It’s easy to tell when you’ve entered the endgame in Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble, because time stops advancing. The last chapter is played in a perpetual midnight, which is plainly symbolic: it’s by far the darkest chapter. Ironic, then, that it’s also the point at which so much comes to light.
For Brigiton is a town with a secret, a guilt shared by the entire adult population. In fact, it has several, and they all come tumbling out one after another towards the end. One fairly big one involving the town’s finances was already revealed in a previous chapter, and in the process explained quite a lot of the townfolks’ seemingly irrational behavior, and their willingness to accept and even defend blatant lies — to paraphrase Upton Sinclair, it is difficult to persuade a man of the truth when his salary depends on his not believing it. The girls’ response to this is to deliberately sabotage the town’s economy, by far the most obviously ill-advised plan in a game full of ill-advised plans. But the dirtier secrets are kept for the end, and dirty indeed they are. One in particular stands out as the dirtiest. I’m going to get spoilery here.
There are several points in the game where the topic of the girls’ eventual marriage comes up. (Looking back, I think they might correlate with the points where it’s possible to recruit boyfriends.) I recall some early NPC comments along the lines of “You’ll understand on your wedding night”. It seemed fairly sinister, in context, and became no less so when other grown-ups found it necessary to remind the girls that marriage is an honorable institution and suchlike. I couldn’t help but speculate about the wedding night secret. Some approximation of the Stepford Wives? A cult of some manner, either Satanic or Lovecraftian? The truth turned out to be not nearly so fanciful, but all the more shocking because of it. Brigiton, it turns out, is the one town in America to have imported the ancient (and probably fictitious) custom of the droit de siegnur. When people in Brigiton marry, the mayor has the legal right to have his way with the bride.
Much has been made of the sequence that starts the final chapter, a scenario involving the attempted rape of one of the girls in your gang by one of the anonymous boys (a potential boyfriend from earlier), and his death at the player’s hands. It’s a shock when it happens, even if you’re anticipating it, because the sudden change in mood from unbridled silliness to raw horror and desperation makes it seem out-of-place. But once you have the full context, it isn’t out of place at all. The boy is just emulating his role model, Mayor Stogie, who has basically raped the entire town. (Worse, in a couple of cases it’s my fault: the game contains some opportunities to bring couples together. I had wondered why they were so angry at me afterward.) You can argue that it’s not that cut-and-dried: as one NPC points out, the wedding night law is easily circumvented by just not getting married in Brigiton, and at least some of the people who have gone along with it have done so in exchange for benefits of some kind. So, not so much rape as socially-approved prostitution? But then, that’s not exactly an either/or proposition. In one case, the “benefit” consisted of letting the groom out of prison, with the implied threat that he wasn’t ever getting out any other way, so there’s definitely coercion. The mayor is a master of taking advantage of situations, especially situations where people are desperate. And he’s willing to manufacture the desperation.
For most of the game, the mayor comes off as a mere caricature of an old-fashioned American politician, all bombast and petty corruption, and dimwitted enough for a bunch of high school girls to pose a serious challenge to him. (The scene where you “debate” him via the game’s usual insult minigame makes him seem particularly silly.) Here at the end, he becomes more like a personification of unquestioned privilege. Even when he was in high school himself, we learn, he was a bully, beating people up in the secure knowledge that no one would ever challenge his right to do so. The most distressing part of this kind of injustice is the cooperation of the victims, and that’s continued into his political career. The wedding-night law was adopted as part of a political compromise that also gave the women of Brigiton the vote, years before women’s suffrage was adopted nationwide. The woman who came up with this compromise figured that she had outsmarted the mayor, because the part she wanted would render the part the mayor wanted moot: given the power, the women of the town would replace the mayor with someone who’d repeal the wedding-night law. But no, to her shock, everyone kept on voting for him, proving his more cynical view of humanity correct, that people will rally behind those who mistreat them, will try to compensate for their weakness by taking the side of the (apparently) strong. This is what’s at stake at the end: human nature, whether people possess the will to rise up against the kind of entrenched power that exists only because it’s entrenched. Well, at least the dangerous high school girls do. They remind me a little of Veronica Mars, another fictional high-school girl with a penchant for uncovering secrets and a relentless crusade against privilege.
Having seen the final chapter, I kind of see Big Fish’s point about the sexual content, which isn’t at all limited to what I’ve mentioned above. The game gets raunchier as it goes along — the ending I got involved the mayor receiving implied oral sex from a donkey. There’s nothing explicit, but that’s because it always stops just barely short of saying what it obviously means. A young child playing the game would be severely confused about what’s going on a large portion of the time, and, more importantly, would completely miss the point of the story.
My one biggest dissatisfaction with the game remains the amount of content I missed without intending to. While it’s true that, as I said before, important stuff waits for you, there are a lot of optional sub-quests bound to specific chapters, and it isn’t always obvious which of the goals you’re pursuing in parallel is the one that makes the others go away uncompleted. I’ll try to be more thorough if I play again. And this is a game that more or less demands to be played a second time, if only to see all the hints and foreshadowing in full knowledge of that they mean. Plus, I’m a little curious about what happens if you manage to successfully flirt with the detective in your final encounter with him, and that would require some serious min-maxing.