Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Bully for you: Controversial video game may not be as violent as critics fear

Bully released todayWith Conflict Resolution Day just around the corner (October 19, in fact), conflict resolvers may be interested to know that today marks the official release date of the video game Bully, produced by Take Two Interactive Software, Inc. under its Rockstar Games label.

Bully depicts the adventures of teenager Jim Hopkins as he stands up to the obstacles--social, educational, and physical--that await him at fictitious private school Bullworth Academy (motto: canis canem edit—dog eat dog).
(For a post last year from this blog that covered Bully and pop culture depictions of conflict, please read "Seeing ourselves: conflict and negotiation in popular culture".)

Many months before its release, angry parents, lawmakers, and educators on both sides of the Atlantic denounced Bully and called for an outright ban on its distribution and sale in protest of its purported glorification of high school violence--before any of them had even seen the game first-hand. One attorney, Jack Thompson, a conservative crusader against violence and sex in the media, is currently seeking to have Bully deemed a public nuisance in violation of Florida law.

Surprisingly, however, media and gaming experts who previewed the game report that Bully in fact has little violence. Clive Thompson, author of the blog Collision Detection, had this to say about Bully in a recent article on Wired.com:

It turns out the game doesn't glorify bullying at all.

Indeed, it's almost precisely the opposite.

...Instead, most of your early missions involve you defending the helpless: Escorting weak-bladdered nerds past phalanxes of threatening athletes, or sneaking into the girls' locker room to retrieve an essay that popular cheerleader stole from a helpless she-geek...
Bully, however, may be subversive in ways that its opponents didn’t anticipate. According to Thompson, Bully functions as no-holds-barred polemic on the rigid social hierarchies and daily injustices that high school life is susceptible to:

Peel back the hood on the ludic violence, and Rockstar's games have a surprisingly consistent moral view: Those with power will inevitably abuse it. It is a conclusion that would not displease Thomas Hobbes, or even Thomas Jefferson.

That's why Bully is, in many ways, the ultimate Rockstar game. By turning to high school, the designers have found the perfect locale for exploring the cliquishness, unfairness and brutality of everyday society.
Which proves once again that things are not always what they seem.