Maker Defends School 'Bully' Video Game

The Associated Press
Friday, October 13, 2006; 6:43 PM

NEW YORK -- The creators of the popular, but oft-criticized "Grand Theft Auto" games are set to release a new title in which players assume the role of a 15-year-old wannabe tough guy, a premise that drew outcry almost as soon as it was announced last year.

But amid a rash of recent school violence, lawsuits and an ongoing discussion about the influence of video games on children, the developers at Rockstar Games defend "Bully" and say the issues are out of their hands: All they can do is try to make good video games.

"Some people like our games; some don't," company spokesman Rodney Walker said. "We can't try to beat these arguments. Our whole process we believe with 'Bully' is we have to let the game speak for itself. We just want them to know that this is just entertainment."

Actual game players certainly have enjoyed Rockstar's previous titles. Its games, ranging from the "Grand Theft Auto" series to this summer's "Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis," have received favorable reviews. "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" was the top-selling game in 2004, beating out perennial hits like "Madden NFL" that year.

The $39.99 "Bully," out Tuesday for Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 2, uses the same freeform design of "Grand Theft Auto" but is rated "T" for teenagers age 13 and older instead of "M" for mature players 17 and older. In it, players assume the role of Jimmy Hopkins, who thinks he's the big fish in the pond _ until he enters Bullworth Academy.

Players in the living, breathing world of "GTA" could drive cars, perform missions _ and shoot pedestrians and police officers with reckless abandon.

With "Bully," there are plenty of fisticuffs but no guns, no blood and no dying. The most powerful weapons include a slingshot and a baseball bat.

More importantly, actions have consequences: Stay out past curfew, and the screen blurs as you become sleepy and eventually pass out. If you're skipping class, you'll have a swarm of adults around you voicing their disapproval.

There's even some incentive for attending the twice-a-day classes: Your character gets an enhanced ability to flirt with girls or recipes to make stink bombs and other prank devices.

Ultimately, Hopkins faces bullies instead of becoming one as he negotiates a complex social hierarchy dominated by various cliques like greasers, jocks, nerds and preps.

Rockstar's success and explanations have done nothing to appease Jack Thompson, a Florida attorney long critical of violence in video games and other popular media.

Without ever having seen or played the game himself, Thompson has called "Bully" a "Columbine simulator" and sought a ban.

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