Cyberstalking Schoolgirls for Fun and Profit

by Dan H

Dan on Don't Take it Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story
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Christine Love's Don't Take it Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story is a Visual Novel she produced for NaNoRenO (which is like NaNoWriMo, but in march, and for Vns). Given the turnaround, it's remarkable that the game is as good as it is, but having done NaNo (the written rather than VN version) myself, I'm not entirely surprised that the first half of the game is much, much better than the second.

On the forum-thread for discussing the game Christine observes “All I ask is if you don't like it, come on, at least make the obvious joke ;)”

Given which, Christine: Don't Take it Personally, It's Just This Is My Story.

Stuff That Is Awesome

The game is beautifully put together and I really, really like the central premise: you're a 38 year old, having a mid-life crisis who has just lost his nebulously defined “job with computers” and become a teacher at a highly prestigious secondary school. I would suggest that this was implausible but – as you might have gathered – this is almost exactly what happened to me, only about fifteen years younger and an expensive International college rather than a prestigious public school (for our American readers, public schools are what we call private schools, we call public schools state schools, confusing huh?). So I'm not going to knock it for the premise, a lot of people do fall into teaching, and it's relatively easy to do because there's kind of a shortage of teachers, good or otherwise.

At the start of the game, you are not a good teacher. You're a terrible teacher. You're boring, have no connection with your students, and worst of all you seem to think that it's all about you. You spend pretty much all of your time obsessing about how things reflect on you, either as a person or as a teacher, and your obsessive following of your student's social-networking activities seems to be driven by something other than a genuine interest in your students' well-being.

The protagonist (insofar as he is the protagonist, I mean sort of the whole point of the game is that he just reacts to stuff) is well-realised, and the students are strongly characterised and sympathetic (even the horrible ones). The whole thing carried me through on a wave of utter joy until about the last third, and I thought the ending was genuinely weak (again I do put a lot of this down to the one-month format).

In This Thread: Spoilers!

The game begins with you musing a bit about mistakes and choices and consequences and stuff, and then you begin your First Day At School. If I hadn't already been told that you played the teacher in this game, I'd probably have found it a genuine surprise that you do, and I did appreciate the inversion of the formula. You immediately get several messages informing you that the student has a social-networking system called AmieConnect, and that staff are allowed to view all student communications in order to prevent cyber-bullying (I would take a moment now to say that this is extraordinarily sensible the only thing the school does wrong here is being hush-hush about it instead of saying “we monitor communications on our social networking system, our students are informed of this when they are given their login details, although they may sometimes forget”). The first message you see is from a girl called Arianna, talking about how hot you are. There follows quite a lot of girly chatter about the cute new homeroom teacher and you observe, over AmieConnect, that Arianna is being encouraged to ask you out.

John Rook (that's the protagonist's name, by the way) is immediately established as one of those teachers who really badly wants to be liked. Pretty much the first words out of his mouth are “I am totally here for you guys and by the way I'm not going to be a hardass or anything” and pretty much the whole of his internal monologue is “I'm not going to be like those asshole teachers I had in school.” Now there's nothing wrong with being nice to your students, but you can't make it a pillar of your identity, because sometimes you are going to have to say things they don't like.

So the first chapter ends with the girl who fancies you coming to your office ostensibly to ask about the book you're studying, but in reality to totally try to come on to you. The whole scene is extremely well written and well observed. John clearly realises that this is a bad situation, but is also clearly interested because, well it's a fantasy, and it's easy to get swept up in fantasies (again, something the game at least seems to be interested in early on is the difference between the fantasy of this sort of thing and the reality of it – although I'm now working through a second playthrough and I'm not quite as convinced).

There's a lot about the first few chapters that I like. You get a good feeling for John, even if he is kind of a prick, and you get a decent insight into most of the class. Perhaps what I like most about the early chapters is how little difference you can actually make. Here the limited interactivity of the VN format actually works in its favour. A major theme of the game – at least of the early chapters – seems to be that the things John obsesses about aren't actually that important at all and that ultimately it would be best for everybody if he just got the fuck over himself. This is a theme I can get behind.

For example, in chapter two one of the students (Akira) comes out, and asks out another student (Nolan – incidentally chapter two is Nolan's chapter and is called “Nolan is an island, entire of itself” which is made of win), who comes to you for advice about it. During this sequence two interesting things come out (although one of them only comes out on a second playthrough). At this point you're still being quite cagey about the fact that you're reading the students' AmieConnect profiles, and in the conversation you can let slip a piece of information that you couldn't have accessed any other way. If you do, Nolan completely ignores it. It reminded me of that bit in season three Buffy when Jonathan is about to shoot himself with a sniper rifle, and he and Buffy have this conversation that goes something like: “They all think I'm an idiot. A short idiot.” / “No they don't. They don't think about you at all. The reason everybody's ignoring your pain is because they're too busy with their own.” You spend all your time obsessing about whether the students discover your terrible secret, when the only reason you have that secret in the first place is so that you can use the knowledge you get from AmieConnect to help you support your students better.

The second thing that's interesting about your conversation with Nolan in chapter two is that it affects nothing. He gets together with Akira regardless of what you say, all that it affects is how you feel about it. Although I thought this element of the text was strong, it also foreshadows a part of the text I found annoying – although the two options you get with Nolan (tell him you have no advice, tell him to go for it) both lead to the same conclusion, John feels flat out better about the first option, and there is a certain amount of evidence in the text that telling your student to embark on a homosexual relationship with a boy who has only just come out of the closet himself, and in spite of the fact that said student self-defines as entirely heterosexual is the “right” thing to do. When actually it, well, isn't.

Perhaps I'm just too close to the issues here, but I tend to feel that as a teacher there are a very, very narrow set of circumstances in which it's appropriate to give direct advice to a student unless it's about something specifically academic, or something that reflects directly on the law or a student's personal safety. It really isn't right for teachers to try to ship their students, no matter how cute a couple you think two of them might make.

Suicide Queens

In chapter three, one of your students kills herself.

I really, really liked this chapter. The student in question – Isabella – was extremely quiet in class but extremely talkative on Amie (there's a lot of attention to detail in the students' virtual communications – things like the differences in the way they talk online and IRL, right down to little things like Nolan's persistent confusion between Your and You're) and there's always a sense that there's a lot going on under the surface. Once again, there is nothing you can do to avoid what happens, and the chapter ends with the same background chatter of social-networking posts that it starts with, as if nothing has changed.

If the game had ended there, I would have been completely blown away by it. And to be fair, there's a lot I liked in the later chapters (and Kyra observes that if it had ended in chapter three it would have probably put too much emphasis on the suicide – whereas to an extent it's nice to have it there as this almost inexplicable thing that happens in the middle of the story). It does, however, carry on. The conclusion doesn't really live up to the middle.

I Meta On a Monday, And My Heart Stood Still

The basic issue I had with DTIPBIJAYS is that even for something that is clearly very, very meta, it's still really quite meta. By meta standards. It's meta-meta.

The game ends with two of your students giving you a presentation in which they take on the roles of Anonymous, and then spoiler you for a bunch of old movies and the game you are currently playing. It turns out that Isabella isn't dead at all, that the whole thing was actually faked in an effort to get you to “lighten up”. It also turns out that the students have known about you reading their private correspondence the whole time. You then get a long speech from Akira's mother about how, in the future, privacy is an antiquated concept man, which seems weirdly out of place since seems to be directed squarely at the reader in 2011 rather than at a person who lives in 2027.

The twist that the students knew about you reading their correspondence was a good one. It fit with the main themes of the game, and it did cast all of your snooping and spying in a whole new light (although it also glossed over quite a lot of it – there's a bit in chapter six where you get the option to hack into password-protected naked pictures of one of your students and I'm really not convinced that you can justify that as anything other than voyeurism).

I think my big problem with the twist was, okay it was two problems. Firstly, it has Akira's mother come in and laboriously explain things to you (“Everybody knows you have been doing this, but this game is set in THE FUTURE where people HAVE NO CONCEPT OF PRIVACY because of SOCIAL NETWORKING”) and while she manages to make some cogent points, they're all things which are embedded in the text anyway and making them explicit doesn't really help. The exploration of how our notions of privacy will have to evolve as we develop more varied ways to communicate are actually very good, but spelling them out doesn't make them clearer, it just makes them sound trite.

