'No Pineapple Left Behind' is an adorable and deeply depressing look at the US school system.
Image: Subaltern Games
Seth Alter's school management game No Pineapple Left Behind mocks the United States' No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which further tied schools' funding to standardized testing results, by making students your biggest problem.
The premise is that an evil wizard turns all the school kids into pineapples, who are so much easier to manage than children, so your goal as the school principal is to keep it that way. You do this by hiring teachers who can cast different spells like "Televiser," which allows the teacher to recharge by forcing students to watch a movie instead of taking a regular class, or "Memorizer," which forces them to memorize material for the test instead of learn anything.
"Pineapples don't act like people," Alter said. "Literally all they do is take tests, I haven't programmed them to do anything else."
"Their AI is actually very complicated."
If you're sensing a lot of bitterness in this satire, it's probably because Alter has been a teacher at various capacities. He was a special needs camp counselor for three years, a private tutor for three years, and he lasted all of six months as a classroom teacher in a charter school.
"I really enjoy working with kids but I find the administration to be incredibly demoralizing and that's why I left," he said.
At the moment, six out of every 60 students will be children at the start of the game to keep it interesting, and children have all sorts of things they'd rather do than take tests.
"Their AI is actually very complicated," Alter said. "They can have friends, they can fight with each other, they can tell jokes during class, they can date each other and break up, they can bully each other. They're a total pain in the ass. All these things will impact their aptitude."
There are five subjects that the students have to study: English, math, science, history, and Cantaloupian, which is the foreign language class.
Teachers and spells have different costs, and you have to manage your funds to get the pineapples to test well, which will in turn give you more money to run the school. If too many of the pineapples turn back into kids and test badly, you'll go bankrupt and lose.
"English spells for example will give you a small amount of humanity no matter what, but if you miscast an English spell, which happens if the teacher's burned out, that will give a boost in humanity, because all of a sudden they're reading books or whatever," Alter told me. "Then you're in trouble, because having a lot of children on the map is in fact very hard to deal with."
Other spells help turn kids back into pineapples. Alter said that textbooks, for example, are especially effective at dehumanizing them.
"Eventually I'm going to put in cops," he said. "They're very expensive but they'll dehumanize kids very quickly."
Alter said that each level will also include a unique mission. In one of these, you'll have to manage a boy named David who's wearing makeup. If he gets bullied and complain to his parents you'll lose, so you can either come up with a very comprehensive and expensive anti-bullying policy, or you can turn him back into a pineapple who doesn't wear makeup.
In terms of visuals and what you actually do in the game, No Pineapple Left Behind looks a lot like Prison Architect, a prison management simulator that's been in the news for making people uncomfortable.
"I say that Prison Architect is this game's closest cousin," Alter said.
I told him that it No Pineapple Left Behind seemed more like a prequel to Prison Architect.
"Oh, that's a really depressing thought," he said and laughed.
No Pineapple Left Behind is Currently in closed alpha testing. Alter said he hopes to launch an open alpha this spring.