Posted in Computer games, Dating simulators

HIGH SCHOOL DREAMS: Seth Stoddard

This is the last-ever High School Dreams post. Ever. EVER.

Seth Stoddard

Seth Stoddard

Stereotype: Emo kid

I decided early on in this playthrough that Seth was going to be my favorite.

The heart of my 12-year-old self (circa 2005) beat wildly at Seth’s wardrobe, demeanor, and poetic ambitions. I never got the Gerard Way obsession; I get the Seth Stoddard one.

Chuck’s story was “typical” in that it mirrored “High School Musical” (and “Cinderella Story,” come to think of it): jock has to find the courage to be himself with the help of a plucky girl.

Seth’s story is more like “Beauty and the Beast,” where love overcomes prejudice and difference. What resulted was sooooooo cheesy and I loved every minute of it.

First off, Seth is a near-perfect creation. He is every whiny, tortured, alternative, Hot Topic-loving scene kid that you knew in high school.

The horror!
The horror!

Every word out of his mouth is either heartstopping sarcasm or incredibly smooth for someone with such low self-esteem.

"Guys, Seth likes me the best. He said I was inspiring."
“Guys, Seth likes me the best. He said I was inspiring.”

Seth’s cheese gets overpowering at times–I’ll spare you the barf-worthy dialogue from prom–though other characters call this “romantic.” You can be romantic and still be gross.

Seth makes up for these occasional forays into grossness with surprise and sincerity. On his FIRST DATE with the player character, Seth admits something surprising.

Really!?
Really!?

This admission is never explored, but it serves as an excuse to bring Chelsea back into the game.

Oh, how I've missed you, you flawless creature.
Oh, how I’ve missed you, you flawless creature.

Seth has no real problems of his own. Where Petey was flaky, Chuck was conflicted, and Eugene was insecure, Seth functions fairly well as a human being. Other people are the problem.

After the player character starts seeing Seth, her classmates express their disgust.

You're back, too!? This is awesome!
You’re back, too!? This is awesome!

There seems to be a general dislike of Seth around school. Students can’t quantify their reasons, though they mention Seth’s clothes, “weirdness,” and unpopularity. Finally, Emily gives the player character an ultimatum: either stop dating Seth or lose Emily as a friend. As if that was a difficult choice.

"...I need smarter friends."
“…I need smarter friends.”

Seeing how the player character is affected, Seth dumps her in order to save her popularity. Writing that now makes me feel stupid; at the time, the prospect broke my heart.

Seth, no! Not in front of the skating rink!
Seth, no! Not in front of the skating rink!

In some dating sims, this would be the end. The player character would be sadder but wiser and the love interest would resist misery, knowing he did the right thing.

This is not that kind of game.

Of course Seth changes his mind. Of course he and the player character go to prom together. Of course he and the player character get their closet emo friend to come out.

Freaks together

I struggled briefly with whether I preferred Chuck or Seth, but I think I like Seth better. I have a thing for tortured bad boys and Seth’s pants are tight enough that he qualifies. Any low self-esteem feels like a front and at times he expresses genuine loneliness that hurts the heart. “Emotional” guys can get tiring, but vulnerability is appealing.

Okay. I’ll share one bit of vomitousness from the prom.

BLECH.
BLECH.

Aside from Seth’s propensity for crappy poetry and overly-intense flirtation, he’s entertaining and has a great story. After playing through hours and hours of “High School Dreams,” I can say that Seth Stoddard is my undisputed favorite.

Grade: A

Posted in Computer games, Dating simulators

HIGH SCHOOL DREAMS: Benny B

This week’s been a bit rough – I’m finishing up a senior thesis, recently presented at an undergraduate symposium, and have emigrated for the weekend for my brother’s wedding.

The rehearsal dinner just wrapped up and I have about 17 hours of free time until the big day, so I thought I’d take a break from terrible prose, heartbreaking videos, and addicting TV shows to catch up on my favorite dating sim.

Benny

Benny B

Stereotype: Bad boy/class clown

All the stuff I mentioned earlier? While true, the real reason I haven’t posted is because of Benny. I’m not sure what to say about him. It’s been a couple weeks since his playthrough and I still don’t know what to say.

AAAAAAAAAAAH!!

All of the confusing things about Benny can be summed up in his looks. At certain angles, he is legitimately terrifying. At others, he’s not bad-looking, but I’m still confused. Where did they find such a swarthy redhead? Is he a pirate? WHAT IS HAPPENING?

Benny’s personality is similar to that of Fred and George Weasley. Excuse me, just George Weasley. Fred is dead.