My second big problem was that I felt the game expected my mind to be blown by the ending far more than it actually was. There's this quite long speech about how privacy is more complicated than people think it is and – well – I kind of already got that memo. As I think I said at the start of this article, I actually don't think there's anything wrong with allowing staff to monitor private conversations on a student network (that's actually exactly what I'd do if I was setting up something like that, and I'm pretty sure it's exactly what schools do do). The problem is that the game takes “privacy is complicated” and then reduces it to “privacy is or will soon be obsolete” and those are two very different things. Yes, privacy is not binary – and people do adapt, and do modify their behaviour in semi-private situations (there's a reason that LJ cuts and NSFW labels exist, after all) but that's not the same thing as its being a non-issue.

To put it another way, despite ending with the concrete observation that privacy is not binary, the game ultimately treats it as exactly that. From the point of view of the text, either Mr Rook's snooping on his students is one hundred percent wrong, or one hundred percent okay. Either it is not acceptable to ever read something that somebody puts on a social networking site, even if you have been specifically given access to that site for the purposes of monitoring that person, or it is always okay to do it even if what you're looking for is naked pictures. The game does not seem to accept the idea that it is possible for the system to be perfectly valid (that is to say, for it to be fine for Mr Rook to have access to his students' private communications) but for people to behave badly within that system (that is to say – and I know I keep coming back to this example – hacking into his students private sex pictures).

On a wider level, I'm also a little bit nervous about the implication in the VN that – for want of a better and less squicky phrase – vulnerability is the same as consent. The conclusion we seem to be expected to reach at the end of the game is that nothing Mr Rook does on Amie is wrong, because the students post there knowing that he will be able to see it, that if they wanted to keep things away from him, they would simply choose a forum to which he did not have access. Their ability to conspire to make him believe a student had killed herself is presented as evidence of their ability to do this if they so wish. The problem is that in real life, it does not work that way. In real life people make mistakes, they put things in places they shouldn't, they leave their passwords lying around on post-its, they walk away from their computers without locking them. You actually can't take the fact that you are able to access something as evidence that you have a right to. Yes, at the end of the game, Arianne tells you that she deliberately put all of her messages about how badly she wants to go down on you in a space where she knew you'd see them, but are we really expected to believe that Charlotte was as exhibitionist with her sex-pictures? Are we to take it that if she didn't want you seeing her tits, she'd have picked a password you couldn't work out?

I should probably remind everybody at this point that the game was written in a month, and the last ten thousand words were written over a weekend, which probably accounts for the lack of polish in the ending, but when you're dealing with issues this serious, you do have to take a bit of a step back. Otherwise you run the risk of introducing glaring inconsistencies.

On my second playthrough, I decided that I'd try romancing Arianne despite the fact that it's grossly professionally unethical. At the end of the game she confesses that she's know you were reading her messages all along, and your relationship moves forwards on an upbeat note, but with the acknowledgement that it will have to be kept a secret. There is some musing about how, to Arianne, the notion of it being “private” is alien (because she is from THE FUTURE) but that because she is familiar with this world, she will be able to conceal your relationship from the powers that be just as she was able to conceal the fact that Isabella wasn't really dead after all.

Except she's already talked about her relationship with you on Amie. And yes, she did this knowing you would read it, but it seems to have slipped her mind that your boss would also be able to read it, as presumably would the entire academic staff. Again, I suspect that this is a structural problem introduced by the short timeframe in which the game was produced, but it undermines pretty much the entire point of the game. The game's central message seems to be that as our social interactions become more mediated through various social networking sites, our ideas about privacy will have to change to reflect the reality of the way we communicate, and that we will learn to live in this world and it will be okay – it's a message I actually kind of like, it's better than ZOMG SOCIAL NETWORKING IS DESTROYING SOCIETY – but it unfortunately flaw in its argument is the problem the game itself falls into with your relationship with Arianne: people forget. People forget that things they put in semi-public spaces are going to get seen by people they don't want them to get seen by. People forget that when you talk about how you're dating your hot homeroom teacher, it's not only him who can see it, it's everybody else as well.

Rook'd

Part of what I liked about the first part of the game was that I thought it was a really well observed analysis of a guy having a midlife crisis. “Wow” I was thinking to myself, “this guy seriously needs to get the hell over himself.” And that was great because the game seemed to agree. Unfortunately by the end of the game, it became clear that the game and I were on very slightly different pages.

I was saying: “Wow, this guy needs to get the hell over himself … and start acting like a teacher.”

The game was saying: “Wow, this guy needs to get the hell over himself … and stop trying to act so much like a teacher.”

In the denouement, Akira and Arianna both give John variants on the same message: we want you to relax and be our friend (or in the case of Arianna, her lover). Akira's mother seems to agree and there appears to be a strong implication that treating your students as peers rather than pupils will make you a better teacher.

This is not how it works. This wouldn't be a problem in itself but it's extremely tempting to believe that this is how it works, and that can lead to things getting very dangerous very fast. About the worst thing you can do as a teacher is to try to be friends with your students. You can be supportive of course, you can be caring, you can be there for them if they need somebody to talk to but you have to accept that your relationship with a student is a professional one, it can and should be tempered with genuine care and respect, but seventeen year old girls don't need thirty-eight year old boyfriends, they need serious, dedicated teachers who will support them without pandering to them, who will respect them as individuals without forgetting that seventeen is far younger than it looks from the outside, and far younger than it feels from the inside.

To be fair, all of this strays into counter-factual criticism. The first chapters, in combination with the title, led me to assume that I'd be reading about a guy who gradually learns that his students' lives are something he can observe but never really be a part of in the way he could when he was their age, that as the title suggests High School just ain't his story. What I got was almost the exact opposite, a story about a thirty-eight year old who learns to get back in touch with his inner seventeen year old, who learns that his students personal lives have, in part, been enacted specifically for his benefit.

It feels in some ways like a peculiar game of Chinese whispers. DTIPBIJAYS is a story about high school students told from the point of view of a teacher, but the teacher seems to be described from the point of view of a high school student – he has no life outside of the classroom, he only teaches one group of students, he never interacts with other teachers (for what it's worth, in real life if you thought a student had killed herself you would damned well bring it up with the rest of the staff, and for that matter if a student moved away and left the school you would be told about it, probably well in advance). This isn't what being a teacher is like, it's what you thought teachers were like when you were in secondary school. So in essence John Rook's story is the story of his students, because he has no existence outside of them. They exist as a mirror for him and he exists as a mirror for them.

There is a lot that is great about this game, but ultimately I found it disappointing because it never quite lived up to its title. The game explores a great many themes, perhaps too many, and some of them I feel it mishandles, and ultimately nothing it achieves lives up to the simplicity of the title: Don't Take it Personally, Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story - it's genuinely the best piece of advice I could give anybody who's going into teaching, it's possibly the best advice I could give anybody in general.
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Comments (go to latest)
Melissa G. at 23:50 on 2011-04-07
The second thing that's interesting about your conversation with Nolan in chapter two is that it affects nothing. He gets together with Akira regardless of what you say, all that it affects is how you feel about it.


Well, I guess that answers my question in the playpen, lol.

I did really enjoy how even though I was the protagonist of the game, I was mostly just watching things happen rather than making them happen. It was a really interesting experience, and not what I expect from those types of games, traditionally.

The basic issue I had with DTIPBIJAYS is that even for something that is clearly very, very meta, it's still really quite meta. By meta standards. It's meta-meta.


Yeah, I noticed that too. I felt like the fact that the stuff they were studying in class/the lectures were directly commenting on the events to come was a little too much for me. I prefer more subtlety, to be honest. And the end felt a bit oddly preachy to me even though I wasn't sure what it was preaching....


On my second playthrough, I decided that I'd try romancing Arianne despite the fact that it's grossly professionally unethical.


