Indie game No Pineapple Left Behind, currently in Alpha stage, puts you in charge of an American school. Your goal is to prevent your students from being children.
Children are chaotic beings, with feelings, thoughts, hopes, friends, crushes, vendettas… it’s all very charming to watch them go about their lives, but it doesn’t make for an efficient education system. Pineapples are much simpler creatures, without an inner world to distract them from memorising information for exams, so they tend to do much better in standardised tests. As long as your students are not children, but pineapples, your school should function exactly as the federal government mandates.
No Pineapple Left Behind’s satire succeeds because it is not only amusing, but cathartic. I asked developer Seth Alter to tell me more about his intentions for this darkly humorous game.
Comics Gaming Magazine: First, could you give me a brief description of what it's like to play No Pineapple Left Behind?
Seth Alter: No Pineapple Left Behind plays like a management simulator with some RPG elements. You hire teachers, assign magic spells, to teach children, fulfill or ignore subquests, balance teachers' energy levels and salaries, zap kids with lasers, purchase supplies, etc. You are the principal, directly controlling the teachers, who indirectly control the students.
CGM: What is your background? What had you been working on before this game?
SA: I have an undergrad in history. For my first year or so after college, I was very lost and also started making Neocolonialism, a Marxist strategy game in which you try to extract as much from the world as possible. After that, I was a special education math teacher for a local middle school charter program. That lasted approximately six months. I quit because I found the intentions of the administration to be rather frightening, and started working on Neocolonialism full-time.
I started to plan the core of No Pineapple Left Behind while I was a teacher, but I shelved it because A) I really wanted to finish Neocolonialism first, B) it took me a while to be able to talk about public education without getting very angry, and C) No Pineapple Left Behind was the more complex project, and I wanted some experience. This last point wasn't quite true in the end, but the absurd development history of Neocolonialism is another story...
CGM: What's your personal association with the No Child Left Behind Act?
SA: The catalyst for quitting my job as a teacher came out of a series of arguments with my co-workers. My special education class was on the same curriculum as everyone else with the same expectations and resources--my question was, what ultimately distinguished it as special education? Eventually, the answer resolved itself; the special education room was a stats tool. If the average grade of the school is per class, grouping all of the struggling students together boosts the average; it served no further function. This is where the dichotomy of pineapple and child ultimately originates.
In addition to my own experience, many of my friends and family are teachers, so No Child Left Behind has affected a lot of people I know. In particular, anyone who values improving the lives and souls of children over test grades has been driven out of their job, or will be imminently, it seems.
CGM: Why do you think America's schooling problem lends itself to expression in a game form so well?
SA: Because America's schooling problem boils down to treating staff and students as stats, and money!. Anything that is not easily quantified is viewed with skepticism. Games, especially simulation games, are all about taking reality and rendering it into a quantifiable approximation, so it's a really good fit. Really, if I wasn't so inclined to add extra weirdness like magic spells, I could take existing educational material and turn into a stats system without losing almost anything.
CGM: Do you hope that playing No Pineapple Left Behind will change people? If so how?
SA: It seems that most adults don't know how serious the situation is in America's public schools. My main goal is to call attention to a huge long-term problem that I think goes largely unnoticed.