From the Issue — Grand Theft Bicycle
Written by Bwog Staff
In which Bwog shamelessly plugs the November issue of the Blue and White, beginning with Paul Barndt’s review of a video game several orders of magnitude wimpier than Grand Theft Auto, for all you Election Day shut-ins.
Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto III is the Star Wars (Episode IV) of video games. GTA has spawned numerous sequels and brazen imitators like Saints Row and the forthcoming Crackdown, creating a new genre of “sandbox” games—a name that reflects their strengths and limitations.
The sandboxes contain vast, wide-open landscapes with few constraints, where the kid (or mass murderer) in you can get lost for hours; they are also plagued by choppy graphics and sloppy gameplay. But the style and sophistication of Bully, Rockstar’s latest, proves that it’s possible to think, yes, outside the sandbox.
15-year-old Jimmy Hopkins has been expelled from several schools, his mother just got married for the fifth time, and he has recently been dumped off at the worst prep school in
Although the world of Bullworth is divided into four or five factions, the characters aren’t recycled archetypes (the bread and butter of GTA)—Rockstar took the time to make each of the 70 or so students unique, or at least, unique within the game’s universe. Among the nerds, there’s Earnest, the clean-cut dork with delusions of grandeur; Fatty, the Dungeons and Dragons nut with a cape on his back and tinfoil on his head; and Algernon, the obese bed-wetter who writes to his mother every day. There are jocks like Ted, the pretty-boy quarterback who hides behind his linemen; Damon, a gigantic, fight-picking monster with his arm in a cast; and Ivan, the foreign exchange bruiser. You’ll get to know them, and, as the game progresses, they’ll get to know you.
The game’s technical framework (controls, interface, menus) is straight GTA, but every action has an appropriate teenage analog. Knocking kids off their bikes has replaced jacking Ferraris at gunpoint, firecrackers in toilets have replaced Molotov cocktails, and making out has replaced soliciting prostitutes—unlike in GTA, both girls and boys are receptive to your advances.
Rockstar didn’t advertise this last feature and it isn’t immediately apparent to the player. Its discovery echoes the “Hot Coffee” scandal, a sex mini-game in GTA: San Andreas that was inaccessible to the average thumb-jockey, but was unearthed by hackers searching through the game’s code. In GTA, Carl “CJ” Johnson can date up to six different women, and if he plays his cards right, the dates will culminate in an invite inside for coffee—read: sex. At this point, the off-the-shelf game gets suggestive; the house’s exterior appears, to the vaguely erotic sounds of muffled voices. By downloading the “Hot Coffee” mod on the PC, or hacking into the console versions, however, the player was able to enter the house and the girlfriend herself: you control an array of actions which cannot be elaborated upon in this forum. If any single event sparked Senator Clinton’s public pledge to protect
Naturally, Jack Thompson, a conservative attorney and anti-video game crusader, recently attempted to prohibit the sale of Bully to minors in
That being said, Bully does allow you to beat an eight-year-old girl over the head with a baseball bat and pelt old ladies with bottle rockets, but, all things considered, it’s more Rebel Without A Cause than Requiem for a Dream. The PG-13 approach works. Bringing crack pipes, handguns, and AIDS into a boarding school fantasy would have killed the mischief-making that makes Bully so much fun.
There wouldn’t be mischief to make without rules, and a choice of whether or not to break them. Jimmy has a curfew, a dress code, and class every day (which take the form of mini-games—English is a word scramble, gym is a dodgeball match, etc.). Wear your khakis and vest, and you won’t get harassed by the prefects, but why not wear the red ninja suit you just bought? Go to shop class, and you’ll earn a better bike, but why not ride the BMX you already have into town and spray “Nerds Suck!” all over the comic store where they congregate?
The action isn’t confined to the school grounds—the sleepy northeastern town of
A photography class assignment brought me to
A game can only cover so much, but Bully hits a sweet spot of virtual reality. More social options would have been nice—instead of joining one clique or another, the player is simply dragged through a preset story arc, which involves the systematic humiliation and physical beatdown of every kid in the school in an attempt to “stop bullying”—but the cozy universe of Bully proves that while big is good, bigger isn’t necessarily better.
Tags: print issue