I can dig the slacker/class clown vibe to an extent. If a character falls on the class clown side of that equation, I find him enjoyable. Benny straddles the line between the two; a wise move on the game developers’ parts, as so often I find “laid-back” types unpleasant, if not repulsive.

What’s weird, though, is how the other characters react to Benny. I can understand why some people might have reservations about the player character dating a known “troublemaker.” What I don’t get are the implications that Benny is dangerous.

Is this a modern-day retelling of "Rebel Without a Cause"?
“YOU’RE TEARING ME APART!”

Benny is harmless. His worst pranks involve wearing bibs, stealing pants, and…okay, he does blow up all the school’s water fountains. And the player character helps him do it. That didn’t hit me until now.

One thing I can appreciate about Benny is that he is open about his regard for the player character. Really open. As in bordering on sexual harassment.

WHAT.
WHAT.

He’s open to the point of spreading G-rated lies about his dalliances with the player character. At prom. In front of Ryan Seacrest.

That's not even a little bit true!
That’s not even a little bit true!

Other than that, he’s not a bad guy. There’s an excellent subplot where he and the player character help Emily unmask her secret admirer. Plot twist: she has TWO secret admirers, and one of them is THIS GUY:

Why isn't he one of the options?
Can I go to prom with him!?

Benny’s storyline is quick. I scored a prom invitation in nine days–that’s almost unheard of. I’m disappointed there wasn’t more, but I enjoyed the gameplay.

There’s not much else I can say. My prom dress this time around was adorable. I got up to three flower petals of friendship with Emily–again, unheard of. The game shoehorned a lesson about stranger danger into the story.

Helpful.
Helpful.

For all his “bad boy” ways, Benny isn’t the most thrilling guy in the game. That being said, he’s not the worst. To justify my rating him higher than Eugene, all I have to say is: at least Benny doesn’t have low self-esteem.

Grade: B+

Posted in Computer games, Dating simulators

HIGH SCHOOL DREAMS: Chuck Majors

Oh boy.

I get the appeal of dating a popular guy. A popular athlete…not so much.

Sports are far from my favorite thing.

That’s not strong enough: I hate sports.

When someone brings up basketball, all I have to contribute is, “I’m a fair-weather Gonzaga fan!”

I knew this guy’s name when he played for the team ten years ago!

I have a hard time relating to people who expend the same amount of emotional energy during March Madness that I do on an episode of “The 100.”

Charlotte no
Huh…this is a cute conversation they’re having…CHARLOTTE, NO!!

And that’s for college sports. I care about pro ball about as much as I care about Charlotte jumping off a cliff.

Yeah, whatever. Hope there are some acting lessons at the bottom.

Which brings us to today’s post.

Chuck

Chuck Majors

Stereotype: Jock/star athlete

If Emily’s description is any indication, dating Chuck is like winning the lottery.

Chuck Majors
Can’t you see why?

Early interactions with Chuck hinted at him being an idiot who took himself as seriously as Landon did. Chuck talks in the third person, has a constant highlight reel running through his head, and forgets what number comes after two.

You're joking...
You’re joking…

Just as I was gearing up for a terrible playthrough, Chuck revealed something shocking: he HATES basketball. He doesn’t want to be known as the basketball guy; sometimes, he just wants to be a guy.

Why does this sound so familiar?

What follows is the cheesiest, most fully realized story in the game. Essentially, the player character has to help Chuck stand up to his dad, follow his heart, chase his dream, [insert high school movie cliche here].

Also, for some reason, she has to join the cheerleading squad, headed by Chuck’s ex-girlfriend Chelsea. Chelsea is wonderful. I have a soft spot for the Ditzy Mean Girl in any story (some examples: Sharpay Evans, Kara Davies, Cordelia Chase). Some stories try to present characters as good and wholesome by covering up their snark. The Ditzy Mean Girl is blatantly awful and I love it.

Chelsea
They weren’t wrong.

I’m still trying to figure out why Chelsea is in this game. So the player character could get dirt on Chuck? To act as a rival? Purely for the cheerleading mini-game? She might be superfluous, but I don’t care.

Using the word “date” to describe the player character’s one-on-one interactions with other guys is a stretch. With Chuck, the term applies. He dresses up, brings flowers, buys gelato–perhaps it’s old-fashioned, but I find it refreshing. It’s helps, too, that his first date takes a turn for the weird.
First, Chuck spills gelato on his pants.
Then this comment is made:

What.
…what is this rated again?

