PEGBRJE: No Pineapple Left Behind and Peck N Run

One’s satire, the other is not in the slightest.

Well, this hits close to home don’t it.

No Pineapple Left Behind is a satirical simulation brought to us by Seth Alter, the indie dev and creator of many titles including meta-commentary — after all, this is the same dev that brought us Neocolonialism earlier in the bundle (no not actual neocolonialism, sheesh). So how do pineapples create a satire, and what exactly are they poking fun of? Well, turns out it’s the schooling system because it is a lot easier to teach a pineapple arithmetic than a child.

As the principal of this school, it is the player’s job to ensure that it runs perfectly and that the grades are as high as possible so that funding can arrive for the school. Thing is, children aren’t very predictable and have way too many needs and issues that are created due to this timespan being a transformative time of their lives. They have the desire to make friends, find relationships, bully other children due to any number of reasons and possibly do okay in classes. This is never good for creating grade-machines, so we need to dehumanize them until they are nothing but pineapples. See, pineapples don’t ask questions about their individuality, they simple study and become good students and by association, good revenue streams for the school itself. As principal, it is the player’s job to acquire teachers that can be paid next to nothing per day that will teach students during a set amount of time slots per day, altering what they teach depending on their energy level and giving them ‘lasers’ that can alter how a child thinks. Friends are dangerous to productivity, so isolate them. Teasing a student can cause depression, so cause them to become immune and numb to it. Their personal goal for the day doesn’t align with schooling, so change it. Slowly whittle away at their humanity — indicated by a bar each student has — until it becomes 0, to which they transform in to a good little pineapple.

And then fire the teacher for not having enough energy to teach tomorrow’s class, hiring a new one and repeating the cycle by ignoring complaints from parents.

Now, I’m going to check myself at the door here as this topic of education satire is a bit more difficult to parse due to my own personal experiences. Satire for me has always worked best with those that can relate the most, and due to my upbringing in Canada I’m not personally familiar with the schooling system differences in the United States. I’ve always heard the horror stories growing up how schools vary wildly due to the majority of the funding coming from local property taxes, how some private institutes are state of the art while others can be a complete dumpster fires. Sure my school wasn’t great due to its rural location, but my biggest fear was usually associated with a lack of things to do, not a possible collapse of the institution itself. There’s also the awkward factoid of me being in a long line of teachers across my family, so I have a more intimate understanding of the underlying systems that keep the foundation solid. This does mean that I’m more biased towards the institution and its teachers, but I think that helps me recognize the genius of this title.

See, No Pineapple Left Behind does a fantastic job of diversifying exactly what is attempting to satire thanks to the multiple facets it is exploring. Starting at the very granular part, the teachers themselves are shown as able to completely manipulate the students with their spooky lasers in order to isolate and control how they think and move. Sure, lasers like that don’t exist (yet) but there’s no denying that a teacher has serious authority and agency over their students to the point that they can actively damage a student mentally as if they were shot by a laser. Students have so many different goals and dreams spread amongst them that keeping them all within the same track of mind will inherently breed dissent and confusion, which then can result in an authority figure stepping in to ‘straighten’ the kid out. These straightened kids are the pineapples of the game, those that lack a personality and are only recognizable by the number they are given. And these are seen as a good thing.

Yet the teachers themselves are subject to a similar yet different struggle, for they are only paid daily and it correlates directly to the amount of energy they regain per day. Those lasers and lessons (magically prepared) are draining, with only the Television lesson being able to help recoup some of that energy by not taking any. Constant micromanagement leads to a lower chance of success that the lessons take hold with the students, which means a lower mark for the day. Low marks means less funding, and a teacher that doesn’t teach well is a liability to be fired at the end of the day, regardless of how long they had been at the school or how much they had put in. Worst part? The results are extremely random, so even if a teacher has been upgraded and does the best lesson in the class, there are too many factors to the point that it might fail with a high percentile, meaning the teacher has wasted energy for a D+ when it was a surefire B.

Education is a crucial part of a child’s upbringing to ensure that they are given tools, resources, connections and information that they can utilize to pursue their own goals, but No Pineapple Left Behind shows the extent at which an industrialized education system can turn individuals in to mindless (yet tasty) fauna. It handles its source perfectly, showing off how there’s truly not one main culprit but a fundamental issue with the system that we created, highlighting the bizarre ways that many may view education as a money farm. The irony is that this game is so blisteringly hard that I couldn’t make money to save my life during one of the first missions, leading me to painstakingly maximize efficiency to the point that I thought I was the machine by the end. I still couldn’t win, but honestly at that point I didn’t want to — I had fired so many Vice Principals and Teachers while turning students in to pineapples only to see them turn back due to a missed lesson. It was inevitable, and if that doesn’t describe what I believe to be the core message of the American Schooling System then I’m not really sure what does. If you love frustrating yourself with your inability to win while systematically destroying children, then this might be the title for you.

Peck N Run is an arcade collect-a-thon made by Spilt Milk Studios, an indie studio out of the UK. Within this title is a mama Sand Piper, a curious little bird that needs to feed their chicks on the banks of the shore. Unfortunately there’s this annoying thing called water constantly coming in and out with the tide, so how will we get the tasty shellfish?

Peck N Run advertises exactly what the game offers in the title alone; pecking, and running. Players will be starting by their nest, given 90 seconds to fulfill their chick’s appetites indicated by the score goal on the top left. As the Sand Piper, players will venture out in to the sand to search for shellfish to peck and collect within their cheeks, storing the points away to bring back home. This requires numerous pecks however, and the more points a shellfish is worth the more pecks it requires to be collected. Once the player feels unsafe as the tide starts to come back in, they can run back to the nest and drop the food off to collect. Get caught by the tide, and lose the shellfish gathered as the Piper cannot handle the force of the waves.

This simple yet effective mechanic is the entirety of the title, constantly gauging whether or not there is enough time to collect that second 50 point shellfish before the tide pushes back. There is a lock on to assist in ensuring that each peck is actually hitting the desired target instead of sand, but it can be a tad finnicky at times and is exaggerated greatly when under pressure. As with many arcade titles, this constant sense of forced decision making is what makes it fun, since trying realizing that one is still short 70 points with only 10 seconds left will leave them at the mercy of the spawning shellfish, and the timing of the waves themselves.

It’s not long — well, that’s depending on how well you do really — but what it offers is simple arcade action wrapped in a cute aesthetic of beaches and birds. There’s even a samba backing track to add in on the fun to keep the sunny times present. If you are in need of a game that is quick to pick up and play and ideal for younger audiences or those that don’t have a lot of time on their hands, this might be a title worth grabbing.

Links

Game Dev who decided to take on the monumental task of giving an overview of all 59 pages in the bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. We keep going.