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The best game you missed in July 2020: Teen Island Simulator

Will we make it back in time for prom?

The castaways are a ragtag crew of teens: Lily is smart, Jaimie is athletic, and Oliver is charming. Sure, there’s Audrey, but she’s such a rebel and her crush on Joshua is making it tough for her to get anything done. And on the night of Day 8, Lily seems to have remembered seeing a documentary about a ritual to scare evil spirits and convinced everyone else on the island that it would be a great idea to burn all the leftover wood in the shape of an idol. Great. Now how are we going to get home?

This is Teen Island Simulator, a zero-player adaptation of the GMless pen-and-paper game, Teen Island, by Chris McDowell.

The original game presents the teens as being on an “overseas trip to the International Highschooler Summit, [and are] suddenly stranded on a remote island with no signs of human life.” Your goal is to guide the teens through their unfortunate circumstances, build them a raft to escape, and try to keep (most) of their social lives intact. 

There are 12 of these teens to keep alive and kicking, who have all got their own strengths and weaknesses. For instance, rebels like Audrey have the “spunk” trait, which lets her fight, throw rocks, and spit at authority. Cool. But, of course, she’s also got that pesky crush on Joshua. Ugh, can you say drama? And, of course, every now and again there’s the chance for an Event - like, say, building and burning an effigy with all the remaining camp firewood.

Procedural-generator-extraordinaire Watabou has managed to fit all of these tidy d6 and d66 rules into one handy-dandy zero-player package. Just press the spacebar, and Watabou’s simulator will tell you a story around the campfire. Perhaps you want to hybridise your play by combining procedural-generation with pen-and-paper by making a quickstart set of teens, or you want to give the game a shot from the middle of a desperate situation. The way I prefer to play it, however, is just to follow the teens’ stories all the way through, as written by a lovely little collection of code. Press the spacebar, the rules do their part, and the story progresses.

A procedurally generated text list of 12 teens that are now shipwrecked. 5 of them have a crush on billy, who is rebellious and charming.
Damn, Billy.

In my game, for example, all the teens but two died by day 26; only Jamie and Eddie were left. Two days later, a tidal wave came and washed away the entire camp - taking Eddie with it. Day after day, Jamie assigned himself to do chores, to gather food, to gather firewood. One day, he sees a dolphin. The next, he puts a colourful leaf in his hair. The day after that, he gets lost in the woods and returns back to camp empty-handed and exhausted. He burns all the wood to keep the fire going. On day 48, he succumbs to a bout of Jungle Madness, but returns to the campfire eventually. He does the same thing on day 65. I begin to wonder if he’ll ever make it off this island.

On Day 74, he’s bitten by a spider and dies.

Well. I guess all there is to do is hit the spacebar and do it all over again. Maybe one day we’ll make it off this godforsaken island - and with any luck, we’ll get back just in time for prom.

Teen Island Simulator is available to play in browser for free via Itch.

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About the Author
Kat Brewster avatar

Kat Brewster


Kat Brewster is a sometimes writer, sometimes game designer, and most-of-the-time academic based out of the University of California, Irvine. Kat's research focuses on play, the future of digital work, and queer archives. You can reach out on Twitter @katbamkapow.