Why A Bully Retrospective?
With the recent news that a sequel to Rockstar Games Bully is unlikely, I thought it would be nice to write a Bully retrospective. Why was it controversial? Why is the game so fondly remembered by those who’ve played it? These are the questions I intend to answer. This Bully retrospective contains story spoilers.
The Hight’s Of Success
In 2004, Rockstar Games released Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. This wasn’t just any release, this was the culmination of two prior games, unimaginable success and insurmountable levels of hype. Not only did GTA: San Andreas live up to expectations, it kicked them in the balls! The sheer scope of the story and world hadn’t been seen in an open-world game before; at least, not on consoles. After laying the foundation with GTA 3 and building the structure with GTA: Vice City, Rockstar had finally built the perfect open-world video game.
Rockstar faced numerous controversies during the hight of GTA: San Andreas’ success. The developer was criticized for its portrayal of gang culture, even being accused of using the likeness of several rappers of the time. Before this, Rockstar had been able to wipe off lawsuits like Teflon, but even they couldn’t avoid getting into hot water, or should I say, hot coffee, over a sex mod, found within the game’s code.
Bully 101: A Lesson In Controversy
GTA: San Andreas cemented Rockstar’s place as the “bad boys” of the gaming industry, but the hot coffee lawsuit made clear that even they couldn’t get away with everything. Focus turned to what was next; another GTA? Kind of. The developer would release two further GTA games on 6th generation consoles, but Rockstar’s next IP would see a major deviation from what had made the developer a smash hit.
Never one to shy away from controversy, Rockstar revealed their next original IP would be called Bully. Set in and around a boarding school, Bully instantly caught the media’s eye. Without knowing anything about the game, its story or gameplay, news outlets, and dodgy lawyers created unsubstantiated stories of trivializing bullying, even glamorizing it. The European version even had to change its name (Canis Canem Edit) to pass censors. All this was complete nonsense of course and it played right into the hands of Rockstar. People were now desperate to see just what this new game was all about.
The Tale Of Jimmy Hopkins
Canis Canem Edit didn’t glamorize bullying as the media claimed, but it did deal with the issue of bullying. You play Jimmy Hopkins, a troubled teen who’s mother abandons him in a new town, at a new school. He isn’t the most polite child, but compared to his fellow alumni and teachers, he may be the only sane person there. Out of convenience, Jimmy befriends Garry, a mini Machiavellian with delusions of grandeur. He also meets Pete, a nervous kid who seems to share an unhealthy, abusive friendship with Garry.
Garry introduces us to the internal politics of the school; its cliques, bullies & teachers. The school is split into several groups, common in any movie about high school – greasers, bullies, preps, jocks & nerds. The game doesn’t encourage bullying; instead, it deals with it in a manner expected of Rockstar, head-on. Your juvenile protagonist must survive and thrive in a school, in which everyone is a bully in some respect. Teachers are demeaning, cliques are hostile to newcomers & your new friend is anything but.
Each chapter follows one of these cliques, dealing with the possible root of why they’re bullying others. The preps believe they are better than others, due to their wealth. The greasers and their leader are a paranoid bunch, wary of outsiders. The nerds are bullied by other groups but flaunt their intelligence over everyone else. Lastly, but not least, the jocks use their strength to intimidate others. Throughout the games five story chapters, you’ll deal with the root causes of bullying, while giving each clique a taste of their own medicine.
I’ve played Bully many times through the years and it’s one of my favorite Rockstar games. Its story of dealing with school life is comedically over the top, but, it’s not without a message. Bullying, whatever the cause behind it, is never justified; There is always someone smarter, stronger, richer or more talented than you. Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself, though there is a fine line between defending yourself and bullying others.
Welcome To Bullworth
The town of Bullworth may not have the scale of previous Rockstar titles, but it delivers on the feeling of growing up in small-town America. The world is comprised of five areas – Bullworth town, Old Bullworth Vale, New Coventry, a run-down area, where you’ll find members of the greaser clique, the industrial park, and Bullworth Academy. Each area has its distinct feel; whether its the opulence of Bullworth Vale or the looming tenements of New Coventry. There is a timeless quality to the world of Bully, making it hard to determine when the game is set.
The mission structure borrowed heavily from the GTA series. People around Bullworth will give you tasks to complete, offering small amounts of money, ammo and increased respect with a clique. Naturally, students have classes to. You’re expected to attend two classes a day; ranging from English, chemistry, geography, and art. Also, there are side quests to undertake, like helping a homeless Korean vet find transistor radios; in return, he’ll teach you some “army moves” to use on your enemies.
There is no death in the game, nor is there deadly weaponry. Your arsenal consists of particularly juvenile weapons like slingshots, firecrackers and even a spud gun, that shoots potatoes. Fighting consists of a few simple moves, though you can gain more. Marbles and stink-bombs could also be used to play pranks on fellow students. As for transport, your options are limited to skateboards, bikes, and mopeds; no grand theft auto here. With plenty of off-ramps found in the town, rushing through Bullworth on a bike is genuinely enjoyable.
Graphics are restricted by the tech of the time. It’s not an ugly game, though many of the characters are grotesque in some respects. The seasons change as the story progresses, with winter (chapter 3) being the most memorable. You’ll not remember the game for its beauty or graphical intensity; Rockstar has always put substance before style and that shows here.
Much like school, Bully leaves me with fond memories. Specific missions linger in my mind, like Halloween, where you commit several pranks of varying sizes, ending in a rather smelly situation for the gym teacher. Another involves breaking into an asylum, in an attempt to save your alcoholic English teacher. Whether your memories of school are fresh in your mind or the long distant past, Bully reminds us of how awkward, anxiety-inducing, and harsh, attending school could be.
On the flip side, it also reminds us of the unlikely friends we can make, the skills that we inadvertently learn & those special moments, like a first kiss, that stay’s with us for life. When Canis Canem Edit released in 2006, I had just entered high school. I remember discussing my excitement with fellow gamers & even made new friends through these discussions. Rockstar’s high school outing, allowed me to make new friends in a new school and for that, I’m forever grateful. Now, If you excuse me, Writing this Bully retrospective has me champing at the bit to return to Bullworth.