Haha, I had the same reaction when I realized it was an option. I was, like, "No. No, no, no, no, no, no. NO." So, does pursuing her change any of her Amie messages or anything else? I also have had quite some experience as a teacher for teenagers, and I think it totally does color how I look at the game. As I mentioned above, the teacher/student relationship possibility totally creeped me out, likely because I've been a teacher for students that age.

for that matter if a student moved away and left the school you would be told about it, probably well in advance)


I thought the same thing! It just seemed so improbable! All in the all though, I thought the game was cute, it was fun to play, it was funny, and despite the unsatisfying ending, I enjoyed it. I do kind of wish that there were more options to pursue, as it sounds like the only relationship you can really influence is the one with Arianne, and the whole point of games like these is usually to see how many pairings you can make happen.

/rambly post written as I read the article
Dan H at 23:58 on 2011-04-07
So, does pursuing her change any of her Amie messages or anything else?


A couple of them, and she comes over to see you one evening and you don't shag. What creeps me out most about it is that it feels a lot like the ending where you get together with her is supposed to be the "good ending" - like you realize you're actually falling in love with her and stuff. I think it confused me because it seemed to be presenting uncritically something I had hitherto expected to be deconstructed.

Just out of interest, did you get the same WARNING WARNING reaction I did when Charlotte says "will you promise you won't repeat a word of this to anyone"? I might be wrong but if there's one thing you get drilled into your head in Teacher Training it's *never* **never** promise confidentiality to a student. I know in this case it was just cute relationship advice but seriously, she could have been about to tell you about something you'd be legally obliged to call somebody about.

So yeah, cute and fun, but I'd expected something a little more...
Melissa G. at 00:02 on 2011-04-08
Just out of interest, did you get the same WARNING WARNING reaction I did when Charlotte says "will you promise you won't repeat a word of this to anyone"?


A little bit, yes. Because I've totally been in situations where students have shared too much with me, and then I'm in this moral conundrum about what to do about it. Mr. Rook was, like, the worst teacher ever. I tried to be a good teacher, but the choices just weren't really there.

I actually didn't try to crack the code to see Charlotte's naked pictures because I felt skeevy enough having just clicked the link. Can you actually look at her naked photos? That's disturbing. ......and what is the password anyway? I'm morbidly curious.
Melissa G. at 00:07 on 2011-04-08
I tried to be a good teacher, but the choices just weren't really there.


To clarify on this, I mean situations like the confrontation with Taylor. I chose the "angry approach" because I wanted to be stern and not coddle her, but what ended up happening was I started swearing at her and said something to the effect of "Don't be a bitch and you won't get expelled". O.o
Rude Cyrus at 03:02 on 2011-04-08
This game is hilarious, because at times it's obvious the creator wanted to go all out and write a forbidden love scene between a high school girl and her middle-aged lover -- and hey, whatever greases your gears -- but couldn't, probably because it wouldn't have been accepted.
Rude Cyrus at 03:37 on 2011-04-08
Oh and Melissa: yes, you can actually look at Charlotte's naked photos, which aren't that bad (she isn't completely naked) when you've spent so much time browsing 4chan and Google image search like I have. The password is Kendall's middle name (Morgan), but you actually have to go outside the game to figure that out, since it's never mentioned in-game.
Melissa G. at 05:00 on 2011-04-08
Thanks, Rude Cyrus. I may have to try that out on another play-through.

I just finished being the perviest teacher in the universe and doing everything but sleeping with my student, which gives me the creeps, personally. Of course, YMMV.

Some other thoughts:

1) Does anyone know what the point of those 12chan posts were? They seemed totally useless to me....

2) Did it bother anyone else how insistent Nolan was that he wasn't gay? I mean, I get that it's probably realistic for a high school kid who thought he was straight to not be able to admit that he's actually bisexual, but I think posts like "Nolan is in love with a guy, no homo" are incredibly disrespectful to Akira - the boy he loves so much. Also, the whole "I'm only gay for this ONE guy" is such a common trope in yaoi that I think I'm overly sensitive to it, and it grates on my nerves because I really don't think sexuality works like that.... (I could be wrong though.)

Also, the game seemed to really overuse the word "fag" for me. That word makes me wince. I imagine the British players wouldn't much have noticed that much as "fag" has a different meaning here in the US. But it kind of bothered me at times. Taylor using it made sense because she was trying to be cruel to Akira, but Nolan says things like, "Can you be any faggier, Akira?" Maybe the implication was that in the future, the word "fag" has come to mean the same thing as the word "gay" does now, but I'm still not totally cool with it being used so flippantly and in a positive (?) way. In real life, I spent so much time trying to get my students to stop saying "faggot" or "fag" when they meant "douchebag" and "gay" when they meant "stupid" that I imagine, again, that I'm more sensitive to this.

I'd be curious to hear other thoughts?
Dan H at 12:39 on 2011-04-08

1) Does anyone know what the point of those 12chan posts were? They seemed totally useless to me....


Kyra's interpretation was that they represented a kind of Greek Chorus - they were another metatextual element which provided commentary on the events of the story. I kind of thought they were overkill though.

(Will get back to your other comments later, in a bit of a rush)
Furare at 15:29 on 2011-04-08
I was going to say "heavyhanded foreshadowing" on the 12chan posts. So yeah, Greek Chorus, overkill, it fits. :D

And, you know, if you act unprofessionally with Arianna, the "Angry Reaction" path with Taylor in Chapter 5 is even worse. You don't just call one of your students a bitch; when you threaten her with expulsion she tries to blackmail you about your association with Arianna - and if you "call her bluff" angrily you end up basically bullying her into submission. It's really rather horrible.

(I have to say that my vindictive fifteen-year-old self would have loved to think that my teachers would talk to the kids who bullied me like John talks to Taylor if you pick "angry" - but that doesn't mean that I think it's an appropriate way for a teacher to behave now, at twenty-five.)

I really didn't like the ending of the game, either. It's just completely stupid. If the kids recognise (and it's fairly clear that they do) that there are some things that you share with everyone and other things that you don't or can't share - how can they be said to have no sense of what "privacy" means? Privacy is being allowed to keep secret what you want kept secret, that's all. It doesn't seem to be an alien concept to these kids, even if they are much freer with their teacher and each other than was been the case when John (and probably most of us, heh) was at school.

And I really don't get wanting your teacher to be your friend. I certainly never did. I didn't even want to be friendly with my pastoral tutor at university, who was part of my life for no other reason than to talk to me about any problems I might have. >.>

Positive stuff:
- I did think Isabella's "death" was affecting - despite having a pretty good idea it was going to happen (even though it really didn't) from the Amie messages and the 12chan posts. So the thing that John says about "Battle Royale" at the beginning of the Chapter is accurate - you know it's coming but it's no less effective for that.

- I loved Nolan x Akira, despite it being rather problematic in the ways that Melissa mentions - but that's probably because I'm viewing it through the filter of having read too much slash fanfiction, and was therefore fairly confident that he'd stop going on about how it was "only for Akira" at some point in the near future.

- Despite its stupidity, I did feel John's nervousness about the crunch time with Akira's mother in Chapter 7. Like, because we were seeing it through his eyes - and because the school seemed to think it'd be a big issue - I thought it really was going to be the big thing. So it was stupid but I felt the tension at the time... is that fridge logic? It was effective when I was experiencing it, so does that mean that it did its job?
Guy at 03:29 on 2011-04-10
1) Does anyone know what the point of those 12chan posts were? They seemed totally useless to me....


I think the "greek chorus" idea fits... I think part of what the game was about was the way in which what "we" (meaning, an adult audience who grew up without the internet and then had it "appear" at some point in our lives) perceive as "internet culture" makes up the world for young people who are growing up in it. I'm not sure. But it seemed to me that part of what the game was commenting on was the way that... even for adults who think they "get it", who use the internet all the time, &c, we don't experience it in the same way as today's teenagers for whom the internet has been the... formative environment for a whole lot of their psychological development. So, anyway, yeah. The 4chan posts kind of remind you of some of the features of that world; everyone's anonymous, there's a mixture of passionate intensity about nerdy subject matter and casual cruelty, everything's a bit disjointed and has a dual effect of creating a kind of "connection" which also creates distance, demoralisation, alienation &c.

