Member the games you used to play? We member. The basement at the Hardcore Gamer office has a section known as the Crust Room, with an old grey couch and a big old CRT TV. All the classic systems are down there collecting dust, so in an effort to improve the cleanliness of our work space, we dust off these old consoles every so often and put an old game through its paces, just to make sure everything stays in working order. We even have a beige computer with a floppy disk drive.
Between the Grand Theft Autos and Manhunts, Rockstar Games has a natural talent for attracting controversy to its titles. It should come as no surprise that when they announced a PlayStation 2 game called Bully there was outrage and speculation about what sort of depravity would be featured in a game that clearly glorifies bullying and violence against children. Once the game was released it became apparent that these claims based purely on speculation were just that, and despite being somewhat of a bad kid who was previously expelled from several other schools, Jimmy Hopkins didn’t seem like such a bad guy. At least not by Manhunt standards.
Bully begins with fifteen-year-old protagonist Jimmy Hopkins being unceremoniously dropped off at Bullworth Academy entirely against his will. Bullworth Academy is filled with bullies, which Jimmy ends up fighting and earning the respect of the various cliques. The gameplay is similar to Grand Theft Auto, except it takes place in a school so there is way less killing and drugs. Plus Jimmy doesn’t exactly look like a gang leader, with his appearance has more in common with a Bobby Hill going through a teenage badass phase. The gameplay and overall tone almost seems like Rockstar was taking the GTA formula in a much less controversial direction, even though this title caused an outcry long before the release.
Jimmy does follow a linear story with required missions and objectives to advance the game, but the player is pretty much free to tackle these at their own pace while taking care of optional activities or causing some unstructured mischief. This sounds exactly like Rockstar’s other extremely popular franchise, but the weaponry of stink bombs, spud cannons and slingshots has more in common with Dennis the Menace than Scarface. Also, since Jimmy is only fifteen he’s not old enough to drive, so his means of conveyance consist of skateboards, bicycles, scooters and go-karts. Sadly, fifteen-year-old Jimmy was not able to cause a big enough ruckus where the military would have to deal with him, thus giving him the opportunity to steal a tank and really give Bullworth something to worry about. He does have a six level trouble meter, however, where the authorities will increase their aggressive behavior with the more trouble Jimmy causes.
Being as Jimmy is at a boarding school, there is a certain schedule he needs to follow every day. During the day he should go to class, but one doesn’t get kicked out seven previous schools by having perfect attendance. Going to class does open up some minigames that will offer Jimmy some rewards if he completes them, but it’s always fun to be truant and cause mischief while everyone else is sitting in class, provided he doesn’t get caught.
After classroom hours Jimmy has some free time to roam about the campus or venture into town without having to worry too much about getting caught, provided he isn’t breaking any rules. When evening falls a curfew goes into effect where, you guessed it, Jimmy can creep around town and campus provided he doesn’t get caught by one of those pesky prefects or other authority figures. Unfortunately, Jimmy is a bit of a lightweight and when the clock strikes a certain hour his body gives out on him and he has to go to sleep until the next day. This means that Jimmy will not be joining you when you’re roaming around LA at 3:00 am, lost and completely tanked.
After being dropped off at Bullworth Academy, Jimmy ends up befriending a couple people who introduce him to the various cliques at Bullworth Academy: the Jocks, Preppies, Nerds, Greasers and of course Bullies. Jimmys supposed friend Gary Smith ends up eventually betraying Jimmy in their quest to somehow conquer all the cliques, which results in Jimmy taking part in the Bully clique’s version of Fight Club. Jimmy ends up winning and earns the Bullies’ respect. Jimmy uses his new found position as King of the Bullies to make them stop bullying people, so after all this controversy there is a bit of a happy ending to one of the opening events. Bully does a good job of recreating how cliquey high school can be and also how incredibly idiotic these cliques can actually be.
While the deeds of Jimmy Hopkins to rise up the ranks of school popularity are tame compared to some other Rockstar titles, few of them are considered good and some of his doings are a bit on the unsavory. One such mission where he tries to gain popularity among the Nerds (there’s a sentence you don’t ever expect to write) involves taking inappropriate pictures of the head cheerleader and plastering them around town to embarrass her. Later on Jimmy’s guilty conscience has him covering these up out of sympathy for the victim, so he’s kind of a typical teenager in that he’ll do impulsive things that show poor judgment to gain the approval of others but feel bad about them later.
Bully culminates in a series of events that would surpass just about any ’80s or ’90s teen movie. Somehow Jimmy has done the impossible, which is uniting all the cliques that should be natural enemies together while becoming king of the school. This type of scenario cannot exist undisturbed for long and soon after a series of horrible pranks have the cliques turn against Jimmy and he is expelled from a Bullworth. A hostage situation occurs and a disgraced Jimmy is caught in the middle of World War Bullworth where the once united cliques burning hatred for one another has reignited. In this incredibly unlikely scenario, Jimmy ends up being hero saving Dr. Cribblesnitch. For his heroic deeds, Jimmy and another wrongfully expelled student are reinstated as students at Bullworth Academy while the rightful parties are expelled and fired.
The deeds the player commits aren’t exactly wholesome, but they are a far cry from the criminally violent behavior found in Grand Theft Auto. It’s kind of a happy medium where the player is free to do a lot of bad activities but won’t be beating any prostitutes to death for a refund after their health has been restored. Playing as a delinquent kid in a boarding school was an interesting setting for a game, and while it’s obvious that Grand Theft Auto was a template for the gameplay, everything else about Bully was so divorced from that franchise it was able to have its own identity. It also offered younger players a chance to experience some open world Rockstar gameplay without having to worry about their parents snatching up the game for all the F bombs and excessive violence.
Bully was originally released for PlayStation 2 in 2006, and in 2008 and enhanced version called Bully Scholarship Edition brought Jimmy Hopkins to Xbox 360 and Wii. Later that year it found its way onto Windows PC. Bully Scholarship Edition added some new content including characters, missions, classes and items. The voice overs for the dialog also got a bump in quality thanks to the more powerful hardware. Regardless of which particular version, Bully is a prime example of how Rockstar might be known for creating some controversy in the media, but more importantly tend to be great games.
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