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About the Story
"Hanna, we're going to school."
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Number of Reviews: 2
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This is a Twine game with some well-done styling that runs for a little over 15 minutes for me.
In this game, you are (I believe) a young Chinese girl at an American high school in Japan. Hannah, a friend of yours, has died, and her ghost is haunting you, but in a mostly positive way, like helping with homework.
Outside of death and ghosts, the games secondary emphasis seems to be sex; although no explicit scenes are shown, there are discussions about the relative attractions and submissiveness of different ethnicities, and of high school girls in general. I felt uncomfortable at times, but it never went beyond talk.
The story centers on finding more about Hannah and the reason for her death, as well as a couple of bullies in the school who do more and more over the top actions.
Gameplay was pretty linear at first; each screen had multiple links, with the last one going to the next page and the earlier ones revealing hidden text. Eventually there were more choices, with two major choices in the game providing the four endings (although the first choice, (Spoiler - click to show)taking the umbrella or not, may not seem important at the time).
The endings vary significantly. Some were about building friendships, but the others felt more shocking to me. One involved (Spoiler - click to show)violently dismembering a girl because she used anti-trans language and revealed she had bullied Hannah prior to suicide. The author in the authors note said that they could have seen themselves doing that to someone in their own life. Another involved (Spoiler - click to show)the bully pushing herself romantically onto the heroine, explaining that all the mean stuff she did was because she was attracted to her.
Overall, I think the interactivity could have used a slight tweak; either having more options early on, or, if it was intended to be read straight through, adding a smooth transition to the link-clicking effect (like a .3 second or less slide-in animation) to give a little more satisfaction with the links.
I didn't strongly connect with the story, but as a roughly 40-yr old cis man I'm not the audience this is going for. I could definitely see someone in a similar situation deeply appreciating and feeling touched by the story.
It’s time for school but you’re not feeling it right now.
Or ever, really. But you and Hanna have no choice. School it is, then.
Oh, and Hanna is a ghost.
Contrary to what the game’s title suggests, Hanna is not the PC. You play as a high school girl named Jing who goes to an international school in Singapore called the American Independence School. Unlike Jing, Hanna expresses some excitement about going to school. Soon, though, we see that this excitement is masking underlying pain as we face the daily mundane and rocky reality that is school.
The start of the gameplay really sucks you in. It captures how Twine’s interactivity can be used to make a more dynamic scene. We begin in Jing’s bedroom.
You get up.
You are in your bedroom, which consists of a desk full of books, a desktop computer, a bed, and a cabinet.
Hanna eyes at your schoolbag.
Here, "books," "desktop computer," and "bed," are all links that expand the text to reveal more information about each item while clicking on the cabinet link moves the gameplay forward as Jing gets ready for school.
While the scene’s outcome is not impacted by your choice to examine the scenery, the links provide an extra sense of interaction that make it a little more interesting than if it were one big room description. It also engages the player with Twine’s choice-based format. Why read when you can click on links?
This structure continues for the rest of the game as we venture into Jing's school. After your first playthrough, the game allows you to skip ahead to crucial parts in the gameplay to save time. Much appreciated.
(I’m going to do characters first, then story.)
We do not learn as much about Jing as I hoped. After all, she is the starring PC. She’s Chinese, lives in an apartment, her parents both work (we never meet them), likes to use art and books as a portal for exploring sexuality, and has befriended a ghost named Hanna! Alright, we learn a fair amount. But her character is intriguing. More would be nice.
It would also be nice to have more context about Jing’s everyday school life. While I understand that school day structure differs across the globe, American Independent School has a somewhat bizarre (to me) daily schedule. (Spoiler - click to show) It offers cafeteria lunch twice and holds a separate student council-led karaoke party between Trigonometry and European History class. Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad. Ultimately, however, I felt out of touch. (If this really occurs in real life, thank you for diversifying my understanding of how teens go to school in today’s world.)
Clara. Ah yes. Clara does not censor what she says. She just says it without considering her surroundings. Or those nearby. She also thinks that she is doing you a favor by letting you know what she has to say.
Consider: a group of young people with that one peer who, to everyone’s delight and dismay, confidently and loudly talks about daring and explicit things in a causal social setting. Just when you think the conversation has leveled off, bam, the peer in question takes it up several more notches and everyone around is just, “oh wow.” That’s Clara. The scene in the (Spoiler - click to show) hallway after homeroom (and onwards) showcases this perfectly.
