If Real Life (and media) has taught us anything, schools can be far from the most fun places on the planet. With all the tests and exams you have to study for and the social peer pressure from your fellow students, schools can be very stressful places. You would think schools are ill-fit to be Video Game Settings because of this, but it can be just the opposite.
School Setting Simulations are your obligatory schools, now in video game form! Whether be it elementary, junior high, high school, or college and university campuses, a school setting offers a variety of classrooms and other hallmarks to explore, like student dormitories, gymnasiums, outdoor fields, locker rooms, cafeterias, the library, staff lounges, the principal/dean/headmaster's office, the occasional boiler room, swimming pools for a Pool Episode, or the school's rooftop, the latter two being particularly common in Japanese settings. School settings tend to lean on puzzle solving and Alphabet Soup Cans to keep the learning theme intact, and the puzzles will be presented in a way that's not as frustrating to players as simulating actual schoolwork. Real-time class sessions are entirely omitted from gameplay.
Expect enemies to be your usual bullies, delinquents, sports jocks, and (if you're rebellious enough) the faculty and staff themselves. In more supernatural settings, you'll encounter monsters and sometimes ghosts as well, especially if it happens to be a Wizarding School or All-Ghouls School.
School settings rarely show up in platformers due to less material for developers to work with (unless they're part of a greater Metropolis Level), and are sometimes mere backdrops for a climactic battle, but they are abundant in RPGs, beat-em-ups, puzzle, survival horror, and mystery games. In regards to shooter games, this setting can be controversial because of numerous school shooting incidents that happened in real life, and are often discouraged from being included in the games for moral reasons.
To be an example, the school needs to be fully explorable in some way on the player's whim. Cases where schools are just menu dressing or quick-stops to gain information or upgrade stats don't count, nor do schools that are only present in cutscenes or scripted events outside the player's control. This means that straight Visual Novel examples (with the exception of games that use the visual novel style for storytelling) are excluded because the player is not actively exploring the school, just seeing it through the protagonist's eyes.
- Killer7: The sixth chapter, "Smile", takes the Smiths to Colburn Elementary School during the second half. They're looking for the US Secretary of Education, Greg Nightmare, but there are no children as the place is being visited at night (this convenience is necessary, due to the game's rating and contents). Several cassettes can be found, and have recordings of a deceased FBI agent who was researching the life of one of the school's former students, Emir Parkreiner (the past life of Garcian Smith). The boss is Greg Nightmare himself, who is revealed to have been Dead All Along and reanimated as a Heaven Smile.
- The opening level of Lollipop Chainsaw takes place on the campus of San Romero High School, and has Juliette, the heroine of the story, chainsaw her way through zombified classmates and faculty.
- No More Heroes series:
- No More Heroes: The Rank 8 stage is set within the Santa Destroy High School, and there Travis has to find and challenge Shinobu, who's not only a dedicated student but also a professional assassin. She wishes to kill Travis because she (erroneously) believes Travis killed her father. After the battle, Travis settles the misunderstanding and spares her.
- No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle: The Rank 49-to-25 stage takes place in Destroy University, and as Travis goes through its inner area he has to find and challenge Charlie MacDonald, a renowned American Football player. He is accompained by his cheerleaders (who are also part of the assassin rank, hence why defeating all of them nets Travis the 25th rank instead of merely the 49th), and the ensuing boss fight is a tribute to the Super Sentai franchise. In a later, optional stage, Travis has to tackle the outdoor area of the University to find and challenge another assassin, Kimmy Howell.
- No More Heroes III: The Rank 5 stage combines the trope with Big Boo's Haunt, being a dark, decrepit school that has been long abandoned and features bloodstains, creepy mannequins sitting in the classrooms, and a glowing light that appears to be a ghost. The boss is Midori Midorikawa, who is actually not an evil character (and her life is spared after the fight).
- River City Ransom the Very Definitely Final Dungeon is River City High School.