Followed by the strangest mini-game I’ve ever played:

WHAT.
WHAT AM I PLAYING?

If the entire game was just Chuck’s storyline, I would be perfectly satisfied with that. There was just enough difficulty, depth, and intrigue to keep me engaged. Plus, I got to virtually express my disdain for sports:

Such catharsis.
Such catharsis.

At times it was too similar to “High School Musical,” and there were some hokey moments, but I’d rather be overwhelmed than underwhelmed (PETEY).

My only other quibbles:

  • Right at the point the player character decides to pursue Chuck, he disappears. For days. So far, this has tripped me up every time I’ve played. It turns out Chuck got lost in the maze and no one thought to go look for him. That’s Chuck’s biggest weakness: he randomly disappears at the worst times. At another point, the player character has to HIDE IN THE SCHOOL after-hours so she can catch Chuck practicing.
  • Chuck’s storyline takes FOREVER. There’s the “sneaking into the school” bit I mentioned, a quest for bubble bath, more sneaking, then a week until the big game. After Chuck wins the game, he asks the player character to prom…which is another week away. You get pretty sick of all the mini-games when you’ve been killing time for that long.

Other than the time factor, Chuck is my favorite guy so far. As the player character puts it, he’s cheesy, a little awkward, but very sweet.

Grade: A-

Posted in Computer games, Dating simulators

HIGH SCHOOL DREAMS: Eugene Moss

It’s May, and I’m still surprised that prom season is upon us. My high school prom was a week before graduation in June. So I’m always a little weirded out when cousins/friends’ kids/acquaintances start posting their prom pictures on April 1st.

All that to say, thanks to High School Dreams, I’m pretty prommed out, and I still have three in-game proms to get through. I figured out a way, though, to zip through days to get to prom faster: the player character can go to bed as early as 6:00 PM! Hurrah!

Eugene

Eugene Moss

Stereotype: Nerd

Eugene was my initial favorite before being upset by the game’s biggest underdogs (more to come). It probably has something to do with a high school nerd being in the realm of possibility for me, even in a game where I have unlimited wealth and beauty. Also, look at him.

Aww, of course you would!
Aww, of course you would!

He’s adorable. Eugene is easily the best looking (best animated?) guy in the game.

Eugene’s storyline contains all sorts of intrigue: it starts off with a caper about missing photographs, transitions into a conflict with his female best friend (when will these guys learn?), and ends with a makeover and photo shoot–yours, sadly, not his.

In my review of Landon, I might have said or implied that pursuing Landon for his wealth and social status instead of his personality was a pretty shallow goal.

Ahem…

Eugene pays for the player character to go on a shopping spree.

In what universe does this kind of thing happen!? Your high school boyfriend says, “Hey, I need you to model for a photo shoot. Here’s $100+; get whatever you want.” It was pretty exhilarating. I felt like Lizzie McGuire during her brief career as a famous Italian pop star.

Even with that fun detail, Eugene’s friendship drama gets a little too real. Eugene’s best friend is this girl, Lucy, for reasons that are never made clear.
LucyLucy lashes out at the player character and steals Eugene’s photographs to prevent him from finishing his portfolio. Later, she crashes the player character’s date to tell Eugene how upset she is that he no longer has time for her, especially since he’s MOVING TO JAPAN.

Um…what?

Also, this happens:

Oh, Eugene...
Oh, Eugene…

Game developers: at no point have I ever said, “My high school dream is to be in a tenuous long-distance relationship.” Not once have I said that.

Depending on the resulting interaction, this can result in a big fight between Eugene and the player character. I must have been an awesome virtual girlfriend or something, because all I got was some confusing dialogue alluding to an argument toward the end of the game. No matter: Eugene makes up with Lucy and even lands her a date to prom, and he and the player character decide to make it work while he’s in Japan.

Despite the happy ending, this plotline hit a little too close to home. I’ve had this same thing happen to me, with many–including hair color, personality, and country–similar details…only I was Lucy. The first time I played through this game, the situation was still fresh, so for a while this game stopped being fun.

Yeah! High School Dreams!

Eugene’s biggest asset is his sense of humor. Everything that came out of his mouth was my new favorite thing. Not much for sarcasm, Eugene stuck with quips that had a self-deprecating edge. At first, it seemed fine; there’s nothing wrong with self-deprecation, especially as a way to beat your enemies to the punch. “Nice try, jerks, I already KNOW I’m bad at life! Joke’s on you!” As the game went on, however, Eugene’s little comments revealed a bigger issue: low self-esteem.

