I wanted to distract myself from things, so I played a game about a lockdown. Go figure.
The St Christopher’s School Lockdown is a game that I can’t really tell you how I discovered, because I just don’t know. It’s not from a developer I’d ever heard of before (Classroom Graffiti Productions) it’s not similar to anything else on my Steam account, so I don’t think it was recommended, and I’ve just done a quick search for ‘St’, ‘Chris’, ‘School’, ‘Lockdown’, and even ‘The’, and it didn’t appear near the top of any of those lists. I have absolutely no idea how I came to play this game, but I’m glad I did, because while it isn’t the best thing I’ve played in the last few months (bearing in mind those titles include Blasphemous, Yoku’s Island Express, Mutazione and of course, thanks to working from home in self-isolation, you’d better believe I’m back on my Rollercoaster Tycoon bullshit,) it’s definitely the most interesting and the one I’m most excited to talk about.
The titular lockdown is nothing to do with any diseases, but an angry protest by the students of St Christopher’s School over tuition fees, grading methods, and generally a compilation of things that students would be angry at a school about, ranging from the mostly serious to a few silly complaints too. It’s a little unclear how much planning went into their protest, and how much was just spur of the moment following an enthusiastic Friday night concert from a student band, but you should have no problem sympathizing with their cause. It’s a group of angry young people taking a stand against the older generation who keep deciding things for everyone in a way that seems to benefit them a lot more than it benefits the next generation. It’s a story that will never not be relevant.
There’s just one problem; you’re not a student.
Your name is Kayleigh, and you woke up in a fancy outfit inside a bandmate’s van parked somewhere in the school playground. The last thing you remember is trying to make some quick money with your brother Brian, which you need to pay back a guy who you do not want to owe money to, and clearly your plan didn’t work out too well, because… you woke up in a fancy outfit inside a bandmate’s van parked somewhere in the playground of St Christopher’s School. There’s an unfortunate police presence, although they’re mostly content to watch from behind the school gates, so you quickly find and change into a school uniform, nip inside the building, and try to figure out what’s going on, how you can get out, and whether or not you can help anyone out and/or make some quick money while you’re here; objectives which are often mutually exclusive.
Oh, and there’s one more problem. St Christopher’s is a private school. So all of these angry young people, flaunting homemade picket signs and railing against the establishment? Every one of them is already better off than you. When you first arrive in the gym halls where most of the students are gathered, there’s a guy on his phone trying to convince his brother to raid his dad’s medicine cabinet and bring him whatever there is so that he can make some money selling pills to the other students. If you look at him again, Kayleigh notes that she’d need to take out a mortgage just to afford his trainers. If you look at him a third time, he catches your eye and tries to flirt with you. In short, these are exactly the kind of people The Dead Kennedys were thinking of when they wrote “Holiday in Cambodia”. That’s a very smart joke for music-lovers out there and I’m doing my best not to ruin it by revealing that I only know the song from Guitar Hero 3.
So straight away – and fittingly for a game set in a school – The St Christopher’s School Lockdown has a lot to say about class, and it was this running theme that made me want to write something about it; something slightly more personal than usual, because while I wouldn’t say that feeling jealousy towards rich people is a unique pain that only I have ever encountered, I do have something of a personal background when it comes to schooling.
I don’t like to reveal too much about myself because I feel like one day I will inevitably but inadvertently write just the trashiest, most garbage hot take (“Metal Gear Solid is just Splinter Cell for wankers” or “Why Pokémon GO is the best Final Fantasy game” or “We *clap* deserve *clap* a racist *clap* Batman!”) and people will look for my personal information so that they can send my dear old Mum photoshopped images of me getting frisky with a goat. But for the sake of the students of St Christopher’s School, I can admit to this; my Dad was a school groundskeeper. I’d like to ask you to please not immediately picture him as Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons, but he is also Scottish, he has the accent, and he admits to voting for Brexit, so he clearly has no problem being viewed as a figure of abject ridicule.
While I was growing up, me and my family lived in accommodations that were owned by the private schools that my Dad was a groundskeeper for, which were on the school grounds. For one of these schools, the only effect this had on my life was a positive one because I was right next to some tennis courts and they let me and my friends play football in the school car park. I rarely, if ever, interacted with any of the children who attended the school, and the one time I can recall is when I was about ten years old and I locked myself out of the house and no-one else was a home and a group of entrepreneurial teens spotted me looking sad outside, so they crafted a makeshift ladder to climb into my backyard, and my mum came home just as I was hopping over the wall and shouted “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” at the crowd of strangers who looked like they were trying to break into our yard. That was fun.