She embodies the “mature” girl persona who claims to have a resume of sexual experiences. She also comes off as trying to convince herself that she knows the ropes and that her confidence on the subject matter is unwavering. A bystander (Jing/player) is then used as a sounding board as she pelts them with a mix of "advice," tidbits of knowledge that demonstrate credibility, and personal experiences involving sex and other adult-like activities.
My favorite sentence in this game:
You pretend to agree and hope Clara's done with her TED Talk.
Clara gives some intense TED Talks.
When it comes to her relationship with Jing, Clara does not come off as being the classic High School Mean Girl who breaks out in hives at the mere sight of you. Maybe that is not what the author intended, but that’s the impression it left on me. If anything, Clara sees herself as friend rather than foe.
Clara reads more like a bossy, we’re-friends-since-we-see-each-other-daily type of “friend.” One who considers herself to be your friend in a self-serving manner or considers you to be a friend more so than you feel in return. She latches onto you like a leech while insisting that she knows what’s best for you. Especially when it comes to sexuality.
It gets uncomfortable. Clara reassures Jing about her dating desirability. Because Jing is Chinese, Clara keeps advising her to embrace “popular” stereotypes by acting more submissive and “pure-hearted” since that apparently is what attracts dudes. Clara may be trying to help in her own way, but ultimately this persistent fetishization overwhelms Jing. And most likely the player.
But as the story’s antagonist, she does not seem so bad after all… Until your final encounter with her where she (Spoiler - click to show) goes full homophobe and transphobe. Everyone’s (Jing/Hanna/hopefully the player) response to this is more, way more, than just, “oh wow.”
While Clara excels in her character role’s persona, there are some scenes that feel- even for her- more like an endless rant of shocking content that is independent from the scene itself. I wish we could explore her character in other ways than just sex-fueled rants.
And as for bringing an umbrella, (Spoiler - click to show) careful kids, you can poke an eye out. I applaud the implementation of Twine in this scene.
Hanna is a neat character- she’s a ghost! - with a tragic past who still brings the perspective of a modern teen unimpressed by the school system and its expectations. She does not necessarily “haunt” the player. Instead, she tags along to offer commentary, friendship, and support without sugar coating your collective circumstances.
Before the game even begins, we are presented with a passage that leads to the game’s menu. The passage keeps it brief: (Spoiler - click to show) Hanna was a teen who jumped off a hospital rooftop to commit suicide. Later we learn that in life, she identified as transgender but never received support or understanding- quite the opposite.
Here’s the deal: The gameplay ultimately leads up to a (Spoiler - click to show) pivotal scene where Clara (as I mentioned earlier) starts rambling about an unnamed individual during which she unleashes homophobic/transphobic commentary. First time around, I struggled to piece it all together.
In this scene, Clara explains (claims?) that she was engaged to a young man her age since they were kids except that he expressed interest in dresses, dolls, and feminine self-expression. She mocks this which only further traumatizes Hanna who is also transgender.
Then it clicked.
I need someone to spell it out for me so I can be sure: Was Clara engaged, in whatever form it may have been, to… Hanna? Before her death when people refused to recognize her identity? (Is it true that her previous- I hope I’m doing this properly- name was Alex? I only ask since Clara mentions the name once in her rant.) Talk about a plot twist. In fact, I initially failed to make the connection that Hanna knew both Jing and Clara as former classmates since middle school. Scatter-brained on my part.
Also, part of the reason Hanna transitioned was to avoid being drafted into the army since male Singaporeans are drafted into the National Service when they turn eighteen. This fact completely went over my head. It was not until I read the explanation in the content warning that I connected the dots- and it gives you some interesting things to think about since many international kids do not have to worry about this requirement. I just feel that this part of Hanna’s backstory could have been clearer.
There is one thing that I did not figure out. During Clara’s rant, we see a link that says, “Hanna’s wailing floods the whole room.” Clicking on it expands it into the following:
why am i not dead yet why am i not dead yet why am i not dead yet why am i not dead yet why am i not dead yet why am i not dead yet why am i not dead yet
Hanna is dead. There’s something I’m clearly missing.
NPCs (besides Hanna and Clara)
Finally, some of the remaining dialog almost seemed melodramatic in the sense that there is not much context around NPCs’ behavior. Like (Spoiler - click to show) Harold's outburst when you ask him what is wrong during homeroom. If I had not known better, I would have thought these characters were pre-teens who just entered middle school.
Nonetheless, they are still intriguing.
