2016 has just started off, and with it is a new batch of Indie games finally seeing release. Starting out the year fresh is No Pineapple Left Behind.
Tasking you to take control of a school, No Pineapple Left Behind is presented as a micro managing simulator. With the multiple different schools to choose from, you step into the role of the Principal, deciding what sort of extra faculty you’d like, how much to pay the teachers, and how many extra supplies they can have per class. You also control when the teachers give advanced classes, meaning that the energy and average grade are dependent on how you control the school.
More then a fun simulator, No Pineapple Left Behind subjects gamers to the realities of the modern education system. A satirical take on No Child Left Behind, the US education reform act that required schools pass certain standardized tests or else have their federal funding cut. The game deals with the unpleasant connections between running a school and making money.
There are two different types of students that you can get, Pineapples and Children. In the case of children, they have needs, wants, ambitions, and overall they’re very complicated to deal with. You don’t want Children. Pineapples, on the other hand, just come to school and get good grades. They don’t bother socializing, and they certainly won’t miss a class because of bathroom needs.
With 9 different schools available to play, the game presents a unique challenge with each one. Although there are sandbox modes for each level, the simulation is less about free play and more about the campaign. After learning the hoops I had to jump though in the school system, I managed to beat the system.. I mean, game, in 11 hours.
With each unique challenge you figure out different ways of manipulating things as a whole. Extra faculty, which are hired by influence, have high wages. With the game encouraging you to fire staff and get new members on a regular basis, No Pineapple Left Behind continues to poke holes in the flawed educational system.
In regards to teachers, you can cut their daily wages, but that’ll make your schools grades suffer. By paying teachers more money, they have less stress, and therefore more energy. The game is full of subtext regarding the modern education, but perhaps one of the greatest revelations I had during the game was regarding the wages of teachers.
While not a problem in every country, those in the US are no strangers to the budget restrictions placed on teachers. We are giving these people the privilege of educating the next generation, perhaps giving them a bit more pay would end up with teachers and children getting along a lot better.
The presentations of the schools in No Pineapple Left Behind resembles that of prisons. Given actual modern designs of schools however, its not too surprising. The overall drab feeling of the schools themselves keeps you at an emotional distance, instead focusing you on the point of the game: making more money.
I didn’t run in to many issues when playing. A few times when I opened up to modify the teachers salaries they’d show as maxed out at their current salaries, when the maximum was $400. An easy fix was to close the window and re-open it. Besides that, the game ran smoothly, and I have little to no complaints on the menus. They’re all intuitive and everything is where you’d expect it to be.
Even with all that in mind, No Pineapple Left Behind isn’t really about the game play. Overall, it’s intended to be a strong statement on how we treat our teachers, and our children. The theory of ‘No child left behind’ creates a chaotic and stressful work environment, that won’t benefit anyone in the end. Perhaps, if anything, what benefits the most from high grades is the name of the institution itself.
In the week or so since its release, there was been a lot of backlash against the game, mostly due to that very statement. A perfect school is never going to happen, and in the end we have to realize that the education system is designed with flaws. Not maliciously, but because we as humans are flawed. We don’t remember things perfectly, and chances are we won’t do well on every test in our life time. We won’t remember the dates from history class, or the core math curriculum, instead we’ll learn the important dates, and we’ll learn how to do math our own way.
While games created with a statement in mind, for the purpose of making people think, are nothing new, I’m hopeful that No Pineapple Left Behind will serve as an example for even more to come. We can’t dismiss the glaringly obvious subtext involved the game, and instead we have to take it and realize that it can help change the education system for the better. Games that give us philosophical statements, such as Bioshock, are important as well for developing stories in the the growing games industry. But they aren’t the necessary evil that No Pineapple Left Behind is. If you’re uncomfortable with what the game is saying, perhaps you haven’t accepted that kids are being treated as dollar signs.
Being homeschooled my entire life, I’d like to believe that the lack of intelligent thought in the school system was part of the reason. My parents didn’t wish to subject me to something as belittling, and stripping of creativity and otherwise important thought processes. We should be taught to question what is put in front of us, not simply what we hear in the media.
No Pineapple Left Behind shines in the two most powerful aspects of video games, its gameplay and the narrative that gameplay tells. Both should be enough to hook anyone, the stylistic choices reflecting both the story and the focus on management. While creating a game that’s actually fun to play, Subaltern Games took the opportunity to say something, and in doing so, managed a haunting reflection of modern education.