One of the things that struck me about the game was the degree to which it uses its meta-textual nature to play with some ideas about transgression. There's a whole lot of transgressive stuff in the game, one way or another: a teacher having an affair with a student, a teacher getting involved in the love lives of various students, a group of people all getting together to play a "fake suicide prank", the whole spying thing... actually, the one that got to me (probably because I'm slogging through a huge pile of marking right now) was the total disregard for academic standards. For all Rook's flaws, he at least cares about whether or not his students are actually learning anything. They aren't. They're far more involved in their personal dramas (as you'd expect in real life) and so are you (both as the reader and in your role as Rook). Then the school basically swoops in and says, "because of our high academic standards, we have no academic standards, and everyone gets an A". Painfully familiar. But there are no consequences, in the story. Actually, that applies to all of these transgressions, which I think is kind of central to the whole thing: you can either "take things seriously" (or personally) and try to be "good", or you can just be out for what you want to happen (looking at sexts, sleeping w/ students, "shipping" the students you like and breaking up the ones you don't, &c &c). And I think... in some sense, the game actually doesn't take *any* position on those things, which is sort of transgressive in itself. It doesn't matter. If you look at the sexts, either you feel skeevy about it or you don't, but the game doesn't punish or reward you for it, it just kind of rolls along. And there are various ways this indifference is reflected in the thematic stuff of the game: "it doesn't matter, it's just the internet", "it doesn't matter, it's just a story", "it doesn't matter, it's just a metatextual commentary on stories", "it doesn't matter, it was just a prank and nobody really died", &c. And I think it reflects some kind of... I don't know, distancing. Like, why does it matter? Why should we take it personally? Why not just "lighten up"? I don't think the game itself is nihilistic, but I think... well, anyway, that's what it made me think about, the contrast between the passion and immediacy of high school drama and teenage love and the tendencies toward - and consequences of - a kind of nihilistic world. In that sense I think maybe what's her name, the "bully" (who you're encouraged to bully yourself) is a key character, but I'm a little worried this comment may now be long enough to break the system so I'll stop...
Wardog at 10:49 on 2011-04-11
Guy, that's a really interesting perspective - I hadn't thought about it like that, although to be honest, having done some teaching in my time, I'm kind of with Dan on the notion that "it doesn't really matter" doesn't intersect well with the responsibilities of being a teacher. I don't know if that, in itself, is some kind of commentary - I mean we all have this idea that teaching is somehow this tremendous responsibility and will have long-lasting affects on the lives of adolescences and, y'know, maybe it just isn't and won't. It reminds me in some way of the whole groping subplot in The History Boys - the boys themselves are terribly blase and unbothered about it, but everyone else, including the audience, are instinctively appalled.

I've found this discussion really interesting but it's quite long and so I apologise for not responding to specific points, but I just wanted to defend the Nolan not immediately identifying as gay (or bi). I don't read much (well ... any) yaoi so I wasn't aware that "straight except for this dude" was a cliche, but I kind of liked that self-definition was so much a non-issue for the students. I mean John spends a lot of time being quite confused about who is gay and why it matters, but ultimately it kind of doesn't. The point is that Akira and Nolan have a functional (and entirely adorable) relationship, and it's important to Akira's sense of self-identity to be 'gay' but not to Nolan's, and not to the validity of the relationship itself. There's quite a similar thing with Kendall and Charlotte in that Kendall very self-consciously identifies as a lesbian but Charlotte doesn't explicitely self-define as bisexual, or as anything.

Also human sexuality can be kind of fluid and sometimes "straight except for this guy" is a reasonable reflection of it.
Melissa G. at 16:21 on 2011-04-11
The point is that Akira and Nolan have a functional (and entirely adorable) relationship, and it's important to Akira's sense of self-identity to be 'gay' but not to Nolan's, and not to the validity of the relationship itself. There's quite a similar thing with Kendall and Charlotte in that Kendall very self-consciously identifies as a lesbian but Charlotte doesn't explicitely self-define as bisexual, or as anything.


I can see that, but the reason it bothers me goes beyond just that he doesn't self-define as gay or bi. I don't mind at all that Charlotte chooses not to call herself anything particular either in real life or on her profile. She has literally made it a non-issue.

But with Nolan, it comes off to me like he doesn't want to define as gay because then he would a "homo" or "fag", which is gross. He still wants to be "straight" (i.e. normal), but he's willing to admit that this one dude at least is so uber special that he's willing to "go gay" for him. I might be reading into it, and other people might not see that in Nolan's resistance to define himself. But that's normally how the trope seems to work, and that's what really bothers me about it. It makes it out like they're something *wrong* with being gay because he's so unwilling to admit that maybe, just maybe, he might find guys sexually attractive too (even if, on average, he tends to find girls more sexually attractive).

Don't get me wrong; I love the Nolan/Akira relationship and ship them with the power of a thousand Navys, but that one aspect of it really stuck in my craw, again, due to the fact that I'm so accustomed to it. It just seems like authors use it as a way to have a gay couple while doing the equivalent of whitewashing for gays with one of the characters. It feels very much to me like, "Oh, no, no, no, he's not GAY. He just likes this dude. The little fairy, fem-boy, though, oh yeah, totally a fruit. But not the strapping, tall cool kid. Never. He still mostly likes chicks." And that really bugs me.

Hopefully that made things clearer. Though, I also realize that (as a straight white chick) I'm Minority Warrioring a bit here....
Melissa G. at 17:15 on 2011-04-11
Er, double post, sorry. I just wanted to point out where my interpretation of Nolan's behavior comes from. I was thinking, in particular, of two instances. The one I've mentioned before is the "Nolan is in love with a dude, no homo." He is quick to clarify that even though he loves a guy, he's not a homo (implied: because that would be gross or weird). And the other one is when he's originally talking to John about Akira, and he says that even though he finds Akira attractive sexually, he still has no desire to fuck him up the ass (implied: because that would be gross and make me a fag). Again, I might be reading too much into it because I'm overly familiar with this trope from a culture that has a very odd love/hate relationship with gays.

Dan H at 18:27 on 2011-04-11
@Guy

And I think... in some sense, the game actually doesn't take *any* position on those things, which is sort of transgressive in itself. It doesn't matter.


I think the thing is that "it doesn't matter" *is* a position. Particularly when you're talking about things like professional ethics and academic standards.

The game seems to think that Rook's concerns over the students' terrible academic standards are a lot of fuss about nothing (along with his concerns about having sex with a student, a lots of other things he'd completely right to be concerned about) - I suppose you can argue that it's transgressive but I kind of see it as juvenile.

It's what I've taken to thinking of as "misdirected condemnation". Rook's students aren't learning anything, and he worries that this will reflect badly on him. I think he should be condemned for worrying about himself instead of his students, the game thinks he should be condemned for worrying at all.

@Melissa

I might be reading into it, and other people might not see that in Nolan's resistance to define himself. But that's normally how the trope seems to work, and that's what really bothers me about it. It makes it out like they're something *wrong* with being gay because he's so unwilling to admit that maybe, just maybe, he might find guys sexually attractive too (even if, on average, he tends to find girls more sexually attractive).


I see where you're getting that from, but I mostly read that as Nolan's baggage rather than the game designer's - I don't have any hard data on this but I suspect that for a lot of guys there's an underlying stigma associated with being labeled as a fag or a homo which causes them to cling onto their self-definition as "straight" for longer than they otherwise might. So I think I saw what you saw, but read it as "Nolan is afraid to think of himself as gay" rather than "Christine Love is afraid to have her conventionally masculine guy self-describe as gay".
http://orionsnebula.blogspot.com/ at 18:39 on 2011-04-11
Melissa,

I definitely noticed the things you found problematic as I went through, but I didn't always interpret them the same way. In most cases, there was an explanation for why they would talk that way that didn't depend on active homophobia. It seemed to me that Nolan and Akira soaked up idioms from their culture which may themselves have problematic history, but weren't used to personally disrespect Akira.

"Fag": Akira throws the word "fag" around because he hangs out on 4chan and other internet communities where "artfag" "furfag" and so on are common terms. I don't like those terms, but as a character detail it makes perfect sense that he would use it.

"No homo": "No homo" has been an internet joke for years now, I don't know anyone who takes it seriously. Given how ironic and self-aware the kids generally are, I can't believe Nolan played that one straight. I read that line as Nolan's admission that yeah, he is a little bit gay.