- River City Ransom: Underground begins in one, and becoming the penultimate level where the entrance to a secret lab that become the Very Definitely Final Dungeon is one of the lockers.
- River City Girls: The game starts in the local school, where protagonists Misako and Kyoko are serving detention (despite Kyoko not even attending that school) and the enemies are various delinquents, cheerleaders, and members of various sports clubs, while the gym teacher serves as the game's first boss fight.
- Senran Kagura: Hanzo Academy, unlike its rival Hebijo Academy, is designed as a modern Japanese high school under the guise of a ninja academy. Various missions in the series will often take place inside the school with classrooms to enter, each containing a wave of shinobi students or delinquents to defeat, and other sub-sections of the school include the rooftops, the gymnasium and the spacious field.
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword features the Knight Academy, which is located in Skyloft. Being a boarding school, it serves as Link's home during the prologue of the game, though he has to return there at key points during the course of the adventure. It includes a gym for him to practice with his sword, and some sidequests take place there as well.
- Every single videogame based on Harry Potter series, naturally, has the bulk of the game set in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
- In The Loud House licensed games "Summer School" and "Surprise Party", one place you have to go is Royal Woods Elementary, where you can go to the front yard, back yard, hallway, fifth grade classroom, and kindergarten classroom.
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: As part of Byleth's DLC pack, the game features Garreg Mach Monastery of Fire Emblem: Three Houses fame. Per its source material, it is a large academy located in a neutral intersection between three regions, conceived to train students who hail from them in the art of combat. In this game, the stage periodically transports all presents fighters to a different part of the building: The Marketplace (also your default location when the fight starts), the Reception Hall, the Bridge and the Cathedral.
- Common in the BioShock series:
- In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the second half of the level "Team Player" sees Allen and his fellow Army Rangers riding in a convoy that gets ambushed by enemy combatants camped out in a school and the buildings surrounding it. After just barely escaping, Allen's squad is tasked with breaching the school and clearing it of hostiles.
- One of the buildings in Erangel in PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is a school, though the insides are empty and it's unmarked except on the map.
- The video game Standoff (2018) features a school shooting where the player can be either the cops or the school shooters.
- In the Aaahh!!! Real Monsters Licensed Game for the SNES and Sega Genesis, the third and fourth acts of the first level, "Screaming ABCD", take place in a school. In the third act, Ickis, Oblina, and Krumm wander through the gynmasium, where obstacles include basketball hoops, arena stands, and basketballs bouncing everywhere, and students serve as enemies. In the fourth act, the monsters wander through the school hallway, eventually winding up in the library, where the librarian serves as the end-of-level boss.
- The Simpsons games:
- In Virtual Bart, the Vandal level takes place outside Springfield Elementary School during recess. In this level, Bart hides in the bushes and tosses tomatoes and later eggs at his classmates so that he will look good in the school photo by comparison. The level ends if Bart hits all of his classmates, runs out of tomatoes or eggs, runs out of time, or hits one of the adults (though he can hit Principal Skinner while he is crouching).
- In Night of the Living Treehouse of Horror, the sixth level, "Nightmare Cafeteria" is based on the "Treehouse of Horror V" episode segment of the same name. In this level, the children of Springfield Elementary School are being held prisoner by the faculty, and Lisa has to find the keys to their cages and rescue them without being caught by the faculty before time runs out.
- Tiny Toon Adventures games:
- In Babs' Big Break, Stage 1 ends at ACME Looniversity, where the player walks down the hallway, dodging cakes that spit cherries and clones of Perfecto Prep student Roderick Rat. The player soon meets Dizzy Devil in the cafeteria, who serves as the stage's boss. To defeat him, the player has to feed him enough food until he falls asleep.