The second school was a bit posher because the accommodation was on the school sports ground, which was an entirely separate address from the school and a fair distance from it too; the students arrived at the grounds by coach and whenever I left to go to my significantly less-posh school, there were usually between five and twenty of them gathered around the entrance, and I would feel slightly awkward walking through them, albeit no more awkward than I would have felt walking past five to twenty teens my own age in any other situation. It’s not something I ever talked about – not because it was so horrifically traumatic that I just couldn’t bear to bring it up, but just because it was sort of beneath my notice – but it did make me aware of the differences in our class in an uncomfortable way. I knew by now that these were richer children from richer families, attending a private school where they got a coach to their sports ground so that they could play tennis and field hockey and croquet – okay, I never actually saw any croquet equipment but I’m clearly projecting a little bit – away from all of the lower-class riffraff. And I felt slightly self-conscious that I was the son of a member of staff there.
I should immediately point out that I was a thoroughly moody teenager at the time, so there were a million other things I was confused and self-conscious about, and I never really thought much about this at the time. I am excited to have some kind of relevant history to the topic of this game, but I really don’t want to make it sound as if I could milk a Channel 4 documentary on class inequality out of this. I was an idiot kid and at the time I was more upset that my parents bought a computer that had Windows Vista, and my sister had a bigger bedroom than me, and my Dad kept hogging the TV all of the time doing unimportant things like ‘watching the news’ which got in the way of me finishing Resident Evil 4 for the thirteenth time that month. It’s only in retrospect, looking at this with my serious hat on, that I would even think about linking these feelings to class; at the time, I didn’t think about it at all, other than having an immature giggle at the thought that I lived near a changing room for teenage girls. Basically, I’m trying to balance how this game brought back feelings of being surrounded by people of a similar age who should feel like your peers, but really you always feel a little bit beneath them and end up resenting them for it, with the reassurance that no, this was not a big deal when I was a kid, and if my parents somehow stumble across this article, I am not traumatized, you are fantastic parents, 9/10, would be a 10 if it wasn’t for that whole Brexit thing.
I really can’t emphasize enough just how much I’ve changed since I was a child. Back then I was this scrawny little kid who only cared about eating sweets and staying up late and googling ‘big boobies’ and playing Rollercoaster Tycoon, whereas now… you know what? Let’s just get back to the game.
The St Christopher’s School Lockdown is a fairly standard point-and-click adventure where you visit locations, collect items, interact with people and occasionally solve a surprisingly complicated puzzle in order to complete a mundane task, i.e. drying out your mobile phone, which is somehow accomplished by one of those… do you remember those slippy-slidey bits of old Pokémon games where you had to navigate through an icy cave by sliding around, bouncing into rocks? One of those. They’re actually so neat that they don’t feel out of place, even though they definitely are. But I’m only really outlining the essential components of the game so that, now that you have the basics, I can jump back into the class inequality stuff.
The St Christopher’s School Lockdown presents its characters as relatively complex in a rather effortless fashion; not by crafting intricate backstories or writing dramatic interactions, but just by putting these seemingly ordinary characters into an interesting situation where their mere presence and status creates a conflict. Kayleigh’s view of these students is not a positive one, primarily seeing them as a bunch of pampered rich kids pretending to give a shit about issues that are ultimately quite trivial to them. There’s a police presence outside but nobody is under the impression that they’re in any real danger, and one of the driving issues near the end of the game is that one of the students is told that they risk their scholarship being suspended if the lockdown continues, to which most of the main cast drop everything to try and find a solution to this problem.
At the same time though, Kayleigh doesn’t really dislike any of these people either. In order to blend in, she quickly acquires a fake ID courtesy of a resourceful kid named Shilling who is far too young to be a student there but has set up some kind of makeshift shop anyway, and once she’s considered part of the gang, she’s assigned a few tasks by Drake, the uptight and humourless but pretty well-organized young man who could be considered the co-leader of the protest along with Roger, the more handsome and charismatic student who has much less of a stick up his ass and is the guy who ends up having his scholarship threatened. Also, I just want to quickly point out that ‘Shilling’ is the most wonderfully stereotypical name you can give to a child in Britain and he talks like a cockney chimney sweep, it’s fantastic. The whole game is rife with very genuine British dialogue.
