate to: suffragettes, rebels, and gals just looking for a good time (whatever that might mean to them). They’re rebellious, flirty, and fighting for justice. They’re skeptical about what society feeds them, and aren’t afraid to do their own legwork to uncover the truth. And they aren’t perfect–a lot of time is spent trying to get one over on people, even if it’s in the service of the greater good.

It’s also great to see the girls as the catalysts for change in the town. While the men are largely ineffectual, your gang challenges obsolete traditions, saves innocents, and uncovers dark secrets. I can’t emphasize enough how rare it still is to see women–let alone high school girls–taking this kind of active role in a video game.

What I had trouble with was the last few hours of the game.

First, keep in mind that Mousechief released DHSGiT! in 2008. This might not seem like so long ago, but in the world of activism it’s a long time. Feminist discussion has changed and grown since the game’s release. Thinking back, I’m not even sure I could really define “trigger warning” in 2008, and I certainly couldn’t adequately describe when I was triggered and why.

That said, while the dev clearly had a feminist message in mind, there are two major points where the game might upset some of its target audience. Because Princess vs Peril was founded specifically to highlight potentially triggering content for future buyers, I want to discuss them in a little more depth.

Spoilers and Potentially Triggering Content Follow.

In the last third of the game, there’s a scuffle with a Varsity Boy. During this encounter, the boy chases and attempts to assault a member of your gang while she’s naked thanks to a skinny dipping jaunt. The remaining members of the gang–also naked–chase the boy down and eventually shoot and kill him.

I’m still a little puzzled about this event. I get the sentiment: the town is so backwards that assault as a means of male dominance happens regularly. It also foreshadows a plot point. And afterward, mirroring real life all too often, the girls face some judgement about their actions even though the game makes it clear that they were in the right.

DHSGiT!: Varsity Boy

But it’s still an uncomfortable situation: the girls are naked, the boy is not. They must take part in an extended romp through the woods–naked. They resort to violence culminating in his death and that death is made ridiculous by the inclusion of a girl kissing her gun like she’s in a bad Western film.

I get that this is a satirical game. But this kind of “twist” doesn’t lend itself to satire well, especially when so unexpected. No real time is spent discussing the victim’s physical, mental, and emotional state afterward, and later she rejoins your gang with only a bandage and a thirst for taking down the patriarchy. The suddenness and silliness of it made me uncomfortable. To me, it detracts more from the game’s feminist message than it adds, and is once again a female-driven story that has to rely on sexual assault as a plot line.

Soon after, the girls discover that in exchange for female voting rights, the mayor enacted a law that allows him to rape women on their wedding night. The grooms receive reparations for this, though of course the wives do not.

When the girls find this out from their suffragette teacher, she explains that the suffragettes only agreed to the condition because they assumed the town’s women would vote the mayor out. They didn’t.

DHSGiT!: Suffragette

With this exchange the onus goes back on the town’s women despite being the victims. Why didn’t they vote him out? And what should we think about the suffragettes who sold their fellow women into legally-sanctioned rape? Why is this the fault of women even though they are the victims of male violence?

Later, a detective mentions that many, though “not all” women, accept the law/their own assault because it benefits their husbands. Again, even though the mayor’s perverse desires and entrenched power are the real villains here, a fact the game doesn’t hide, there’s an uncomfortable level of female culpability that doesn’t have room in a plot line about assault victims who, in the real world, face accusations of “asking for it” every day.

DHSGiT!: Detective

The entire plot line, from Varsity Boy on, felt like a complete surprise considering that up to this point most of the game is about talking horses, pogo sticks, and a hapless inventor who keeps landing himself in trouble.

Even though Mousechief most likely had good intentions with this twist, it soured the game’s final message of female empowerment and roguish fun for me. I was really excited that for once I was playing a game about women that didn’t feel the need to tie women’s plot lines to assault. That assumption proved untrue.

I enjoyed DHSGiT! until the last few hours. It’s a fun game, and I can see why it won many awards. But if you’re triggered by this kind of content, this might not be the game for you.

This review was written using a press copy provided by the developer. However, the views within reflect solely those of the author.

Writer, knitter, firebrand. Likes superheroes, cats, and changing the world.

1 Comment

  1. Courtney Lang

    February 7, 2014 at 5:56 AM

    Oh man. That’s so upsetting to hear about the game, because the rest of the review makes it clear this game is right up my alley. I’m going to have to think a bit before actually deciding if I still want to play it.

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