- In Buster Busts Loose, Stage 1 takes place in ACME Looniversity. In this level, Buster has to run through the school hallway while avoiding frogs, crabs, and Roderick Rat clones. Midway through the stage, Buster encounters Arnold the Pit Bull as a mini-boss in a darkened art room, and must defeat him in order to obtain the key to the cafeteria. In the cafeteria, Dizzy Devil serves as the end-of-level boss (which is skipped in the Children Mode), and to defeat him, Buster has to feed Dizzy nine total pieces of food so that he will fall asleep. Every so often, Dizzy will spin and break the conveyor belts, making feeding him more of a challenge.
- Multiple levels in Katamari Damacy take place in schools, with the goal of rolling up things like stationary, school supplies, and students. You can travel the entire school and go from classroom to classroom, and the planet comes out looking like school-related objects, such as a backpack.
- Mikie High School Graffiti: This arcade game from The '80s features the player controlling a high school boy, Mikie, as he ditches class to hook up with a cheerleader. The stages of the game, starting from Mikie's classroom and going through a lcoker room, canteen, and gym before ending at the schoolyard, have Mikie collecting hearts to open the door all while being chased by his teacher. Between stages, Mikie traverse the halls, making your way from class to class starting with the third floor classroom to the ground level schoolyard.
- Scribblenauts: School levels pop up pretty often. Common puzzles the player must solve there include stocking a classroom full of themed items, helping students handle certain problems, and hiring teaching staff.
- Avencast: Rise of the Mage: Chapter 1 has the Player Character working towards his Ultimate Final Exam in the titular Wizarding School. After he returns from the exam to find The Legions of Hell have invaded the Academy, Chapters 2-4 are based on reclaiming it and learning how to take the fight back to them.
- Dragon Quest IX: Swinedimples Academy (Shion Institute in the original) is an extremely prestigious college the player investigates while looking for a Fygg (and can pick up the high-end weapons techniques). It's also haunted by the ghost of Sternivus Swinedimple, the founding headmaster, who thinks the current students are lazy and undisciplined, and has been kidnapping them to bring them up to his standards until you beat some sanity back into him. The dub turns it into a big Harry Potter reference, not only through the name of the place but the presence of a prankster student named Fred.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has the College of Winterhold, located above a tall icy peak separate from the main body of Winterhold. Its biggest authority is the Arch Mage, Savos Aren, and the Dragonborn can join it and start a magic course by doing a spell demonstration. Doing so kickstarts the Sidequest Sidestory about the magicians and their conflict.
- Final Fantasy VIII has Balamb Garden, the school where Squall and most of his main companions are studying (or in Quistis' case, teaching) at the start of the game, along with the associated Trabia and Galbadia Gardens. It's a somewhat nontraditional case as the students are mainly learning to become elite mercenaries, but the classrooms, dorms, cafeteria, library, and quad, along with the various personal and scholarly activities the students are up to, still give it a typical school vibe.
- Fortune Summoners: The game is about Kid Hero Arche moving to a new town, and therefore, going to a new school, which is a fully traversable place in the game.
- The God of Crawling Eyes: It's an RPG that takes place in a school that's turned horrific.
- Early on in EarthBound Beginnings, you have to go to Twinkle Elementary School in Merrysville to recruit Lloyd. The nurse at the school heals you to maximum HP. You have to talk to the janitor to get the key to the rooftop, where you talk to Lloyd who is hiding in a trash can. Then, you go to the science lab, where you blow up the room, and you can visit it later anytime to buy joke items from a teacher.
- EarthBound has Snow Wood Boarding House, where Jeff resides. You have to go around the school and collect items from the rooms.
- The Other: Airi's Adventure: The beginning of the game is Airi leaving school.
- Shin Megami Tensei if... takes place entirely inside Karukozaka High, as the school has been thrown in the Abyss and the protagonist tries to escape.
- Persona: St. Hermellin High is a recurring dungeon in the game that must be visited at least three times, not counting the begging where there are no random encounters. In fact, The Very Definitely Final Dungeon is an extremely twisted version of it.
