I know what you're thinking. Video games are where we go to escape the mundanities of everyday life, not sign up back to class. But the schools of our video games are far more exciting than any maths lesson you've ever sat in, with uniquely conjured classrooms that quickly push the world of the scholastical into the realm of the fantastical.
Join us on a tour, then, from Hogwarts and Bullworth Academy through to the three Houses of Garegg Mach Monastery and beyond, as we run through the very best video games set in school. And do try to remember them all for homework; there'll be a pop quiz at the end of the week.
Lego Harry Potter Collection
There are a bunch of Harry Potter games that, naturally, take place in the famous fictional boarding school of Hogwarts, but you won’t find one as fun or delightful as Traveller’s Tales brick-based adaptation of the blockbuster movies.
J.K. Rowling’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is a kaleidoscopic playground in the Lego Harry Potter Collection, which includes both of the Lego Harry Potter games covering all eight movies, thus allowing you to witness Harry go through his entire school time at Hogwarts, from socially awkward preadolescent to master of the wizarding arts. You can expect the usual Lego fanfare of brick-building, playful combat, and co-op shenanigans too, making this an easy sell to anyone with A) a love for all things Potter or B) kids.
Life Is Strange
A high school game unlike any other, Life is Strange captures the angst, fear, and theatrics of growing up in a school setting, as we're thrust into the shoes of the bright but introverted Max Caulfield, who finds herself suddenly in possession of time-altering abilities. Dontnod’s Twin Peaks-inspired point and click adventure game is a raw study of what it’s like to not be understood, especially when the adults in the room can behave just as immaturely as the children.
The Oregon-set school of Blackwell Academy and its sleepy portside town of Arcadia Bay is a fascinating place to explore too, rife with brooding atmosphere, interesting characters, and an unfolding mystery that, we promise, ventures to places you're not expecting. To reveal any more would be to spoil the adventure but, to steal from Max's own lexicon, let's just say it’s hella cool.
Granted, you'll spend as much time inside the minds of criminals and reprobates as the Shujin Academy in Persona 5, but the elite Tokyo-based prep school plays such a strong presence in Atlas' JRPG that we can't help but include it on this list. Able to be freely visited by the protagonist throughout their 100+ hour adventure, Shujin Academy is the place to unwind, develop relationships with friends and companions, and even make sure you don't get expelled by taking a number of school exams in class.
Yes, I said the E word, but don't worry; Shujin Academy's tests are a healthy mix of brain teasers and simple general knowledge questions, all of which can easily be looked up online if you're not one for academia. Turns out even video game characters have to pass their exams, sometimes.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
The most recent release on our list is also the only entry where you play not as the pupil, but the teacher. That, as you might imagine (especially from a Fire Emblem game), suddenly places a lot more weight on your actions and decisions during your time at the Garegg Mach Monastery in Three Houses, but the experience also depends largely on which School House you decide to offer your services to.
You can treat your students at the military academy almost like you would Pokemon, in which you win over their affections, train them up for battle, and even steal more pupils from other houses, which - as far as I know - is exactly how the teaching profession works in real life, right? In any case, Garegg Mach Monastery is one of the best video game schools we could ever ask for, not just because of its gorgeous environs, but the company you keep within.
You can’t talk about high school games without talking about the high school game. Bully, Rockstar’s nostalgic, small scale twist on its open world formula, sees you playing as Jimmy Hopkins in the New England establishment of Bullworth Academy, but contrary to its title, Jimmy is more of an all-round troublemaker than your typical American bully.
Your exploits around both the boarding school's grounds and the surrounding town of Bullworth are a checklist of classic *ahem* extra-curricular activities, including fist fights, romance, go-kart races, and even newspaper rounds. You'll have to take some lessons, too, obviously, but even these will help Jimmy get better at schmoozing his way out of less than ideal situations, proving that education does have its perks after all. Who knew?
Surviving High School
An initial glance at Surviving High School doesn't conjure up a great first impression. A free-to-play mobile visual novel from EA with gaudily westernised Manga visuals and in-game microtransactions? Surviving high school in the real world is unpleasant enough, thank you very much.
But dig a little deeper, and you'll uncover a surprisingly heartfelt window into modern school life, warts and all, alongside a cast of characters that frequently subvert their archetypes and turn out to not just be three-dimensional, but genuinely endearing company to hang out with. With its choose-your-own-adventure format, Surviving High School isn't so much about the school of Centerscore High itself, but the culture within it, and the interactions you make with your fellow teachers and pupils.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD
When it comes to video game schools, none are quite as incredible or awe-inspiring as that of Final Fantasy's Akademia, home to the elite cadets known as Class Zero, and a key location in the warring events of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. The Akademia is as much a war zone as it is your average education establishment, having successfully repelled off several invasions over the course of its ancient history.
During the events of Type-0, you'll be at the frontlines of one such defense effort, taking control of Class Zero and bringing an end to army of Milites by way of the game's zippy real-time combat. Oh, and did I mention that the Akademia is blessed by a god-like crystal that grants magical powers to its students? Best. school. Ever.
For some reason, the East Asian game development scene has a fascination with school-set horror, as Detention is the best of several titles to hone in on the idea of a haunted alma mater, this time from Taiwanese developer RedCandleGames. Playing as students students Wei and Ray, you'll be exploring the abandoned campus of Greenwood High School in the 1960's, during the height of Taiwan's "White Terror" period of martial law. Suffice to say, this once thriving hub of learning and communion is now the bleak and sinister canvas for some delicious side-scrolling survival horror.
Greenwood is home to a number of dark secrets just begging to be uncovered, too, but to say anymore would be to undermine Detention's greatest strengths; it's macabre atmosphere and surprisingly sophisticated story. RedCandleGames draws on East Asian mythology to establish a cursed school setting that's wholly its own, so compelling in its preternatural draw that, in spite of leaving us truly unsettled, we're already yearning for a sequel.
For more educational entertainment, check out the best historical games to travel back in time to (and improve your trivia knowledge).