Video games are often misunderstood or outright exploited by mainstream media, which naturally leads to yet more scapegoat and blame-game scenarios perpetuated by others in society who still don't fully grasp the current state of the interactive entertainment industry.
While other publishers have had to deal with their fair share of controversy, clearly no single video game company has faced the level of scrutiny that Take-Two Interactive's subsidiary Rockstar Games has been forced to manage, thanks to its GTA franchise. Now Rockstar finds itself being targeted once again, and this time for a game that isn't due out for another 6-7 months—it's slated for April 2006.
Rochelle Sides, the parent of a teen who committed suicide after being bullied, has started an online petition addressed to Rockstar President Sam Houser, pleading with him not to release the video game.
"We the undersigned would like for you to understand the ramifications of your soon to be released video game titled 'Bully'. The game depicts scenes of violence in a school setting directed at students, teachers and staff. The premise of the game is that the child that has been bullied gets his/her revenge. Bullying is a very serious issue, which should not be taken lightly," states the petition.
"If one child sees the violence portrayed in your game as an avenue to end his/her plight with bullying, will all of the money you have made be worth it? How much is a child's life worth to you? Currently we have an epidemic of schools shooting by victims of bullying. We as adults don't need to give them violent solutions; we need to STOP THE BULLYING through education and awareness... as a parent of child lost to bullycide, as a grandparent, I implore you to reconsider the release of this game," it continues.
The petition also cites information about bullying but does not indicate the source of the statistics, such as "282,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools each month" and "At least 16 children annually commit suicide because of bullying (the true total is much higher)."
Link between virtual and real bullying?
Although Bully is not yet rated by the ESRB, there's a strong chance it will receive an "M" rating. Despite this, parents and those in academia are concerned about the effects the game may have on those kids that do end up playing it.
"We're still trying to understand, as a society, that there's nothing funny about bullying. Bullying is abuse. It's not boys being boys; it's not a rite of passage," Glenn Stutsky, a clinical instructor in social work at Michigan State University and an expert on bullying, told the Detroit Free Press. "What we don't want kids to think is that strategies in the virtual school yard will be successful, or even an option, in the real school yard."
"We know that in terms of school violence and school shootings in particular, one of the main factors that contributed to the school violence was bullying," added Debra Hernandez Jozefowicz-Simbeni, an assistant professor at Wayne State University's School of Social Work in Detroit. "We know that media has an effect on kids across the board."
The problem, however, is that Bully is still a long ways away from its release and critics are coming to their own conclusions based on very little information. "There is no buzz. It doesn't exist because it's not finished," Rockstar spokesman Rodney Walker pointed out to the Detroit Free Press. "We hope people will respect the creative process and ignore unfounded rumors and not spread unfounded rumors."
The petition so far has 363 signatures, one of which appears to be from anti-game activist and Florida attorney Jack Thompson.
"I have sued the major retailers in Florida to stop the sale of Bully... I have addressed the Detroit-area high school class that is sponsoring this petition, and I am proud of them. They have done what every kid in America should do: Put down the controller and get a life!" he wrote.
Thompson earlier this summer sent a letter to Take-Two CEO Paul Eibeler regarding the release of Bully. We'll keep you posted on any new developments.