So in order to keep her head down, Kayleigh mainly goes along with these tasks which range from menial to actually quite important to the protest, and she does this partly because she doesn’t want to draw attention to herself, but there are definitely also times when she helps out because she feels that it’s the right thing to do. There’s a brief moment on the third day when it seems that one of the students is in danger and Kayleigh drops everything to help out, even though it would probably be easier to make a quiet exit while everyone is distracted. And it’s the general disdain for these upper-middle class teenagers trying to stick a finger up to ‘the man’ in a way that screams “Yeah, I’m a pretty hardcore anarchist; I’ve seen V for Vendetta like five times and I bought a Rage Against The Machine album – well, actually it was my sister’s boyfriend’s, but I borrowed it once…” mixed with genuine concern and liking them as individual people that makes the game so interesting to me.
There’s also the matter of how the other students react to Kayleigh, and pretty much all of them – except the ones you don’t really talk to and one guy who turns out to be a bit of a dickhead – are really friendly and welcoming to you, and since all of the important characters have voice actors, it does a good job of making you feel involved. And then there’s the fact that Kayleigh, while a sympathetic outsider and interesting protagonist, is certainly not above scrutiny herself, either by the player or by the characters who, understandable motives or not, she is lying to.
Kayleigh’s motive throughout the game is certainly questionable. Upon realising that she’s in a posh school, she spots a few fancy-looking paintings in the lobby, and after asking around in the most innocent voice she can muster, discovers that the really valuable stuff is kept in the library, which is locked. Kayleigh’s goal isn’t just to blend in to prevent other students from discovering who she is – something that becomes more difficult as you find out exactly how she ended up in this situation – but also to steal a painting while she’s there. So, Kayleigh is a sympathetic and intelligent young woman with far more worries than these uppity self-centred rich kids, and is planning to steal a painting that none of them would miss in order to solve a dangerous and important problem. Alternatively, Kayleigh is wanted by the police and lies to a group of innocent people to gain their trust so that she can steal something very valuable from them and run away as soon as possible. And the great thing about The St Christopher’s School Lockdown is that this isn’t ‘alternatively’. Both of these descriptions are completely true, and that’s why it’s an interesting situation.
To really emphasize the kind of lifestyle that Kayleigh comes from and to give you an idea of the problems she encounters, you play as her in a different outfit in two flashbacks in which her and her brother are looking up details about a rich, reclusive author and a party that he’s attending, and then sneak into the party in an attempt to grift him for cash. At one point in the party, you go to the bar and a creepy old man hands you a drink, and if you inspect the drink, there’s very clearly a half-dissolved pill in it. That’s not the part which emphasizes the kind of problems Kayleigh has to put up with and the things she has to resort to; nope, that would be when she removes the pill and it becomes just another item in your inventory for you to use to solve an upcoming puzzle. This more than anything to me sums up why the contrast between Kayleigh and the students is so effective. It also doubles as a warning from me not to play the game if what I’ve just said makes you uncomfortable, although I promise that’s as far as the game ever goes.
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot more I can say about the story without getting into spoilers, so it’s time for a clumsy segue into… gameplay mechanics, I suppose? The St Christopher’s School Lockdown is otherwise a fairly standard point and click experience where you travel from room to room, picking up items, chatting to other characters, and wearing many hats. That’s not a euphemism for solving problems, it’s literally a fun little sidequest that there are several hats lying around the school and you can try them all on for a fun little look at Armour Helmet Kayleigh, Amelia Earhart Kayleigh, and ‘I sure hope this foreign exchange student in the cafeteria doesn’t wake up while I’m in the middle of trying on his hat’ Kayleigh. They’re all equally cute.
There’s also a surprising amount of range in the puzzles. You might expect after I brought up those slippy-slidey ice puzzles – that’s the real technical term for them, I swear – that they would feature a few times in different areas. Nope! There’s only one, and you use it when you’re trying to get a bead of water out of the inner workings of your phone. You also have to figure out a code on a computer by repeatedly typing four-letter words and being told what they translate to numerically, but some letters are one digit long and some letters translate into ‘6236572’ so you have to be careful. Again, this only comes up once, and it’s really impressive the amount of effort that went into these.
