Throwback Thursday: Bully
Bully was treated by the mainstream media like the bully on the playground treated everyone else. But did this classic game really deserve the hysteria around it?
Welcome to Bullworth Academy: a boarding school that boasts a reputation as one of the worst schools around. Your name is Jimmy Hopkins and your Mum dropped you off at the gate, ready to disown you – hoping this school will teach you some respect. You want to keep your head down, you really do. But the worst school going has a lot of distractions: a lot of reasons for you to bend the rules.
News of Rockstar developing Bully reached media outlets as early as 2005 (it was released October 2006) and there was complete outrage. Grand Theft Auto had developed a huge reputation for its focus on crime, murder and foul language: and the makers of if were designing a new open-world game based in a school. News outlets such as the BBC condemned this game: writing many disapproving articles about its creation. Some suppliers such as PC World and Currys stated they would not even sell the game. Hysteria around Bully was huge – it seemed the mainstream media would not stop until this despicable game was taken off the shelves.
But did Bully really deserve this reputation? Was it simply GTA in a school? Almost 10 years later we can happily cheer that Bully was so, so much more.
The story was a simple one: a traditional story of a fallen-hero redeeming themselves. Jimmy had been wronged and falsely accused – this made him instantly likeable to the player. Along with Jimmy’s quick-witted comments and mischievous behaviour, he was someone we all rooted for: an every man…or teenager. Jimmy set off on his adventure with the only goal being to survive Bullworth Academy, but like every Rockstar game, good intentions quickly change.
Gary Smith quickly introduces himself and explains his goal: to take over Bullworth Academy. Throughout the first term we work with Gary to help him (despite the fact Jimmy still doesn’t really like him) and it all builds up to Gary double crossing Jimmy. After a huge showdown with the Bullies it seems Gary’s actions have backfired.
This really begins the true charm and excellence of this game as most of Bullworth is now available to explore. Thus begins Jimmy’s journey to win over all the cliques in Bullworth Academy – with the Bullies conquered you have the Greasers, Preppies, Jocks and Nerds left (whatever you do, do not underestimate those Nerds!). Sure these are all pretty stereotypical, but that does not take away from the fantastic characters that are included in each. Storyline-wise Bully really follows the conventions of GTA: an underdog who conquers rival gangs to redeem himself.
Despite some of the similarities with Grand Theft Auto we are yet to mention any of the usual traits: guns, knifes, senseless murder, stealing cars, prostitutes, and killing said prostitutes. Well, that’s because none of these are included in Bully; media outlets and outraged villagers you can put your pitchforks away. Bully is as innocent as you remember your school days being…well maybe a little more innocent than that. So where’s the appeal in an innocent GTA style game? Where to begin…
Seeing as it’s set in a school let’s start with the lessons. There are only two lessons each day (which maybe explains why the school has such a bad reputation) and each is led by a very stereotypical, yet entertaining, teacher. The English teacher is a drunk who tries to hide it, the Science teacher is completely insane, the Gym teacher is a failed athlete who now boasts a sizeable gut, and the Photography teacher…well she’s so carefree she lets her students run around the nearest city taking pictures – I’m sure Ofsted would not approve. Each lesson is different too, they can differ from quick brain teasers to exciting mini games. When you complete each lesson Jimmy learns a new skill: lessons are made compulsory but these skills really aid you in the game.
A lot of the charm of this game centres around how you interact in the school and the local area. Certain Nerds in the game will always state: “Bullworth is a microcosm” and it’s just that. You are free to roam the school (though at night those pesky prefects will be on the lookout); the local city which offers many different shops and various tasks; and even a local carnival which offers hours of endless entertainment – and some great prizes too.
Bully’s lasting impact
Despite being set in America Bully is very traditionally English. The humour smacks of English-style sarcasm. The school itself reeks of an old-style English institution: even the uniforms strike us as very British. And then there’s Lunch Lady Edna, and anyone who’s ever had an English school meal knows exactly what she’s serving. It really feels like Bully explores English culture, it takes every traditional British stereotype and completely pushes their boundaries.
So did Bully deserve the amount of negative press it encountered? Well, if you believe that stink bombs, bunking class, and breaking curfew are front-page news, then yes. But Bully offered its players one of the most unique gaming experiences ever experienced. Like our childhood memories Bully will always be a part of gaming culture. Bully allowed us to relive our youth, to re-experience both the good and bad of being a teenager, and most importantly it teaches us the value of childhood innocence.
What are your favourite memories of playing Bully? Do you have any particular memories about the hysteria around the game? Do you remember how cutting the grass in detention was so much worse than any 6-star chase you could have in Grand Theft Auto? Comment below and have your say!
Written by Stan Cohen
Bullworth Academy Alumni. Class of 06.