Buttsex: Nolan's opinion on buttsex is only voiced to Rook in private, at his most confused moment. And we're told by Rook to that Nolan seems to be protesting too much. I sort of assumed that he moderated his stance over time.



Melissa G. at 19:31 on 2011-04-11
I suspect that for a lot of guys there's an underlying stigma associated with being labeled as a fag or a homo which causes them to cling onto their self-definition as "straight" for longer than they otherwise might. So I think I saw what you saw, but read it as "Nolan is afraid to think of himself as gay" rather than "Christine Love is afraid to have her conventionally masculine guy self-describe as gay"


I can totally see this, and for the most part would agree. Like, I said earlier, it's totally realistic for Nolan to feel/think the way he does. I just find it problematic to have it in media (be it games, tv, movies, whatever) because it reinforces a very common and damaging mindset that we have in society. For example, "Since Nolan isn't the one taking it up the ass, that makes him somehow less gay. You're only *gay* gay if you're a little fairy girl-boy." I wasn't trying to suggest that Christine Love is in anyway homophobic, just that I find it problematic because of what it reinforces, and there wasn't enough attention paid to it for me to be able to hand-wave it away as just his own personal issue that he'd eventually get over. No one ever called Nolan out on his behavior or challenged it, I guess, was part of the problem for me. I would have liked Akira to say something about it, but it kind of seemed like he was so afraid of chasing Nolan away that he wouldn't have dared push or challenge him about that. Even his request that maybe they label their relationship was quickly amended at the end with a sort of "But if you're not ready to do that, that's totes cool, and I am totally fine with it." But obviously the lack of confirmation of returned feelings did, in fact, bother him enough to have him speak out about it, but he was still afraid to push completely for an answer.

I don't like those terms, but as a character detail it makes perfect sense that he would use it.


That makes sense. I'm not as familiar with that sort of slang. It's still just a word that grates on my nerves, and Akira's not the only one who uses it. Pretty much everybody does, almost as though it's interchangable for the word "gay". And I don't really like that, personally.

"No homo" has been an internet joke for years now, I don't know anyone who takes it seriously


Again, I'm less aware of this as an internet joke. (Apparently I live under a rock and this is my first day on the Internets.) But if I'm expected to believe that that was a subtle admission, he still puts his "interested in" status on Amie as "Straight with one exception". Again, he's quick to put that he's straight right up front, lest he somehow be thought of as a homo, boy-lover, like, say *Akira*. There's still this idea in him that he doesn't want to be thought of as actually liking boys sexually. It's more that he's sort of overlooked gender where this one guy is concerned. Which is also problematic for me because then it makes it seem he's tolerating Akira's manbits rather than actually liking them, which I feel is a problem should their relationship ever progress to sex.

Which brings me to:

And we're told by Rook to that Nolan seems to be protesting too much. I sort of assumed that he moderated his stance over time.


If I remember correctly, the "protesting too much" is in response to when you support their relationship as Rook and just involves him specifically mentioning that Akira is a good looking guy, and mentions nothing about sex (at least when I played through that way). The sex was brought up when Rook was more hesitant to approve, and then Nolan says, "He's attractive, but I still don't want to put my...." And then Rook has a brain spasm because he unwittingly pictured his two students having buttsex (understandable).

It is possible that he gets over that and is more willing to think "okay, maybe I do want to buttsex Akira" but the only confirmation we get of their sexual activity is that they "make-out". And obviously there was some sort of hesitation with the physical stuff otherwise Taylor wouldn't have been able to get under Akira's skin so easily, and Akira wouldn't have written that whole message to Nolan proclaiming that he feels bad about everything because Nolan is straight and he (Akira) is being selfish.

I understand that there are other ways to read it and that it won't bother everyone. But even Rook (who again isn't the most reliable) basically says that this relationship between them probably isn't a great idea and won't end well, even though this is the path where he supports them. It just left me feeling kind of pessimistic about their relationship lasting, which I didn't want because I really loved them together.

Though again this was a game made in a month, and I can't expect her to give so much attention to one specific couple. I just found it to be problematic.
Dan H at 20:03 on 2011-04-11
No one ever called Nolan out on his behavior or challenged it, I guess, was part of the problem for me


Yeah, I can see that. I think there is an implication that Nolan is unwilling to acknowledge his relationship (like the bit where they bug him to update his relationship status) and I think it falls under the same umbrella. So I can see why it bugs you but I actually think it's challenged as much as it could be within reasonable teenager/oblivious grownup behaviour. I mean yes if Rook was a better teacher, he might have sat Nolan down and had a talk with him about it, but Rook is actually quite a bad teacher.
Furare at 20:54 on 2011-04-11
Rook is actually quite a bad teacher.


Yeah, you see, this is the thing that I really don't get. The students are all apparently trying to get him to "lighten up" and not be so "serious business", which I guess means behave less like a teacher or something. But this is a guy who might, by the point they hatch the Isabella plot, have kissed one of his students and given relationship advice to another - and by the time they actually say that to him, he might have acted still more unprofessionally with Arianna, called Taylor a bitch, done matchmaking for Charlotte and Kendall, and bought alcohol for underaged girls. How much less like a teacher could he really behave without getting the sack?
Dan H at 21:22 on 2011-04-11
How much less like a teacher could he really behave without getting the sack?


I *think* the notion was that he was supposed to stop obsessing about everything, and there's an extent to which I can sympathize with that. I mean if you *are* going to date one of your students, you kind of owe it to her not to be a self-absorbed jackass about it. If you squint and tilt your head funny you can almost make the message of the game into something like "whatever decisions you make, have the courage to stand by them and not spend all your time worrying about how they reflect on the person you think you're supposed to want to be."

But it's a bit of a stretch.
Melissa G. at 21:37 on 2011-04-11
I think there is an implication that Nolan is unwilling to acknowledge his relationship (like the bit where they bug him to update his relationship status)


Of course, what he updated his profile too was where it became so problematic for me. :-) But I agree with what you said here:

I actually think it's challenged as much as it could be within reasonable teenager/oblivious grownup behaviour


And I also acknowledge that this is not a game about a confused high school boy coming to terms with his bisexuality so I get why she didn't go into it all in detail.

(Also wanted to clarify that I do think Nolan is bisexual because I'd been referring to him as gay to make a broader point in above posts and I just realized that I probably shouldn't have....)

Rook is actually quite a bad teacher.


Haha, true story.

@Furare

Totally agree. I was like, what exactly in his behavior made these kids think he was too "serious business"? I guess he cared about their grades too much and was too invested in whether he was engaging them in the material? Because, yeah, I mean, that's way out of line for a teacher....
http://orionsnebula.blogspot.com/ at 21:53 on 2011-04-11
The first time through, I was totally confused about why they found him "overserious." The second time, it seemed to me that they were specific referring to the privacy issue. He needed to "lighten up" about the fact that he read their messages, and stop trying to hide it from them.

The trouble is, I can't figure out how they even knew he was pretending not to read their messages. If they blithely assumed he did, how could they tell he was even concealing it?
Dan H at 22:50 on 2011-04-11

The trouble is, I can't figure out how they even knew he was pretending not to read their messages. If they blithely assumed he did, how could they tell he was even concealing it?


My guess is that he'd glance surreptitiously down at his screen every time one of them sent a message, it wouldn't take long for them to figure out, but you can often tell when somebody thinks they're being subtle.
Guy at 14:49 on 2011-04-12
The game seems to think that Rook's concerns over the students' terrible academic standards are a lot of fuss about nothing (along with his concerns about having sex with a student, a lots of other things he'd completely right to be concerned about) - I suppose you can argue that it's transgressive but I kind of see it as juvenile.


Just to be clear, I don't endorse that indifference and I don't think the game is endorsing it either, but to explain why I think that, allow me to produce another enormous wall of semi-coherent text. ;)

I guess one of the problems of authors intentionally disrupting the normal process of immersion in narrative, trampling on the fourth wall, and inviting a Barthesian indifference to authorial intent, is that it creates both a great field of possibilities for how you could interpret the text but also a very high degree of uncertainty about whether those interpretations actually fit with whatever the hell the author's intentions were. So, I've got no idea if the train of thought this game set off for me really fits at all with a sensible reading of it. But, with that caveat, let me suggest the following as a possibility: the breakdown in narrative coherence is used to parallel a kind of breakdown in moral obligation, and to suggest a link between the two and to problematise, rather than celebrate, that breakdown. So, OK, why do I think that?

