A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this game is an expansion of the original 2006 Bully game offered on newer platforms, and that it depicts antisocial behavior and violence within a school environment. At its heart it is a simulation about bullying behavior in a school setting and therefore -- given the sad state of school violence -- a hot-button topic for parents. There is plenty of psychological mischief and physical violence, including fistfighting, kicking, humiliating taunts and insults. Weapons include a slingshot, firecracker launcher, baseball bat, garbage can lid, and fire extinguisher, but there are no guns or bombs, nor is there any gore, serious injuries, or deaths. The Wii edition makes use of the console's motion sensitive controls to punch, but doesn't make players engage in the physical act of punching. The game contains some sexual remarks, sexual pranks (stealing girls' underwear and sneaking into a bathroom to try to get a photo of a girl in the shower (all you see is steam), and alcohol references. And depending on the path taken, the main character, Jimmy Hopkins, can kiss another boy. Pranks include pushing kids into toilets, tossing stinkbombs, firecrackers, and itching powder at pedestrians, and throwing marbles on the ground for others to trip over. The game does include consequences for misdeeds.
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What's it about?
An update of the original PlayStation 2 game, BULLY: SCHOLARSHIP EDITION is in essence a high school simulation game that puts players in the shoes of teenager Jimmy Hopkins. After being dropped off at a new boarding school by his abusive mother and stepfather, he's immediately targeted as an outcast by several school cliques. He has two choices: succumb to bullying and beatings or stand up for himself and other students who are victimized by these hooligans. Sometimes the decision is left up to the player, but there are many instances in which Jimmy's hand is forced and he's compelled to fight back however he can, be it in the form of a stealth attack with his slingshot or a bit of revenge by breaking into a bully's locker. Make no mistake, Bully is filled with plenty of antisocial behavior. But it also manages to act as a reflection -- albeit a sensationalized one -- of what life is like at some rough and tumble schools.
Is it any good?
Thanks to the game's wide gamut of bullying behavior, both physical (fistfights) and psychological (taunts, insults, and humiliation), some parents will be tempted to ban Bully on principle. But in the end, there's little here that most teens won't witness at some point in their day-to-day school lives. In fact, standing up to these video game bullies might even prove somewhat cathartic for kids who suffer bullying in their real lives. Yes, Billy uses excessive violence to accomplish many of his objectives, but he never goes too far--there are no guns, bombs, deaths, or serious injuries in the game. And he does end up accomplishing plenty of good. By the time the game's credits roll, there's peace at Bullworth Academy; all of the school's cliques are friends with one another and the game's most immoral characters have been suitably punished (the main bully is expelled, and a perverted and abusive teacher is fired). Of course, players are free to experiment outside the narrative and start bullying innocents, but there are consequences to these actions--such as being "busted" by ever-present school prefects, losing mission progress, and being forced back to class to play learning mini-games.
Just keep in mind that Bully isn't a game intended for younger kids. While most teens will be able to handle the game's events, younger kids aren't prepared to deal with some of the psychological bombshells this game unleashes (prominent among the high jinx are missions that see the player going on a panty raid for a perverted teacher, shoving an occupied outhouse down a hill, and taking a picture of a bathroom in which a girl is taking a shower – though all we see is steam). It's also worth noting that, thanks in part to the game's spot-on high school humor and surprisingly engaging story, many gaming parents might want to check Bully out -- especially those who remember having been on the receiving end of many a high school prank (and who wouldn't mind a little fantasy payback).
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the fact that in real life, anyone who acts the way these kids act will be tossed out of school. They can also talk through how to deal with bullies in the real world. Should you walk away (as you can in the game) or fight back to show them you're not scared (you can do this too)? The game also lets you stand up for the "nerds" in front of the bullies. You may want to discuss how pranks and other mischief can hurt or harm others. Families could also discuss whether the game provides a moral compass; If you try to be a good person in a world full of bullies, are you rewarded? The game could also prove an excellent launch pad for a discussion about violence in your children's school. You might ask your kids what they have heard and seen and how it makes them feel. You can ask why they want to play a game that simulates rough behavior when bullying is a real part of daily life. Does it help them cope? Or give vicarious pleasure? Do your kids see a connection between a game like this and real life?
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