‘Bully’ winning against even bigger bullies

Rockstar Games’ newest release is out, and it has more than a few people foaming at the mouth.

Bully is a sandbox-style high school simulator set at a vicious, fictitious prep school complete with cliques, pranks and a respectable slew of schoolyard antics.

But Bully isn’t a “Columbine simulator.” In fact, it’s tame considering the hype about the destructive effects it was supposed to have on society. It does, however, have one rather intriguing “secret” feature.

There are numerous cliques roaming the school, each of which includes a boy who can be kissed by the main character – also a boy – by way of a social menu that pops up whenever a passerby is focused on. It’s not immediately obvious, but it’s also not a mistake.

After the so-called “Hot Coffee” scandal – in which resourceful hackers found an effort-intensive way to access a sex minigame in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas that is inaccessible to the average consumer – it’s interesting that Rockstar Games not only chose to let this feature fly, but also actively chose to include it in the gameplay.

While the option to kiss another boy isn’t fleshed out (your character isn’t pounced on by homophobes or otherwise singled out or discriminated against), it seems as though the historically scandalous game publisher is baiting its critics, chief of whom is Florida lawyer and activist Jack Thompson. Thompson was the driving force behind the Hot Coffee fiasco, which was later picked up on by Hillary Clinton, among others. It will be interesting to see whether Thompson and the usual gang of zealous anti-gaming legislators go after Bully’s innocent schoolboy smooches – and that is, perhaps, exactly what Rockstar planned on.

After all, there’s very little inherently objectionable about Bully. It’s not Grand Theft Auto in the schoolyard. Uzis, knives and shotguns are replaced with wedgies, stink bombs and cartons of eggs – hardly the stuff of school shootings.

Sexual content is present but tame. The game gives players the option of kissing a girl, but only after giving her a bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates – thus the most “objectionable” sexual content is the “hidden” boy-on-boy kissing. As one might imagine, any politicians willing to crusade against that have an uphill battle ahead of them.

In a lot of ways, Bully confronts the spectacle with its own irrelevance. Rockstar seems to be daring its critics to continue their attacks on its releases, and this time the publisher is setting the agenda. It’s an ingenious move, and one Rockstar should be praised for. Anticipating the scrutiny its latest release would receive, the gaming giant seems to have said, “Go ahead and attack it. This time, there’s nothing wrong with it except that you don’t like it.”