Like you, I thought the first three chapters were the strongest part of the story. A great effort is made to establish real emotional investment in the characters, to make you care about them, and to generate a sense of immersion & verisimilitude in the world, so that when **SPOILERS** Isabella kills herself, it's a real kick in the teeth. It's awful and it feels so real - especially the sad touch of the kids posting semi-thoughtless tragicomic goodbyes on her Facebook page but then rapidly seeming to forget she ever was in that class. Like you, I think if the story had ended there I would have said that the game was just flat-out amazing. But this is also the least meta part of a game that, as you say, wanders very, very far into the territory of meta-ness. It starts to approach the kind of parodical meta-ness of Moser's This is the Title of This Story. Not quite, but it's kind of headed in that direction. Now, maybe that's because - like the screenwriter in Adaptation - the author's just run out of ideas and is making a desperate lunge at writing a story about writing stories in order to fill up pages.

But... if you've actually already got a really kick-arse story, why the hell would you sabotage it in that way? Why go around and demolish all the things that made the story work in the first place - have the characters effectively holding up signs saying "This is not a pipe!" or "No need to feel bad about me, I'm not a person, just a fictional representation of a person designed to fit certain emotionally resonant archetypes, so don't take it personally if I die / am hurt / &c!". So, again, maybe Love just doesn't know what she's doing or maybe she's just playing around, but this possibility that kind of came to me was that it was an intentional allusion to the kind of process of breaking down meaningful associations that happens with heavy use of the internet. That... the sort of critically-aware, trope-aware, cynically language-cautious attitude created by having such a "knowing" position relative to our culture actually is attacking... some boundaries which are critical to the maintenance of a good society. So, in the realm of the game, the "teacher" is a sort of symbol of the people or forces that are supposed to be inculcating good values in the young generation, maintaining the moral order which is dependent on having a strong sense of what's good, what's bad, policing what's acceptable and so on, but instead of doing that he's just kind of... partly with blithe good intentions - blundering all over the place behaving in the most appallingly unethical fashion imaginable. And there's no externally-imposed boundary to stop him from doing that. I mean, that's kind of the nightmare of what Durkheim calls anomie - that you keep doing what you think is wicked in order to discover where the social taboo is that will keep you "contained" within some kind of fixed moral universe and instead you just keep wandering out into some unbounded nothingness, becoming more and more villainous and never having anybody say "OK, here you must stop!". And this... "anomic wasteland" has a triple parallel within the story; internet culture, the postmodern dissolution of traditional literary coherence, and the future breakdown of various ethical norms among the young (but really, lead by their parents and teachers, so, among everyone).

I'm aware that it's possibly drawing a huge bow, but seen from this perspective the bit at the end with Akira's mother might actually not be so much of a "big reveal" of the game's message ("don't worry so much about privacy!") as it is an intentional crime against mimesis in the form of, "now one of the major characters is just going to come right out and explain the meaning of the story to you, in a huge slab of expository text!" Like in Adaptation, where every cliched thing the writer swore he'd never do all starts to happen one after another. It joins the parade of meta-moments at the end of the game which seem to be there to intentionally undermine everything that came before.

So, I may well just be projecting my own preoccupations onto the game, but that's where I'm coming from - seeing the building-up and then subsequent tearing-down of "forms" in the game as itself being a kind of meta-commentary on the problems of formlessness faced by our present society (and especially by the young.) I don't know if this interpretation is plausible but I hope at least it's kind of interesting. ;)
Dan H at 14:59 on 2011-04-12
I see where you're coming from, but I think the thing is that if you're *right* then that just leaves the game being shit and trite. I mean there's only so many layers of "aah, do you seee!" I can take.
http://orionsnebula.blogspot.com/ at 18:12 on 2011-04-12
I had a different take on the issue of academic standards. I don't think the game is saying that learning isn't important. It's saying that grades and tests aren't important.

We know Charlotte is smart and dedicated. She blows two of the big tests because of other things going on in her life, but the administrators make the consequences go away. And why shouldn't they? She's clearly very bright, whether she performs well on the tests or not.

Kendall is a "bad student" who pays very little attention in class, etc. And yet, when you challenge her about Battle Royale, she comes through with a very sophisticated reading. For reason she's not engaging with the classroom environment, but clearly she is engaging with the literature.

Akira works even less on his class, but we know he's an anime fan. We can see him working through and interpreting the stuff he watches on Amie and on 12Chan. Judging from the discussion of Eniko's death, he's quite capable of discussing literature when he wants to. We're not given any reason to believe that the books Rook assigns are better or more important than what he's watching on his own.

Why *should* we care whether the kids work hard in their English class? I don't think there's anythign terribly wrong with their priorities.
http://orionsnebula.blogspot.com/ at 18:13 on 2011-04-12
Also, would it be possible for me to get a Ferretbrain account?
Arthur B at 19:24 on 2011-04-12
Why *should* we care whether the kids work hard in their English class? I don't think there's anythign terribly wrong with their priorities.

Because you can't take a teacher's personal experience of interacting with a student and getting past their indifference in order to uncover the skill and intelligence they've not been showing in their work and fit it onto a CV. Hell, it's kind of a tall order to ask the teacher to provide a detailed summary of the sum total of their interactions with you in a covering letter.

Students don't have to prove anything to the administrators and teachers who've worked with them every day and know them personally and realise that they are actually quite bright. But when they grow up and leave school they can't just go and ask said teachers and administrators for a job; odds are, they'll probably have to submit an application or two to complete strangers, and whilst a good employer won't just go by academic qualifications, at the end of the day they have to narrow the field somehow because giving interview time to every single candidate who applies for a job may well be burdensome.

Also, being able to concentrate on your work and perform tasks according to the instructions you're given even if you personally think the work involved is stupid and dull and you wish you were doing something else is actually a useful skill to have.
http://orionsnebula.blogspot.com/ at 19:31 on 2011-04-12
But when they grow up and leave school...they'll probably have to submit an application or two to complete strangers....

Yes, but they know they're going to get A's no matter what they do, so that won't be a problem for them. It may be unethical of the administration to give them that advantage, but I don't think it's unethical of the kids and Rook to take advantage of it.
Wardog at 20:26 on 2011-04-12
Re: Fb account - just drop me an email at editoratferretbraindotcom with what you'd like for a name etc. :)
Dan H at 20:29 on 2011-04-12
I had a different take on the issue of academic standards. I don't think the game is saying that learning isn't important. It's saying that grades and tests aren't important.


Which is, unfortunately, equally wrong.

Exams are like democracy, they're the worst way to test a student's academic progress, except for all the other ways.

Exams are transparent and measurable in a way that other forms of assessment simply aren't. It's all very well to say that we "know" that Charlotte is smart and dedicated, but if she isn't smart enough to pass her exams, she probably isn't that smart, and if she isn't dedicated enough *not* to get distracted by her relationship with Kendall she isn't that dedicated. You can't justify giving a student top grades on the basis of your a standard of work which they have actually let slip.

Similarly, sure Kendall gave one good answer to one question, but the truth is that she's lazy and glib. And I don't believe for one second that "likes Anime" should translate directly to a good grade in English. That runs perilously close to turning the whole thing into a Caucus Race - all have won and all must have prizes.

To put it another way, what do we do about Taylor? Do you mark her down for "being a bitch"? Do you take the fact that she never had a chat with Rook in which he decided she was a good student as evidence that she's a bad student? Does she deserve a better or a worse grade than Nolan?

Do exams tell you everything you need to know about a person? Of course not, but your exam scores in a subject *really do* correlate strongly with your knowledge of that subject. Somebody who gets an A in English Literature almost certainly knows more about the Literature than somebody who gets a C. They can almost certainly express themselves better. They probably just plain worked harder.

Within the fictional world of the game, of course, you're completely right. Charlotte and Kendall really don't need the skills which would allow them to get a decent grade in English to be "good students" but that's because the game occupies a faintly juvenile fantasy space in which formal education is a silly waste of time. In reality, Kendall would be one of those infuriating students who talks a good game but can't apply herself and believe me "talks a good game but can't apply herself" is a real failing, not some lovable quirk that the man is trying to beat out of her.

