Rockstar Games is re-releasing their game Bully, updated for the Wii and XBox360. Last time it went by pretty much unnoticed, lost amongst a bunch of other game releases, but this time around it is causing quite a commotion. This is not Rockstar’s first time courting with controversy. They have been razzing the censors and parents alike since their first hit Grand Theft Auto and super-creepy violence-fest Man Hunt.
In Bully the player assumes the role of a 15-year-old bad kid who (of course) is a bully. Parents and teachers are concerned that this game glorifies and thus will lead to school violence. Proponents of the game however argue that (1) Rockstar’s other games are much more violent, (2) “it’s just a video-game”, and (3) the controls are in the players hands and they can control the character in anyway they want, including NOT bullying and fighting.
The last point is a throw away. It defeats the whole purpose of the game. It is like playing an FPS and NOT shooting but rather running away from the monsters.
While the first two points are valid, they completely miss the most important difference between Bully and Rockstar’s other, more violent games: Bully is much, much, much more imitable. Most kids (even adults) would be hard pressed to imitate Grand Theft Auto. Do you know where to obtain a rocket-launcher and Ferrari? I certainly don’t. The same goes with man-hunt. How can you emulate that game without access to a psychopathic murder and an abandoned ghost-town? To mimic Bully on the other hand requires nothing. Children already have access to a school, other kids, and their fists or other make-shift weapons.
The trouble with Bully is that unlike other violent games, this one is completely imitable.