This–more than smoking and arrogance but less than blatant sexism–is one of my biggest turn-offs. I don’t see low self-esteem as a cutesy quirk, thanks to various friends, roommates, and family members. It’s a frustrating reality to have someone you love ask for validation every day, only to reject everything you tell them.

Strangely, the Eugene storyline is an inversion of Landon’s: Eugene can’t quite believe the player character would be into him. In that way, the relationship comes across as a self-congratulatory charity case; the way some of the dialogue is written, it almost seems like the player character is saying, “Look how awesome I am for accepting this nerd.”

Eugene’s interactions, humor, and generosity make his storyline better than Petey’s. If we’re talking favorites, though, he’s not my type.

Grade: B

Posted in Computer games, Dating simulators

HIGH SCHOOL DREAMS: Petey Jacobs

I realized in my last post that while I raged about what a douche Landon was, I didn’t go into enough detail about the story and gameplay. I’ll try to remedy that with this next post.

Fun fact: In High School Dreams, if you don’t buy a prom dress by the date of the prom, your mom will give you one. Apparently the $600 dress I bought didn’t qualify as prom material, which led to a nail-biting Best Dressed Contest where Petey and I won despite being “underdressed” (more to follow).

Another fun fact: Landon’s last name is apparently “Teenbeard.” Whose beard? Could that explain why he has seemingly no interest in the player character as anything other than arm candy?

Petey

Petey Jacobs

Stereotype: School DJ? Is that a well-known high school demographic?

As noted above, Petey is the school DJ, something that apparently makes him desirable. As the player character’s friend Emily put it:

Is that a thing?
I don’t know a lot of cute DJs…

Petey loves music, gets Homer Simpson and Spongebob mixed up, and has mastered the mixed message. When asked why Petey blew the player character off, good old Emily replies, “He’s probably really shy.”

Props to the game designers for designing a realistic high school boy!

Petey’s main problems stem from this realism, a big one being his friendship with this girl, Izzy:

Oh heeeeey, Ms. Clearly-not-a-threat...
“I am in no way an     obstacle to your                quest!”

Izzy herself is harmless. She seems oblivious to any conflict she causes and usually has a good reason for it. That being said…

Issue #1: Izzy shows up on the player character’s first date with Petey and challenges him to a game of mini-golf. Petey tells the player character to walk home by herself because he can’t back down from a challenge and Izzy is his “best friend” and he “can’t dog her like that.” Before someone starts up a debate about the value and importance of male-female friendship, you do not ditch your date for a friend! Ever! Not unless your friend has stopped breathing or is bleeding from a massive head trauma!

Issue #2: This one’s a bit weirder… For some reason, Petey’s storyline is mostly about Izzy’s issues. The main plot focus becomes Izzy and her falling-out with Emily, and the player character and Petey scheme to get these two friends back together. While this drama goes on, Petey fades to the background. Whenever he is the focus, he’s either freaking out about the big DJ battle or acting distant and blowing off the player character.

It’s all very…high school.

What did the game trailer promise?
“This is my chance to be whoever I want to be, a chance to do it all the way I want, a chance to live my high school dream!”

THIS IS NOT WHAT I WANT, GAME DEVELOPERS! THIS IS NOT MY HIGH SCHOOL DREAM!

Issue #3: This was something I noticed during my Landon playthrough: Landon alluded to some insecurities and family issues that were never addressed. In Petey’s case, he keeps bringing up his “grandmamma,” consistently uses past tense, and seems cagey whenever the player character expresses interest in meeting her. All the evidence points to his grandmamma being dead, with Petey either in denial or too embarrassed to share his feelings. I thought prom would be the big reveal. I waited for Petey to mention his grandmamma or say, “I have a confession to make.” Nope. Nothing. Never mentioned again. It was like it never happened.

….

THEN WHY ADD THAT SUBPLOT IN THE FIRST PLACE?

Issue #4: This is another issue that applies to all the guys. While the idea is for the player to live their high school dream, the player character ends up doing things purely to please other characters. There are meaningless side quests that involve buying a camera case for some idiot kid who keeps dropping his in the ocean–seriously, I hate this kid so much–or picking up your mom’s dry-cleaning; the main “romance” quest isn’t much different. Your goal is to dress the way Petey likes and help him win the DJ battle. Seriously, he owes you at least half the prize money for helping him. In return, he either takes you on halfhearted dates where he bails early or cancels dates completely to work on his music, quoting his possibly dead grandmamma all the while. Aside from going after Landon, a relationship with Petey provides the least amount of pay-off.