Today, she's the girl who can give a fantastic verbal answer to a question, but can't perform in an exam. Tomorrow she'll be the girl who does great in her university interviews but flunks finals. Five years from now she'll be the one who had loads of potential but never did anything with it - the girl who's always talking about the novel she's going to write but never getting around to writing, the girl who's totally going to start a business but never puts together a business plan.

Exams matter, they just don't matter for the reasons people think.
Arthur B at 20:47 on 2011-04-12
Yes, but they know they're going to get A's no matter what they do, so that won't be a problem for them. It may be unethical of the administration to give them that advantage, but I don't think it's unethical of the kids and Rook to take advantage of it.

OK, here I confess that I don't know how the Japanese education system works but I would be absolutely astonished if their nationally-recognised qualifications were based entirely on marks awarded by schools.

I mean, maybe they are. But I'd be pretty appalled.
http://orionsnebula.blogspot.com/ at 21:08 on 2011-04-12
Let me start by saying that I don't know what I'm talking about. I'm teasing out what the game seems to be saying, and I find parts of that emotionally sympathetic, but I really don't know anything about the real world equivalents.

For example, for me personally I know that tests and grades weren't important--because I never had any. I was homeschooled my entire life, and when I applied to college (american), my transcript had exactly three grades on it, from some night school classes I'd taken. Since I have no grades, all the schools and scholarships I applied to were forced to find other ways to evaluate me--which is also true when everyone is given an A automatically. I don't actually know what it's like to be a high school student. That said...

You can't justify giving a student top grades on the basis of your a standard of work which they have actually let slip.


That's certainly true, but Rook isn't the one giving the grades. The administrators are. Now, what the administrators are doing is probably wrong, but it's not under Rook's or the students' control. So from Charlotte's perspective: she knows that she's getting an A no matter what she does. With that knowledge, I think the choices she makes--choosing the dance over her homework, for instance--are actually quite rational. Building relationships is also legitimately important. By the same token, Rook probably doesn't need to worry about her as much as he does.

To put it another way, what do we do about Taylor? Do you mark her down for "being a bitch"? Do you take the fact that she never had a chat with Rook in which he decided she was a good student as evidence that she's a bad student? Does she deserve a better or a worse grade than Nolan?


No, she doesn't get marked down for being a bitch. She gets an A, exactly like everyone else. Actually, one benefit of the (startling corrupt) school regime is she isn't hurt by Rook's bias against her. He clearly isn't giving her the credit she deserves--he hates on her inattention but ignores Nolan's, and when she apparently does come up with something good about Battle Royale, Rook is so uninterested we don't get to hear it. The "everyone gets an A" policy doesn't subject the students to Rook's caprices, it protects them.

I don't believe for one second that "likes Anime" should translate directly to a good grade in English.


It shouldn't, of course. I'd say that an english class has two goals--(1) students should learn to understand and appreciate literature and (2)students should learn to express themselves clearly in formal writing. (2) is almost certainly the more important one, and there's no evidence that any of the kids is doing well on it. My first post definitely underestiamted its importance.

What I was trying to say about Akira is that he doesn't just "like anime"--he does actually discuss what he watches online in basically the way Rook would want him to discuss the assigned reading in class.

sure Kendall gave one good answer to one question, but the truth is that she's lazy and glib.


You're probably right. I really want to disagree, but I'm too close to the question. The truth is, I'm generally lazy and glib. I cared about impressing my college professors, but I did so by reading small sections of the assigned books and spinning out imaginative and witty reactions. I was disorganized and turned things in late and got stellar grades anyway. I'm on leave from school now because I got sick, but am scheduled to be graduating in a few months. And I *am* that (boy) who never got around to writing a novel.

I really want to insist that the reading and writing I've done outside of school, my creative works, and so on are really more important, but I may well be deluding myself.
http://orionsnebula.blogspot.com/ at 21:21 on 2011-04-12
Arthur,

DTIPB takes place in Canada, not Japan. While reading, I had just assumed that Canada would work just like the US, which was almost certainly a mistake. A quick glance at wikipedia seems to suggest that Canadian admissions are based almost entirely on grades from your school, which I do find appalling if true, although I suspect I'm missing something.

In America, meanwhile, college admissions are generally based on two thigns: the grades your school gives, and one of two nationwide standardized tests (usually, the SAT). So, if those kids were American, they would indeed have to perform well on a test to get into a college program. However, the SAT is really not very much like high school coursework, and the skill set for performing well on it is substantially different. I have no trouble believing that Kendall would do very well on the SAT, even though she doesn't seem to care about school.
Dan H at 21:49 on 2011-04-12
That's certainly true, but Rook isn't the one giving the grades. The administrators are. Now, what the administrators are doing is probably wrong, but it's not under Rook's or the students' control.


True, but that's a distinct issue - the game seems to be saying that Rook was silly to worry about grades, because they were rigged anyway, but all that means is that he has something *else* to be concerned about - not only are his students not learning anything in his class, but he's *also* working for an institution which has flagrantly unethical exam practices, those two things don't cancel out, they're just a problem and an *even worse* problem.

So the way I see it, Rook doesn't need to stop worrying about exams, he needs to worry about exams *even more* because he should be worrying *both* about the way his students are progressing in his class *and* about the fact that his school's exam system is flawed.

The truth is, I'm generally lazy and glib.


That's okay, so am I. So, I suspect, are most of us here on FB (most of us never got around to writing a novel either). Part of the reason I'm so infuriated by Rook's treatment of Kendall is that I know exactly how easy it is to get used to coasting on natural ability (which Rook clearly allows Kendall to do).

I suppose in a sense your initial point was correct: it's not the grades that matter, it's the tangible evidence that the students' exam performance provides of whether Rook has succeeded in actually teaching them. Even though the exam results get bumped up to As, Rook still fails his students, simply because he fails to help them in any way which relates to his actual profession. Kendall doesn't need somebody to buy her saki, she needs somebody to tell her to stop dicking around, because there'll come a point that she'll have to apply herself, and if she isn't in the habit when that time comes she'll drown.

Hell the only student who really does need "a friend" (insofar as it's ever appropriate to have a friendly relationship with a student) is Taylor, and Rook ballses that one up too.
Dan H at 21:54 on 2011-04-12
OK, here I confess that I don't know how the Japanese education system works but I would be absolutely astonished if their nationally-recognised qualifications were based entirely on marks awarded by schools.


For what it's worth, our school actually does have an in-house exam system which actually is accepted by (many) UK universities so it's not as completely crazy as it sounds. On the other hand this system does have to be externally accredited, and we do take the rigor and quality of our exam system very, very seriously (it's nowhere near as good as it should be, but this is something which our teachers are *seriously concerned* about).

Basically if your school did give everybody an A, universities would notice *really quickly* and they would genuinely *stop looking* at your students, because they'd assume your entire institution was a fraud (and they'd be kind of right).
Arthur B at 22:30 on 2011-04-12
Yeah, checking Wikipedia suggests to me that in the Canadian systems the schools do in fact have oversight at the province level so there's presumably external accreditation there too.
Shimmin at 22:30 on 2011-04-12
Disclaimer: haven't played it.
So from Charlotte's perspective: she knows that she's getting an A no matter what she does. With that knowledge, I think the choices she makes--choosing the dance over her homework, for instance--are actually quite rational. Building relationships is also legitimately important. By the same token, Rook probably doesn't need to worry about her as much as he does.

Well, it's rational in a very specific short-term way, and on the assumption that packaging will get you everywhere regardless of content. I'd argue for exactly the opposite. Rationally, the students should be making serious efforts to apply themselves because sooner or later they might need to match up to the grades they got - probably for an employer. Without reliable feedback or motivation from the school system, they've no way of knowing what they can really do. Similarly, if Rook gives a damn about his students he should be worrying about them even more, because they're being failed by the school. He should be trying to motivate and educate them as best he can so they can achieve what they're allegedly capable of despite all these problems. It's all very well to think "natural talent" will pull you through, but you do actually need to learn some things too; you might bluff through an interview, but generally both study and work demand actual knowledge and application.

