Friday, July 29, 2011

Apps We Love: “School 26”—So NOT About Being a Mean Girl

Just yesterday, I drove past a school that put up a sign declaring itself a “bully free zone.” This issue is a hot topic among parents of teens. Silicon Sisters Interactive—Canada’s first female owned and operated video game company—is trying to change school "mean girl" culture from within with their innovative app for tweens and teen girls called School 26. It attempts to teach empathy as it teaches interpersonal skills. Imagine that. According to Silicon Sisters, School 26 was inspired by academic research that identifies social engineering as a prominent element in the lives of teenage girls.

School 26 is built around a complex social hierarchy at a high school and follows Kate (users can change her name to their own), who's been the “new kid” at school 25 times. Kate’s mystical and nomadic parents have made it difficult for Kate to develop and maintain long-term friendships. As she enrolls at School 26, Kate's parents have promised her they’ll finally settle down as long as Kate can make friends at her new school. The player must help Kate use intuition, empathy, and strategy to build friendships and navigate the moral dilemmas of high school.

The music is fun and the interface is cheerful. The prime interface of the game is the locker. Posted on the inside door are pictures of 7 kids Kate (the player) needs to get to know. Inside the locker, there’s also a big, glowing orb that guides Kate on quests, a laptop that contains 26 quizzes (what teen girl doesn’t love a quiz?), and a cell phone. The quizzes help the player get to know and understand themselves and the other players in the game. The really cool thing about the quizzes is that players can post results on Facebook and invite their friends to take the quizzes, too. The cell phone will alert the player to text messages from friends (if they’re successful in winning them over!). Kate’s mystical mom might text, too!

During the game, Kate meets and has conversations with the 7 characters in her school. Her goal is to get to know them and make them like her. During these conversations, Kate has to match the background colors of the character and the emotion icons at the bottom in order to make progress and advance in the game. As Kate meets different people she is faced with sophisticated, serious, and relevant issues such as drugs, alcohol, poverty, homosexuality, teen sex and more—in short, the type of situations teen girls face every day. There’s a lot of on-screen reading with the conversations. An improvement would be voiceovers when characters speak.

Another part of the game involves a tarot card mini game that, depending on the results, will make people trust Kate even more. The tarot card game is a bit confusing at first, but as the game progresses you eventually get the hang of it.

School 26 by Silicon Sisters is available at the iTunes App Store (with links below in the "price" category). You can link to and learn more about this app at their site and at their (of course!) Facebook page. —Joseph Broda

App Name: School 26
Category: Games
Age Level: Designed for girls aged 12 – 16
Content warning with a 12+ age rating for the following: Infrequent/Mild Mature/Suggestive Themes; Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content or Nudity; Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References
Released: April 21, 2011
Requirements: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later;
Price: $2.99 for iPhone; $4.99 for iPad
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Bottom Line: Innovative app for teen girls that promotes and teaches empathy and interpersonal skills. Warning: Does not shy away from controversial issues, but does approach them in realistic, useful, and respectful ways. The interface design is better enjoyed with the larger screen of the iPad.

Joseph Broda is an all-around techie, freelance graphic designer, and writer from Hoboken, N.J. For more information:

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