Story + Themes
The story takes place over one school day where we get a glimpse of daily life for Jing and Hanna, even if Hanna is not an actual student. She almost functions as an extension of Jing which is close enough. Besides Hanna’s backstory, Hanna We’re Going to School is largely character-oriented rather than wielding a complex storyline. There are, however, plenty of themes to go around.
There are several slice-of-life themes about youth and adulthood that could appeal to a wide range of players. However, the intended audience is relatively narrow since many of the themes are explored through brief, sudden romance-oriented encounters that may not appeal to everyone. This runs the risk of the player not absorbing the key themes showcased in a scene if they are skimming past certain parts.
For instance, (Spoiler - click to show) Clara's attempt to matchmake you with Dan was surreal and disjointed. Is she serious? It seemed like an unbelievable exchange… unless it’s set in reality more so than I realize. While this specific scene made me raise my eyebrows, I could see how it ties in with the game’s discussions on the intersecting expectations placed on young people.
Much of the game is focused on the idea of adult expectations of who you marry, the achievements of your parents, academic performance, job prospects, and your ability to look casually desirable the entire time. I feel like the (Spoiler - click to show) scene with Dan is meant to shine light on several of these issues, but from a gameplay standpoint it leaves you a bit bewildered. Because of this, players may find it less relatable.
Also: I'm not asking for more in that scene between (Spoiler - click to show) Clara and Dan in the school library, I'm really not (no shame if anyone feels otherwise), but it came out of nowhere and felt completely out of context. Even for this game. In the school library? I would say it is the only truly explicit scene in the game and is completely avoidable.
The game uses a basic set of visuals that opt for something besides the typically default Twine appearance of a black screen, white text, and a standardize font (you'll know it when you see it). There is nothing wrong with using the default, but when authors choose to use a slightly different background colour or multiple font styles, I notice.
Hanna, We’re Going to School features a grey screen with white text and blue-purple links. There is also a wine-coloured panel on the left side of the text body. It contains the “under” arrow that lets you go back a passage. Basic stuff but looks good.
Hanna, We’re Going to School is a bold, insightful game that bravely questions the intersecting issues that young people experience in the eyes of society and their fellow peers as they start to transition into adulthood. Jing witnesses this from a unique perspective.
She does not share the seemingly carefree lifestyle that her peers put on display, nor does she possess the social status wielded by peers from more influential families. But Clara’s attempts at “mentorship” provides a closer glimpse of the privilege differences within the student body. This slightly departs from the typical formula of popular girl vs unpopular girl while still showcasing the various forms of harassment that can occur, especially when it comes to gender expectations.
Meanwhile, Hanna’s own story raises implications of the harm done when one’s gender identity is mocked, especially if one is still trying to find themselves. As we see, Hanna (Spoiler - click to show) experiences some uncertainty about her motives for transitioning while simultaneously feeling at home with identifying as a girl. Her character is fun, quirky, and honest, making her a highlight of the game.
However, there are some drawbacks. The game could use more clarity for the plot along with additional worldbuilding shown in the gameplay. Right now, I feel like I know more about Clara than Hanna and Jing which is too bad since Hanna and Jing are a fantastic duo. The explicitness of some scenes may also drive some players away.
Otherwise, it is a strong slice of life piece about high school and teenage futures.
These are NOT spoilers, but since my reviews are so darn long, I’m spoiler-tagging it to save screen space. I write a lot.
(Spoiler - click to show)
Hanna, We're Going to School reminds me of an unrelated graphic novel called Anya's Ghost. The premise is similar in the sense that it depicts a teenage girl who navigates life and high school while being followed around by a ghost of another teen girl. While that may sound like a carbon copy of Hanna, We’re Going to School, I can reassure you that they diverge in story and subject matter. But the way Hanna coasts along with Jing and offers commentary just reminded me so much of the duo in Anya’s Ghost. If you like this game, you may like the book, and vice versa.
Also, if you are interested in further exploring the social dynamics of an internationally oriented school setting, consider the ChoiceScript game Learning to Be Human. It is an educational game about bullying where you play as a humanoid robot tasked with making connections with middle/high school aged students from different countries. While it is not a particularly thrilling game, it is more interesting than it sounds. Just note that it is strongly character centered, so don’t expect an in-depth storyline. The game covers subjects on popularity, body image, bias on cultural heritage, and inclusion. Recommended if you were drawn in by the peer social interactions found in Hanna, We’re Going to School.
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