You tear home from school, barge through the front door, sprint upstairs to your desktop and…you’re back at school again. The classroom has proved a popular setting for PC games through the years, flipping what’s usually—let’s face it—a dull place into one full of drama.
Some of the schools and universities from videogames are magical, and we'd have given our favorite yo-yo to study at them (we really loved that thing), while others are murderous nests of vipers that you’ll be lucky to make it out of alive. We’ve sat through lessons at all of them all to bring you this list: here are the best and worst schools in PC gaming.
Wade Elementary School – F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin
In my primary school, we had a spooky basement that nobody dared to go into. Looking back, it was probably just where teachers kept the spare foam footballs—the ones that weighed a tonne when it rained—and the rounders bats (English baseball, basically). The rooms under F.E.A.R. 2's Wade Elementary School are genuine hell. A twisted test facility where kids are sedated, genetically-modified and experimented upon, before the scientists wipe their memories and send them back above ground for their math exam.
The underground facility also houses Abominations, humans injected with chemicals until they turn violent, which are kept in cells of their own filth. It's not fully clear what part those monsters play in the experiments with children, but whatever happens, you can bet it's a lot worse than detention.
Suffolk County Charter School – Fallout 4
Think your school dinners were bad? Try attending Fallout 4's Suffolk County charter school, where the only food is blobs of bright pink goo that dye your skin salmon.
To secure funding from the government, principal Jackie Hudson entered the Nutrition Alternative Paste Program (NAPP), which is about as appetizing as it sounds. Any outside food is confiscated, so the Glee Club's annual bake sale offers not warm cookies and muffins, but different-colored cups for your daily gloop. Yay.
The school is abandoned during Fallout 4, but you can hear about the nightmare meals in audio logs, and see their effects firsthand. All the feral ghouls guarding the school are the colour of lobsters, poor things.
School – PlayerUnknown's BattleGrounds
In PUBG dropping the kids off at school would be the worst decision a parent could make. Dead centre of Erangel, PUBG's original map, School is a guaranteed clusterfuck. Dozens of parachutes spring open in the airspace above it as players scramble for loot on the roof and then dive into the corridors of death below.
The building itself doesn't give you much idea of what it would've been like to study there, and everything is worn down by the bullets of millions of chicken dinner hunters, but it looks like a fairly grim building, and one I doubt will ever open its doors to students again.
Hope's Peak Academy – Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Imagine thinking you've been accepted to the most prestigious school in the country only to find out the whole thing is an elaborate, violent hoax orchestrated by a mechanical bear. At Hope's Peak Academy, you follow the villain's rules. The only way to 'graduate' is to kill another student and get away with it. Every death launches a courtroom-style trial during which your brilliant peers try to catch the murderer.
Those students are a fascinating group of oddballs, with weird senses of humor and extravagant backstories, and getting to know them is a joy. In trials, you interrogate a subject and then fire 'truth bullets' (literally, bullets of truth) at their dialogue on-screen, blasting holes in their argument. It's some of the most fun you can have in a classroom—if you can get over being a plaything for an evil animal.
Bullworth Academy – Bully
The students at Bullworth Academy are split into exaggerated cliques—jocks, nerds, preppies, and greasers—and students are pelted with eggs or sprayed with fire extinguishers on a daily basis. But as Samuel noted when describing how much he loves the game (opens in new tab), part of Bully's charm is how it captures an idealised version of teenage life.
Lessons are short minigames that don't outstay their welcome, and all anyone cares about is petty rivalries, awkward romances, and going to the funfair. "It's like school life without the shit bits," Samuel wrote, and if you can put up with being pigeonholed into a clique for your whole life, it might be a fun place. If you want to learn anything you might struggle, but the upside is you get to see hero Jimmy beat up every bully in class. And what kid doesn’t want to see that?
The College of Winterhold – Skyrim
I still remember the first time I saw the College of Winterhold, nearly eight years ago. I was trudging up the road from the south, huddling against a blizzard, when its stony outline loomed up through the whiteout, an island of dark rock in a sea of snow.
The slender bridge connecting the town to the college, perched atop a pillar of icy rock, is gorgeous, and if you look south the whole of Skyrim stretches as far as your draw distance will allow. The life of an aspiring mage isn't easy and scurrying around after magical artifacts at the behest of your elders is a bore, but it's worth it to study in this isolated, beautiful corner of Skyrim.
Hogwarts – Various Harry Potter games
Harry Potter is a PC gamer, apparently. Aside from a trio of mobile games and a couple of forgettable console releases, all of the franchise's games have come to PC, including all the main games accompanying the books and a couple of solid LEGO adventures.
All those different games mean everybody that's played one will have a different memory of Hogwarts. For me, it's trying to sneak by Argus Filch in the Philosopher's Stone, my sister and I taking turns on the keyboard and cowering behind our desk chair when Filch inevitably catches us. "Oh dear, we are in trouble," he says—I still shudder at those words.
For others, it's the joy of exploring Hogwarts in the LEGO games, where the school is a lavish, detailed hub, and a design that would influence later games in the series. Whatever your memory, the wizarding school is no less magic on PC than it was in the books.
University – The Sims 2: University
One of the best expansions in The Sims' history (opens in new tab), University added a whole new age group, young adults, and let you follow them to college. They attended class (sometimes), pulled pranks, and started pillow fights in their student digs. Swooping from the sleepy rows of houses in your chosen neighbourhood to a vibrant college campus felt like entering an entirely new and more exciting game.
There, you could join secret societies that let you hack straight As into your school record, graduate into four new careers and, most importantly, streak across the university quad. It wasn't all fun and games, and you had to work to pay for tuition by training other sims or filling shifts in the local coffee shop, but it was a welcome break from the real world.