There’s still plenty of classic point and click gameplay though; going full kleptomaniac on the contents of St Christopher’s School and combining things at random in the hopes that a pair of scissors, a cork, and a flowerpot will somehow create a functional folding bucket. This is mostly done well, but there are plenty of items that you will use once and then they’ll hang around in your inventory for ages, some items that you’ll never use at all, and a few items you encounter around the school that you can’t pick up because you don’t need them yet but they will obviously come in handy in the future, which I suppose helps to prevent that initial problem of having way too much stuff in your inventory.
Then there are the two big recurring but mostly optional mini-games. Voodoo Wars is a battle mini-game where you line up tokens that have attack and HP values against other tokens, and they attack each other, and then the surviving tokens go back to your hand and you try again and again until one player is all out of tokens. You can also put pins on your tokens – or your opponent’s – which boost/lower their stats, and you have two spells you can use per game, which include things like ‘Destroy one enemy token’ or ‘Choose two tokens that will not take damage this turn’. It’s strangely advanced for a throwaway mini-game that you only need to play once to progress the plot, but it’s cool that the developers put an entire optional smaller game in their big game that you can play against a few other characters if you keep your eyes open.
There’s also a Koi Pond that you can use to affect Kayleigh’s mood, by clicking on the lily pads that appear with a variety of words and phrases on them. Kayleigh’s mood is normally ‘Business As Usual’, but it can vary upwards or downwards to ten other states, spanning from ‘Hyperactive breakdown’ all the way to ‘On suicide watch’, and these states actively have an effect on the game as you play it; if Kayleigh is down in the dumps, the game will appear slightly more drab and lifeless, whereas if she’s too over-excited, your mouse cursor will appear twitchy and jittery as if she’s a touch overcaffeinated. It’s also a neat bit of character-building that you get to experiment with the words you select and see how Kayleigh reacts to them. Thoughts like ‘Gentle Rain, Harp Music, Train Spotting, Yoga and Candlelight’ will depress her further, whereas sentiments like ‘Car Chase, Horror Movie, Volcano Surfing, LSD and Russian Roulette’ will actually lift her mood.
Unfortunately, I would be in remiss if I didn’t mention that The St Christopher’s School Lockdown also has… not an abundance, but certainly a fair amount of… jank. There are a few rough edges that verge from minor errors in the text, to loading times when you first boot it up, to the unusual size of the game at more than three and a half GB; almost the size of the entirety of Telltale’s Sam & Max Season One and Two. Also, I would advise strongly against playing the game in full-screen, as I found a few locations where if I examined my surroundings and Kayleigh took a closer look at something, I was unable to back out because the ‘return’ button appeared so high up that I couldn’t select it with the mouse without automatically triggering my inventory to show up. A few dialogue options also didn’t appear until I played the game windowed.
The St Christopher’s School Lockdown also suffers from the same problem I had with Little Red Lie, in that I was put off a bit by the ending, but in a way that I would not be able to begin to describe without spoiling the entire thing. But speaking of disappointing endings, it currently looks as though the story of The St Christopher’s School Lockdown may remain unfinished. The game I’ve been talking about was planned to be episode one of seven that would tell a complete story from the point of view of six different characters, but while it had a modestly successful Kickstarter campaign – successful in that the developers met their goal and raised more than £11,000 from more than 300 backers – it didn’t meet any of its stretch goals that would have guaranteed funding of subsequent episodes.
The last update on the Kickstarter was in 2018 so it looks unlikely that the full project will ever be realised, which is a shame, because I can’t remember the last time I was so excited to talk about something. The St Christopher’s School Lockdown is a somewhat clunky and otherwise standard point and click game with some exceptional puzzles and a truly intriguing and original premise that would have explored class division and other political themes from a variety of perspectives, and although I’m sad that we only ended up with one, the single story I was a part of was still more engaging and a lot more thought-provoking than most video games I’ve played.
If I had a bigger audience, I would absolutely be clamouring for my millions of subscribers to pledge their support, vocal and financial, to this project, but as it stands, I’m relying on you, hypothetical eccentric billionaire who reads my stuff for some reason. Please, hypothetical billionaire, get in touch with the developers and offer to fund the rest of this project. But, uh, first of all, you should definitely stop by my Patreon page.
Here’s to you, St Christopher’s School. Class dismissed.
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