Rockstar has been very quiet about the details of Bully. Inevitably so – since the game’s announcement there have been outraged cries from the mainstream press that it’s yet another ‘demoralising sinister game’ from the house that GTA built. There’s no denying that this is getting the game some much sought after attention, but is all the negativity justified? Does Bully (or its new reformed name in Europe, Canis Canem Edit) aim to promote real life playground bullying?
When we visited Rockstar’s London headquarters to get a sneak preview of the game, it quickly became obvious that the Bully/Canis Canem Edit is anything but a promotion of school menacing. Hugh Michaels, before moving onto anything else, showed us a trailer of many other TV shows and films that highlighted school life and the highs and lows that came with it; “Many films, books and TV series are allowed to deal with school settings and the harsher side of it. Harry Potter and Grange Hill certainly did this… really all we’re asking is why can’t video games express those same ideas and issues?”
We then got stuck into the game, starting with the introduction of Jimmy Hopkins, the protagonist whose role you take play in Canis Canem Edit. Expelled from every other school in the area, this problem child’s last chance to get an education lies, almost inevitably, in the toughest establishment in the country – Bullworth Academy. On the car journey there, an argument erupts between Jimmy and his mother’s new husband – some rich guy that the poor kid has never seen before. Assuming the role of good parent, Jimmy’s mum dumps him at Bullworth’s school gates, announcing that she's going on honeymoon for a whole year. That’s love right there, that is.
It is here that you grasp control of Jimmy, and begin to explore the Academy’s courtyard. It’s an expansive place, and this represents just one small segment of the game world – Canis Canem Edit is split into five chapters (each owing to a season of the year) [how many seasons are there – Ed?] and later in the story you will be able to leave the school gates and reconnoitre the nearby town. Complex missions will require you to explore and reach different areas of the world, and the style is, as you would expect from the eyes of an impressionable child, larger than life. The courtyard itself is thronging with teachers, prefects and pupils, each with their own type of dress code depending on which clique they belong to (more on this later). The school’s classrooms can be found on one side, while boys and girls’ dorm houses are opposite each other – naturally the chance to sneak into places you’re not allowed to will arise sooner or later. You little scamp, you.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Right now Jimmy is in casual clothes and has just got a bollocking for not wearing uniform. So the aim right now is to reach the boy’s dorm, get to your new room and change clothes. As we’re exploring the courtyard for the first time, Hugh explains a little more about Jimmy’s character. “He’s a tough kid, he can look after himself – but he’s not a malicious thug. Throughout the game he will get into trouble and start fights as any kid would, but you mainly see it through defending himself or protecting weaker kids in the school”.
And right now we’re about to get a taste of that. Jimmy attempts to get into the boy’s dorm and is surrounded by bullies. “You know what time it is? Yep, time for a beat down!” yells one of the ugly beefcakes standing in your way. It turns out nobody really likes new kids much. Time to defend yourself we thinks. Rockstar’s Richard Barnes demos the fighting tutorial for us, and teaches us how Jimmy will be able to protect himself in the game.