A love letter to High School Musical: Makin’ the Cut!

Words by Willow Najarro

How “High School Musical: Makin’ the Cut” Redefined Gaming for a Generation

In the heart of every gamer who grew up in the early 2000s, there’s a beat that syncs perfectly with the pulse of the High School Musical franchise. It’s a rhythm infused with the echoes of movie premieres and the tangible presence of CD collections that marked an era. For those whose childhoods were painted in the hues of East High’s drama, the act of receiving a pink Nintendo DS at Christmas alongside “High School Musical: Makin’ the Cut!” wasn’t just a gift; it was a portal to a new dimension.

Screenshot from High School Musical: Makin’ the Cut

Early 2000s Gamers have been obsessed with the High School Musical franchise from a young age. If you were to talk to any gamer from this time, there is a guarantee that they’ve been there for each premiere from the film franchise and collected the limited edition soundtrack CDs. When I personally got my pink Nintendo DS for Christmas, the first game I asked for was “High School Musical: Makin the Cut”. The game opened me up to a lot of other video games I would play in the future and it was the first time I thought that gaming felt like something I could enjoy. 

HSM: Makin the Cut was really similar to games like Guitar Hero or Lego Rock Band. At the beginning of the game, you are given different ‘modes’ which consist of story, dance, music, and video maker. The story mode allowed you to follow along with the character as they entered the “Best Youth Musical” competition, allowing you to choose a song and two characters would dance or sing – depending on the mode to your chosen song. In addition, there was another feature called the video maker, which let you make a music video for one of the performances and control aspects of the video – such as camera angles, lighting, and special effects. 

Screenshot from High School Musical: Makin’ the Cut

This immersion into the High School Musical universe through the lens of “Makin’ the Cut” wasn’t just a journey through a beloved narrative; it was a groundbreaking moment for gamers, an awakening to the vast potentials of video game narratives that could be personalized and deeply felt. The game’s modes—story, dance, music, and video maker—acted as gateways, not just into the cinematic world of East High, but into a newfound agency within gaming itself. Gamers could orchestrate the musical numbers, direct the cinematic angles, and craft the performances of their cherished characters, stepping into roles far beyond the passive spectator.

The allure of “Makin’ the Cut” lay not just in its gameplay but in its ability to tap into the zeitgeist of a generation that grew up idolizing Troy, Gabriella, and the rest of the East High gang. This connection went deeper than mere nostalgia; it was a bridge to a personal involvement in a story that had defined a generation’s understanding of friendship, ambition, and the joy of finding one’s voice. Through my time playing HSM, I managed to find a community at a young age. I would sneak my DS into my backpack to play with my friends at school, finally finding something we could all unite over. After I started playing the game frequently I would always ask my brother to take me to see the other DS games because I became so obsessed with the feeling of playing video games. I used to beg my brother to take me to check out new DS games every weekend. 

Screenshot from High School Musical: Makin’ the Cut

In circling back to where it all began, the impact of “High School Musical: Makin’ the Cut” emerges not just from its gameplay but from its role as a cultural conduit for a generation. This wasn’t merely a game; it was a zeitgeist captured in digital form, blending the fervor for a beloved musical saga with the nascent world of personal gaming. What started with the unwrapping of a pink Nintendo DS one Christmas morphed into a profound exploration of identity, community, and passion. For those who navigated the early 2000s with a soundtrack of “High School Musical” echoing in the background, this game served as a bridge between worlds—uniting the solitary with the shared, the digital with the tangible. It demonstrated, with unmistakable clarity, how gaming could transcend entertainment, embedding itself into the fabric of personal history and shaping a collective memory that resonates far beyond the confines of East High.