When I randomly select my next game, I like to close out with a knee-jerk reaction to the game’s short description. Here’s both from last week:
“Dehumanize kids and make money.”
“Oy. What have we said about “cheap adolescent nihilism,” bundle? Am I gonna need to put my rantin’ pants on for this one too?”
The answer to my question is “No.” No, I shall not be getting my rant on. I remain unmoved by cheap adolescent nihilism. But hard-won cynicism? I can still get behind that. As long as the game does it right.
Page 17, Game 20: No Pineapple Left Behind by Seth Alter
No Pineapple Left Behind did it right.
You are the administrator of a school, and you have a goal. This goal varies from scenario to scenario; maybe you’re trying to earn some money, maybe you’re just trying not to bankrupt the school, whatever.
The most annoying part of running a school is, of course, the children who go there. They’re high-strung little balls of hormones who make friendships and get pissed at each other and hit on each other and form bands together and just do all sorts of annoying bullshit that isn’t SCHOOLWORK. Because at your school, your funding DEPENDS on how well your students are doing. Lower grades, less money. And time those little shits spend on interpersonal nonsense is NOT MAKING YOU MONEY.
However, pineapples are way less trouble.
Pineapples are just there. They neither find nor make trouble, they go where they’re supposed to without any fucking about, they tend to pull perfectly acceptable grades. Pineapples simply exist.
Taken at face value, this game is exactly the type of unadulterated nihilism that so severely turned me off in Headliner. The difference is that I’m quite certain this game doesn’t want me taking it at face value.
This game lives and dies by the tension between what it encourages me to do and what I, as a human being with some modicum of empathy, actually want to do. The game advises you to suppress the children’s Humanity scores; push that Humanity all the way to 0, and they become nice pliable pineapples. Conversely, if you let your pineapples’ Humanity creep all the way back up to 100, you’re asking for all sorts of messy complications.
I, naturally, would PREFER not to suppress my students’ humanity. The game lets me go either way.
Similarly, how should you treat your faculty? Obviously, you want them to be as cheap as possible. Dealing with students costs energy, as does teaching classes. (Unless you let them just run a TV for the entire class, the “I don’t give a fuck but at least nothing bad is likely to happen” option.) Sooner or later, they run out of energy, at which point, you can just fire them and hire some fresh-faced youngster to vampirically drain instead.
… or, you can notice that their energy replenishes more quickly between days if you pay them more money. This may lead to you noticing that as they gain more experience, they get access to more effective teaching techniques, thus raising the students’ grades and earning back MORE money than what you’re paying out to them.
That’s the difference between this game and Headliner. Headliner presents a system that’s so inherently corrupt that there’s nothing you can do about it, even if you want to. Pineapple gives you the option of fighting the system — and even of scoring victories against it.
The game progresses. Teachers’ workloads start exceeding what any amount of salary can compensate for, so even if you care, you’re going to need to let them slack-off and let the TV do the teaching on occasion. (Assuming you do, in fact, care. Burn-n-churn remains an option.) There are so many students that it becomes difficult to keep an eye on them, and try to encourage them to stuff that maximizes their Humanity.
Your resources for doing that are limited. Each teacher has a laser they can use to mess with their students:
Make them feel better, or push them towards becoming nice, pliant pineapples. Break up fights before they start, or discourage friendships so they have more time to spend on their schoolwork.
Each time you use a laser, it costs that teacher a bit of energy. Use them wisely.
No Pineapple Left Behind doesn’t start to sing until it starts adding on layers like this, when it makes it clear that caring, although still an option, is difficult. There’s only ever so much you can do. How much do you want to exhaust your teachers policing these little shits?
(You don’t have to police the pineapples, you know. They are neither bullies nor bullied. Sure you want to discourage your students from pineapple-hood? They might honestly be happier that way.)
The playthrough when I discovered that good pay for your teachers leads to good results for the kids ended with me sacking all the teachers. I had a goal of making a net $1000 by the end of the scenario, and avoiding those pesky salaries was what I needed to get over that hump. Sometimes you just have to make the tough decisions, you know?
Or the scenario with the bus drivers’ strike, when fully a third of the school was showing up late to their first-period classes and thus getting F’s. My only goal was to keep from bankrupting the school. First period was, across the board, TV Time. It just wasn’t worth it to spend the teachers’ precious energy on partially full classes.
Oh, and then the parents start calling. They’re complaining about grades, or want you to prevent their gay son from hitting on any boys. Do you ignore the calls, or indulge them? There’s a cost to each.
The final scenario I played focused on a single student, Davis Jefferson, a pudgy boy who likes to wear makeup. Davis catches a lot of shit from the other kids, because he wears makeup. Goal for the week: send Davis home each day without the “Teased” condition.
This means ending the day with Davis’s teachers bathing him in soothing “No Teasing” lasers, at great cost to their own personal energy. It is a pain in the ass — and if the little fucker gets out the door before I can strip him of all that teasing, I lose. He sincerely might be happier if I started intentionally trying to pineapple him, he’d catch a lot less shit. At the very least, he’d make things a lot easier for everybody if he’d stop wearing make– OH MY FUCKING GOD I’M PART OF THE PROBLEM NOW HOW DID THIS HAPPEN.
This is the genius of No Pineapple Left Behind. It does not FORCE you to become a part of the problem, it entices you into it. It seduces you. It shows you how much easier everything would be if you simply stopped caring.
Caring becomes an act of defiance, of revolution. Nurturing the kids, encouraging their humanity, is an eternal battle, and the system wants you to lose. Which makes those times you can win that much sweeter.
Whoever wrote this game has serious beef with the American educational system. Depending on your own experiences within that system, this game may make you laugh, or trigger a full-on PTSD episode, or do both simultaneously.
It is two-fisted blunt-force satire wrapped in a genuinely compelling game experience. It’s honestly kinda fucking brilliant. I very much recommend it.
So the second hundred games is starting off with a bang. Is the next game gonna keep this momentum going?
Page 43, Game 12: Tabletop Archaeology 101 by avarisclari
“Are You Ready to Join the Dig?”
Damn right I am. There’s awesome shit underground. Gimme a shovel.