High School Story Updated to Help Teens Cope with Test Stress [Interview]

High School StoryPixelberry Studios has today announced a new version of its popular high school simulation game High School Story, introducing an SAT-prep feature to players. The new update will tackle the teen stress epidemic by allowing players to easily study word vocabulary within the game. This update follows other cause-specific updates Pixelberry has released, including one focused on cyberbullying and another that highlighted teen eating disorder and body issues.

This update was inspired by the company’s own desire to release an educational product on mobile, and by a 2013 survey from the American Psychological Association that showed 83 percent of surveyed teens identified school as a source of stress in their lives.

Via this update, players are introduced to a new classmate, Kallie, and can learn more about her through story-based quests. Along the way, Kallie will help players learn the meaning of challenging (or unfamiliar) SAT words through quiz-like questions and level-based mini-games.

We had a chance to chat with Pixelberry CEO and co-founder, Oliver Miao, about this update, the company’s previous cause-based gameplay, and what it alls means for the future of the game.High School Story SAT-PrepOliver Miao: One of our company’s visions from the start was to try and focus on really fun games first, and then over time, if we were able to have commercial successes, to start layering in elements of education. So, when we first designed High School Story, we actually intended to do what we’re finally releasing this December. So, it’s taken a while for us to get there; we really wanted to do things right. Along the way, what we’ve done with the partnerships with the cyberbullying side and on the eating disorder side, have been a really good training ground in preparation for what we’re planning to do now in December.

We’ve created a completely new part of the game that players can go into that teaches players vocabulary – both SAT and ACT vocabulary. And we’ve done it in such a way to try and make it really fun for players, to engage and learn. We’re being very cautious to be upfront with players about the fact that they can learn while they play the game. But at the same time, still try and keep it really engaging and fun for them. We think putting education into a successful commercial game like this is something that is pretty risky, but we’re really excited to see how our players react to this, and if – like what we’ve done with cyberbullying – if this is something that they’ll actually appreciate and hopefully over time learn from this feature.

Inside Mobile Apps: Will this be unlocked as part of a quest set, like cyberbullying and the eating issue events were, or is this going to be more like the poll building where everything will be isolated away from quests?

Oliver: It will be more like a building. We actually have a library building, and when players click on that building, there’s a whole new form of currency called Pencils, that they can use to play different mini-games. Once they tap on that building, they actually go to a stream that’s a map with a whole bunch of different nodes on the map. So, very similar to a lot of the match-three games style maps out there. There’s two main types of mini-games. The first is story-driven, and that’s very similar to what we’re doing already with the quests, but at different points in the story, you encounter multiple choice questions. The multiple choice questions [contain] different words and you’re trying to match which word matches the definition of the new word.