Where Petey has the jump on Landon is that he actually seems interested in the player character as more than a means to an end, if his painful flirty dialogue is any indication. Dialogue that, in fact, takes a turn for the risque whenever big cats are brought up.
Petey: I pegged you for a tiger.
Player character: You know what would make this kitty happy?
Me: AAAAAGH! PLEASE NO!

I can’t fault Petey for being a stupid (read: normal) high school guy. At the same time, I don’t think I could sell this game to my friends by telling them, “Remember that time you thought so-and-so liked you but he kept blowing you off? Well…”

This picture sums up my feelings about Petey.

Petey's description of how it feels to wear a tux.
Petey’s description of how it feels to wear a tux.

Seriously, look at that outfit!

This is why I got stressed out during the Best Dressed competition!
This is why I got stressed out during the Best Dressed competition! HOW WERE WE SUPPOSED TO WIN?

Take the crushed-velvet leopard-print tuxedo as a sign that you should choose someone better.

Grade: C-

Posted in Computer games, Dating simulators

HIGH SCHOOL DREAMS: Landon

I’m a connoisseur of terrible computer games targeted at girls. I’ve played a LOT – most of the early Barbie games, various pet simulations, an awful dating sim that will remain nameless. When I saw a trailer for “High School Dreams” while watching Let’s Plays on Youtube, you better believe I bought that business for $5. This super-rad game trailer should tell you everything you need to know.

A chance to live my high school dreams!? I’m so there.

For those not familiar with this game, the premise is simple: you, the player, are the new girl at Charm Springs High. In the school are six different single guys, each one embodying a different stereotype, including a rich kid who would play the villain in an ’80s movie and a goth kid straight out of a Tim Burton film. Your goal is the seduce one of these guys using a combination of bribery, misdirection, and fashion knowledge, and thereby obtain an invitation to prom.

Sounds simple enough.

What follows is a complex (depending on the guy you choose) story involving romance and betrayal that culminates in the most cutthroat prom ever seen. Since creating this blog, I decided to play through the game with each of the six guys and rate them, which I’m sure is in no way demeaning or sexist.

Let’s begin with the worst, shall we?

Landon

Landon

Stereotype: Popular rich kid

I journal about things–don’t be surprised–and I happened upon an entry where I gave each of the HSD guys a letter grade. Landon received an exceptionally low grade, followed by some really harsh language. I was having a rough year at the time, so my perspective might have been biased.

Then I replayed the game.

I have NO idea what this guy’s appeal is. Well, that’s not true: he’s rich, which is not so much attractive as it is fascinating. Landon occupies Charm Springs High’s social elite, is worth more than Mark Zuckerberg, and gives designer clothes to his girlfriends as “little gifts.”

Other than that, he has nothing to offer.

The other guys (minor spoiler alert) have at least some hidden depths. For instance, Chuck isn’t as crazy about basketball as everyone wants him to be. Faced with a rich kid who relies on his money and influence, I kept waiting for Landon to have some flaw or insecurity that would make him less of a tool. Maybe he’s lonely because people only like him for his money. Maybe he longs for his rich father’s respect. Maybe he wonders how long his popularity will last. These things are hinted at, but never explored. In the end, Landon knows how awesome he is and doesn’t much care about your feelings on the matter.

Did I mention this is supposed to be love story!?

Though I don’t feel this way, I can understand why some girls playing this game might gravitate toward Landon. He’s the unattainable guy who always overlooked them who now suddenly realizes how great they are. Only, in this game, THAT’S NOT THE CASE. Landon doesn’t say, “Wow, you’re amazing, I can’t believe I never saw it before.” You know, that speech that’s still pretty insulting but at least acknowledges former ignorance. Landon’s final speech boils down to, “You’re so great now that I’ve turned you into exactly what I want.”

THAT’S what kills me. The game’s assumption is that the main character should feel grateful that they are found worthy by someone so popular. It’s only AFTER they start dressing better–per Landon’s orders–and doing Landon favors that he considers them worthwhile. So much for self-worth. How is this a happy ending?

Recent events in my life only make Landon more repulsive to me. I realize that because this is a computer game about high school romance, I should lower my standards. However, I paid for an interesting, mutually-beneficial love story, something that the other five guys (well, for the most part) deliver. In Landon’s case, I got to participate in an all-give, no-take relationship with a guy who saw me as an accessory to his outfit. I thought computer games were supposed to be an escape from real life?

The “happy ending”–if you can call it that–was not worth slogging through a ton of backhanded compliments. Movie premieres and designer clothes aside, this guy has no redeeming qualities.

Grade: F