- Persona 2 duology: In both games, Seven Sisters High and Kasugayama High are dungeons. Seven Sisters is the opening dungeon in both games, while Kasugayama is connected to a Blackout Basement. In the Updated Re-release of Innocent Sin, the two quest dungeons that are added are St. Hermellin High and Karukozaka High, both warped by magic.
- Subverted in Persona 5. The first Palace is located in the school, but in the Metaverse it looks like a medieval castle.
- Pokémon Ranger Shadows of Almia begins with the player going to the Ranger School. For this segment of the game, they're learning the ropes of being a Ranger, exploring their school, and interacting with their classmates and teachers, many of whom go onto be important later in the story.
- Science Girls!: Aliens are invading school, and the titular group has to fight them off.
- South Park games:
- You visit South Park Elementary twice in South Park: The Stick of Truth, once to break Craig out of detention, and once to fight through the school for the Stick of Truth.
- South Park Elementary once again reappears in South Park: The Fractured but Whole where you talk to Mr. Mackey about sex and gender. You also go there again to fix Wonder Tweek and Super Craig's relationship.
- Weird and Unfortunate Things Are Happening: Alicia has to find her niece Dottie at her monster-infested school, and one of the teachers is teaching when the player starts controlling him to fight said monsters.
- A Very Long Rope to the Top of the Sky: The magic school in Mossvine is basically a single classroom to be walked around and examined.
- In Fallout: New Vegas, the X-8 Research Center of Big MT in the Old World Blues DLC is a research facility meant for testing Cyberdogs that Dr. Borous has modeled after his high school as his way of lording over his former bullies, with "Doctor-Principal" Borous yelling insults at them despite the fact that they're all long-dead.
Dr. Borous: "Down at the end of the hall is BALL storage. For jocks who like BALLS, like RICHIE MARCUS. Do you hear me, Betsy? RICHIE likes BALLS."
- EA Playground is a Minigame Game of playground games that takes place on a school playground, but some of the games do shift action to the school's interior.
- Yandere Simulator is built around a high school as its setting. As your main objective is to eliminate your rivals under a deadline to get to Senpai, you'll be blending in with the students and participating in class activities and clubs to raise your attributes, giving you more creative ways to murder your rivals with. Your constant obstacles will be the teachers, whom if they discover that you committed a murder, will catch you and get you expelled, triggering an automatic Game Over, and they'll usually defeat you in a Curb-Stomp Battle if you haven't invested enough in physical activities to stand a fighting chance.
- Baldi's Basics in Education and Learning takes place entirely within a schoolhouse full of freakish and bizarre characters. It might look like a educational game, but you'll soon find out that it is very, very scary...
- Corpse Party: The games' primary setting, Heavenly Host Elementary School, is a decrepit, haunted schoolhouse that exists within another realm of reality. It is inhabited by the violent, vengeful ghosts of the students that were slaughtered there, and traps all people, dead or alive, there for all eternity.
- F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin: Wade Elementary School is a seemingly normal abandoned elementary school, but secretly houses underground bio-research laboratories that experiment on children. When Dark Signal arrives, they must fight the vengeful Specters and Remnants that inhabit the building.
- Silent Hill has a level set in an elementary school. This is also the first time Harry goes into the alternate dimension and faces the first boss.
- Spooky's Jump Scare Mansion: Rooms 165-200 take the form of an abandoned Japanese schoolhouse, where the player encounters shadowy figures of children and learns of a malevolent entity that violently murders and devours tardy students. Upon trying to leave, the entity, Specimen 4 a.k.a Ringu, gives chase and tries to eat the player.
- Confess My Love takes place in a single school classroom for the entire duration of the game. You play as Willie, who is stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop of trying to confess his love for Liza, just before they leave class. As such, waiting too long to talk to her and allowing her to leave the school triggers at least two endings.
- Bully mostly takes place in the boarding school known as Bullsworth Academy, with classes ranging from History to Gym Class being actual levels you partake in.