Greg Hunter

Game Review: Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble!

In Games on October 5, 2009 at 8:24 PM

headerDangerous High School Girls in Trouble! purports to be a lot of things–a board game, a role-playing game, a morality play. More than any of those things, though, it stands out as one of those rare works that doesn’t just defy such classifications; it redefines them. It’s influences are numerous and easy to spot, yet it never plays like any other game, or unfolds like any other story. It’s a portrait of a bygone era, a celebration of female power, and a condemnation of the societal forces that try to cork that power. Oh, and it’s really, really good.

At its heart, DHSGIT is a Scoob n’ the Gang coming of age story along the lines of Harry Potter or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. At the beginning of the game, the player selects a primary avatar, or “queen”, from a list of available characters, and is plopped down in 1920’s-era Brighton High School to build up her “gang” of henchwomen. The school seems dysfunctional enough, but Brighton’s problems run much deeper, and extend much farther, than the girls (or the player) could possibly expect. As the girls leave the schoolyard, mysteries of malfunctioning bleachers give way to malfunctioning police forces, marriages, and social mores. It’s a dark and sordid tale, for sure, (one online retailer even refused to carry it due to its content) but the game’s winning sense of humor cuts through all the black. Like all the best comedies, DHSGIT frees author and audience to stare down some seriously ugly demons, and laugh.

Nearly all of the story is unveiled through a handful of simple games, each representing its own social action: taunting (insult swordfighting), fibbing (liar’s poker), exposing (mad-libs), and gambits (glorified rock-paper-scissors). For each game, there is a corresponding “talent”, or stat, that makes winning the game easier. Each girl has all four talents, and can improve her talents through winning games. Player skill matters too, though–the games aren’t always hard, but they’re easy to lose, even with high talent levels. If the player wins, s/he is treated with a bit of dialogue that moves the story forward. The engaging, but not-too-difficult nature of the gameplay, along with the instant gratification of plot advancement, make DHSGIT easy to get into and hard to get away from, for serious and casual gamers alike.

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And here’s where DHSGIT really scores: it’s a game that I could actually conceive of women playing. Unless you count games about raising poodles (or, Jesus, babies) that target preteen girls, the number of video games that target women in the slightest is so close to zero that counting isn’t really worth it. A recent survey showed that women like playing hypersexualized female characters in games more than men do, but none of the games that boast such heroines–Tomb Raider, Velvet Assassin, the upcoming Bayonetta–are made for women. They’re slick, action-packed, and belabored by 67-button control schemes; and their male gazes make Hitchcock look positively feminist. (Tangentially, what do all you feminist film critics out there think of this?) DHSGIT looks across this gaming landscape, at the countless developers proving time and time again that no, they do not know anything whatsoever about women, and says “NAY! Games should be for everyone!” Here’s hoping a few more developers (and players) catch on, one of these days.

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  1. “A game that I could even conceive of women playing.” I’m sure you didn’t mean to suggest that women are incapable of or are uninterested in playing most video games. It’s true that most mainstream big-budget games do not market toward women, which is a shame because women buy many more games than the industry gives them credit for. I’ve played video games for my entire life, and it would be nice to see more games with female protagonists.

    Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble isn’t the first indie game to appeal to women, as fun as it is. Several other indie developers (Hanako Games, MoaCube, Tale of Tales) are woman-friendly and make games with female protagonists.

    Until the mainstream games industry recognizes that women buy and enjoy a wide variety of video games, women may turn to indie developers, who treat them as respected customers. I fail to see how broadening the demographic could damage the games industry. It seems that it would help them earn more money.

    • Wow, I can’t believe this thing got a comment after so much time! How did you come across the article? I wrote it several years ago, I think. I didn’t go back and reread it, so I’m not sure that this will be a full reply. Of course I don’t think that women can’t/don’t play games! I’ve had my virtual butt kicked my many a lady. I guess I should have been clearer: I saw the game as a good gateway for women who were not previously interested in video games. (And for men, too–a well told story with simple controls and solid puzzle mechanics is hard to say no to, and it’s a far cry from something like a Halo game, which can be an alienating experience for any neophyte.) Back then, I was taking some of my early forays into indie games, especially PC games, and I had never really encountered anything like this game, so it was exciting to me. I’m a little better educated now, though only marginally so. Thanks for the comment, and thanks for the thoughts.

      Tom

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