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Played Out: Bully

As much as college me liked to believe he was becoming an individual, I've now realized that I mostly just joined that group of people that believes it's individualistic but actually acts very much the same. Because I am self-aware that I exist in this environment, I'm in an even more select group within that group, but still: I am one of those.

I like Rockstar video games.

While the developer's faux-nihilistic Grand Theft Auto may attract the big crowds with its guns and hookers, I chose to play 2006's Bully this past weekend. This teen-rated affair still got some press because it is a game about high school and children made by the GTA people, but the guns are replaced by slingshots and the hookers by moderately-clothed cheerleaders. Swearing is held to a minimum, too, and the game is better for it. GTAs are fun enough, but I do not see the inspiration in stories that laden their script with F bombs and end with gangsters turning on each other. That is boring to me, but then again, I don't watch The Sopranos and I've never seen a Godfather. If I did, I'm sure I'd again realize I'm more like the rest than I figured.

Rockstar's writing is smart, but too often it goes for the easy laugh and the easy twist. In Bully, because they knew they had to be more careful, they were also more creative. The key antagonist is not a power hungry Italian; rather, it's a power hungry bully who picks on others not necessarily to disguise his own inferiorities, but also because he's simply smarter than everyone else his age and bored. The separation between the two archetypes may be more locational than fundamental, yet in using the high school setting, Bully is sort of calling out society at its root. Cliques do dissolve a bit upon graduation; however, the personalities developed early on remain in the undercurrent of everyday life.

You interact with 4 main social groups in Bully: Nerds, Preppies, Greasers, and Jocks. These characters are all pretty standard fare for pop culture of the past half century, and I believe that's because these characters are pretty standard fare for America of the past half century. The media always says that nerds are cool now, but other than superhero and sci-fi movies so far detached from their philosophical cores that they misrepresent their source material anyway, I don't think it's true. Kids who play Dungeons & Dragons (or, as Bully calls it, "Grottos & Gremlins") still aren't going to date the head cheerleader – unless they pubertize into a fine piece of man meat. And if they do survive that swan-like transformation, it's likely that they'll leave their ugly duckling feathers behind. Role-playing games are often a distraction for people uncomfortable with "real" social interaction such as dating, and one can replace the other. Why you'd want to trade in your level 15 slayer for a pair of taut young breasts, though, is beyond me…

So-called adults aren't so dogmatic in their divisions, but they're still largely there. Nerds get into science, math, and computers. Preppies become businessmen d-bags. Greasers lose their blue collar jobs to immigrants, and jocks become slightly less successful businessmen d-bags. I'm not biased. Those are the facts. When you're rich and/or popular, you intrinsically learn that you can be a d-bag and people will still listen to you. It's annoying to everyone else, but maybe these oft-called tools are just living the only life made known to them...
Still, they deserve every loathe.

Bully doesn't attempt an anthropological thesis, but by creating a world familiar to Western students and populating that world with clichéd stereotypes, it creates a place far more authentic than most video game landscapes. Add in some humor and solid sandbox gameplay, and Bully becomes a wonderful locale to exorcise some of that unspent teen angst. I enjoyed it because I am one of those mid-25 year olds already seeking to recapture a youth I somehow simultaneously think I lost yet never truly experienced. So I guess that makes me a nerd. Or any of the above.

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  1. Blogger Sean | 10:25 AM |  

    This is very deep analysis. The kind only a nerd would bother to think up.
    Incidentally, I have detention this Saturday and have to write some essay about what I did wrong and what I learned from it. Harry, would you mind writing the entire thing for me? I'll wave to you sometime, I promise.

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