Put it this way: "I don't need to take driving lessons or study the Highway Code, because I bribed the examiners." Rational?
Guy at 02:18 on 2011-04-13
The author speaks!. Hmm, interesting.
Melissa G. at 02:29 on 2011-04-13
OK, here I confess that I don't know how the Japanese education system works but I would be absolutely astonished if their nationally-recognised qualifications were based entirely on marks awarded by schools.


Having taught within the Japanese education system, I feel qualified to respond. From what I understood, their marks in school are actually pretty worthless. And they even get multiple chances to pass their finals, and the make-up final is *easier* than the original to make sure that they'll get decent grades anyway. All that matters as far as getting into college is what you get on the college entrance exams. And whether or not you can get a good job usually (not always) has to do with how you perform on exams given by the companies to potential employees. Exams mean EVERYTHING in the Japanese education system.

Though, again, the game doesn't take place in Japan, but I thought I'd offer up my knowledge on the subject anyway. :-)
Arthur B at 09:05 on 2011-04-13
All that matters as far as getting into college is what you get on the college entrance exams. And whether or not you can get a good job usually (not always) has to do with how you perform on exams given by the companies to potential employees. Exams mean EVERYTHING in the Japanese education system.

True, but I would submit that studying hard for your school finals is damn good practice for the college entrance exams and the exams given by companies, whereas if you coast along in school and never really learn good study technique and exam skills your odds of catching up to the folks who did pay attention will be pretty slim. I mean, it'd be doable if you were really really bright and motivated. But laziness, as a habit, is kind of hard to break.
Wardog at 11:11 on 2011-04-13
I'm just reading Love's comments - wait, whut, everybody hated Kendall? I thought she was cute. Kind of pretentious, of course, but in a cute way. I would tap that. Totes.

I am glad that Rook was *meant* to be an awful teacher, though, and that the creepy sexuality was, err, meant to be creepy. I'm surprised she didn't feel she handled the straight male voice though - I thought he came across very well, in an insecure, fucked up, self-absorbed kind of way, and I thought his response to Arianna was fairly convincingly conflicted while at the same time being, y'know, Not Okay.
Wardog at 11:16 on 2011-04-13
Err...I mean ... I would tap that if I was her age (and fictional).

Not now.

Um.

Fail.
Dan H at 11:22 on 2011-04-13
Yeah, looking at comments now:

Kendall: Thought she was really well done, I'm sad that her dialogue was supposed to be "stupid" rather than "believable slang that you just don't get because you're too damned old". Something I still don't think the game handles well is its position on whether John is supposed to be keeping himself aloof from the students or not.

John is an awful teacher: Yup, but as I mention here, the thing that bugs me is that what I think makes him an awful teacher and what the game thinks make him an awful teacher seem to be different things (I have no idea, for example, whether the thing about how his old teachers used to "waste time" by having the students read through the play was supposed to be a subtle clue about how terrible he was).

Male Voice and Male Sexuality: Umm ... yeah, she's bang on here. She really can't write guy-sex.

Arianna: I was always okay with the Arianna stuff actually, in that it did come across as kind of creepy, what bugged me was the fact that it was bundled into this wider narrative about how John has to avoid taking things so seriously.

Voyeurism: The school would be reasonably likely to have access to her middle name. End of. Okay, not quite end of. Also I don't believe that even if the photographs were password protected, Charlotte would be comfortable with you knowing she was sending them (particularly since there's quite explicit descriptions of your contents in Kendall's replies).

Ichigo's Speech: Sucks. And I was a bit annoyed by Love's "even those people who engaged with the content" line - it made it seem like her first reaction was to assume people just didn't *get* it.

Although, as ever, authorial intent isn't entirely important...
Melissa G. at 14:51 on 2011-04-13
True, but I would submit that studying hard for your school finals is damn good practice for the college entrance exams


This is true. They definitely work hard to pass these exams. Some of them even go to extra schooling at night specifically to learn the skills needed to pass these exams. It honestly seemed to me when I was teaching in high school that they learned absolutely zero in regular school and the cram schools were where they were learning the info to pass their college entrance exams. Of course, I could have been totally off. But the school exams tend to be extremely simplified and the questions are copied straight from the text books. There's not much innovation in the tests; it's simply memorize and then parrot out the answers. There is not much in the way of critical thinking. For example, debate is strictly an English class subject because it's such a foreign concept for them.

But this is all very off topic now. Apologies.

I was always okay with the Arianna stuff actually, in that it did come across as kind of creepy, what bugged me was the fact that it was bundled into this wider narrative about how John has to avoid taking things so seriously


I was actually kind of surprised to hear her say that the player was supposed to feel bad about choosing the Arianna path. I mean, it was the only path in which there was sexual scenes/pictures (and I agree with her when she said they weren't written well), and at the end of it all, he says he's falling in love with her and everything is smiles and rainbows. How does that point toward bad at all?

I also thought the whole Rook worried about emasculating Nolan thing was weird, which was brought up either in the post or in the comments, I forget. I notice that he didn't worry about emasculating *Akira* by trying to protect him, which kind of bugged. I really wanted Akira to grow a little bit of backbone, I'm realizing. Like, when Nolan says, "I don't need you to help me protect him", I kind of wish Akira had been like, "Yeah, I got this" or something. It just felt like he took an overly feminine role in the relationship, which is another yaoi trope I'm way too familiar with.

But honestly, I'm only nitpicking her gay boy relationship so much because that's the one I cared most about. I don't mean to open up that can of worms again. (^_^);
Dan H at 15:25 on 2011-04-13
I was actually kind of surprised to hear her say that the player was supposed to feel bad about choosing the Arianna path. I mean, it was the only path in which there was sexual scenes/pictures (and I agree with her when she said they weren't written well), and at the end of it all, he says he's falling in love with her and everything is smiles and rainbows. How does that point toward bad at all?


Yeah, I didn't really understand that at all. Even worse, it seemed like she thought that the fact that Arianne was clearly quite consciously and aggressively pursuing Rook made it creepier, rather than significantly *less* creepy.
Orion at 20:49 on 2011-04-13
The creeptastic art in the kiss scenes suggested to me that I was supposed to feel bad--although weirdly her self-critique also suggests that she considers the creepy art a failure.

Melissa G. at 21:35 on 2011-04-13
Even worse, it seemed like she thought that the fact that Arianne was clearly quite consciously and aggressively pursuing Rook made it creepier, rather than significantly *less* creepy.


Yeah, I don't get that either. As much as I'm not in favor of "hot for teacher" stories most of the time, I find the ones where the student is pursuing far less squicktacular than the opposite....

The creeptastic art in the kiss scenes suggested to me that I was supposed to feel bad-


I wasn't sure if it was meant to be creeptastic or if that was artistic failure. I had assumed the latter when I played through.

Btw, I assume Orion is formerly orionsnebula, and if so, congrats on your Ferretbrain ID! ^_^
Orion at 21:59 on 2011-04-13
Thanks!
http://serenoli.livejournal.com/ at 21:04 on 2011-04-19
By the way... this was my first visual novel, and I really enjoyed playing it (I didn't like Rook at all haha) and I was wondering if you could recommend another one?
Wardog at 21:27 on 2011-04-19
Embarrassingly it was my first visual novel that did not involve naked anime girls... so yeah ... fail :/

I remember reading an RPS article about a game called Brass Restoration though.
Orion at 21:31 on 2011-04-19
I... know a gentleman who has nothing against naked anime girls.
Robinson L at 22:36 on 2011-06-08
Orion: I was homeschooled my entire life

Hi five!

I really want to insist that the reading and writing I've done outside of school, my creative works, and so on are really more important, but I may well be deluding myself.

I'm borderline obsessive-compulsive when it comes to homework and also get extremely positive feedback, and I'd insist the same thing.

I think school work is great, when competently applied, but many of my greatest learning experiences were decidedly non-academic. On the other hand, I wouldn't have had most of those experiences without my schooling experiences, but back on the first hand again, I'm not sure how much the actual academic work (as opposed to the school experience as a whole) contributed to those learning experiences.

(Note to self: look up synonyms for "experience.")
http://importantdude.wordpress.com/ at 05:48 on 2012-05-29
You manage to capture exactly how I felt about this game, bravo.
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