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Dangerous High School Girls loses one of its distributors

In January, the IndieGames blog noted that the Writers Guild of America has nominated Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble!, along with a handful of other, bigger-budget AAA titles, for excellence in game writing. IndieGames went on to describe Dangerous Girls as a “social board game.”

Interested, I downloaded the Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble! demo. Each morning for maybe a week, I sat down with a cup of coffee and played Dangerous Girls until my eyes began to burn. I complained that it was innovative, interesting, but not always fun to play; I also purchased the full game.

Spoilers follow.

Having recently given up reading, I only just heard from a friend about some sort of to-do over Dangerous Girls. Why? Why, there’s a supposed rape scene, of course. And upon discovering that such “graphic content” existed, Big Fish Games—a distributor that apparently does not play its games before selling them—pulled Dangerous Girls from its online product catalogue.

I had encountered no such ‘rape scene’, I explained to my friend, admitting I also hadn’t played the game through to its conclusion(s). “It isn’t very shocking that a rape scene is in it, though,” I mused, “or that a sexual assault would occur in the course of the narrative. Because the whole game is about sex, gender, class, and power struggles. The whole game is about power struggles,” I repeated again, a little bit surprised.

purportedrape

Dangerous Girls is a little over-the-top, a little hardboiled. The quirky, teenaged Dashiell Hammett mystery takes place in a small town in the swingin’ 1920s—think Chicago, crossed with Mean Girls. It promises murder, intrigue, violence. Your gang of varyingly dangerous high school -aged girls sets about its various tasks: flirting with the boys, for instance, or insulting peers, and of course, strong-arming high school faculty and crooked city officials into relinquishing information. It is, as IndieGames put it, a “social board game,” but with plenty of dialogue-trees and other point-and-click adventure game elements. What, pray, did Big Fish think it was getting into?

In Dangerous Girls, any interaction (flirtations, catfights, various altercations) is a gamble of sorts; as such, every altercation is acted out through poker chips. Each mini-game is a mix of strategy and chance. And as each gal “levels” her skills, she hoards more “chips” to play in her favor in each social mini-game. Eventually, each of the four girls may have a strongest “suit” (here, I mean the word literally) where, given each girl’s strength, she may be the best at a particular type of social interaction—flirting, for instance, or taunting. And if your gals play their cards right—literally—they can flirt, lie, harass, or otherwise swindle any secret out of anyone. And yes, they are frequently in danger.

It follows that the action of the game is entirely played out through these parlor games, and the narrative itself is all textual. Some of the story is left implicit—hence, I assume, Dangerous Girls’ nomination for a writing award—and although the game is billed as “casual,” it has depth, heft, and maturity. The scene suggesting a sexual assault, too, was just that—a suggestion.

Of course any games retailer has the right, at its discretion alone, to halt distribution on any product. But really meaningful games are anomalous, meaningful ‘casual’ games more so, and willing distributors in shorter supply still.

That the game lost one of its distributors is extremely disturbing. But it’s worse for Big Fish to send other independent game developers the disheartening message that games dealing with social issues are, at best, unmarketable. At worst, Big Fish’s actions demean the medium, corroborating the prevailing attitude that video games are no venue to discuss real-world, grown-up issues like sexual assault.

One response to “Dangerous High School Girls loses one of its distributors” »

  1. Jon Conley says:

    Interesting. Upon watching the demo video video, I’m led to believe that this game has an ‘insult combat’ system, similar to Monkey Island?

    As an aside, I’ve always found the 1920’s to be a decade of under-appreciated hilarity. The only thing more hilarious would be, of course, the 1860’s. I feel liberated in knowing I’m not alone!

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