Rockstar get a lot of praise for their big creaking flagships, Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption. But I’ll be honest, y’all: neither series really grabbed me. I toyed with many a GTA, and I dabbled a bit in the rootin’ tootin’ wild west of RDR. But I didn’t finish any of them, eventually growing bored every time. A Rockstar game I did finish, however, was Bully.
Well, technically I completed Canis Canem Edit, the original PAL-region name for Rockstar’s rowdy schoolkid simulator. Canis canem edit is is Latin for “dog eat dog,” because that’s what cutthroat British boarding schools were like back in the day. Harry Potter’s lovely jolly time is extremely inaccurate. Incidentally, the name change feels a bit like when they released Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone in the US and changed “Philosopher” to “Sorcerer”.
Anyway, Bully was properly good, and acted as a sort of wish fulfilment fantasy for me, having played it while I myself was still but a weak and frail child in secondary school. Despite the name, you’re not a bully in Bully, you’re a bully-bully, an elementary folk hero who, at times, stands up for the disenfranchised against various nefarious adolescent cliques, who are all in a war for dominance over Bullworth Academy. I was an autistic kid with spiky hair, a penchant for Dungeons & Dragons, and a “Librarian” pin on my jumper, so the prospect of blowing bullies the hell away with a potato cannon appealed somewhat, as I’m sure you can imagine.
Looking back now, the story is a little bit edgy in places, but largely I reckon it still holds up, so long as you contextualise some of the game’s problematic features as it being a game about the worst fictional boarding school in the US. It’s also worth remembering that it comes from a studio that has a tumultuous track record when it comes to their depictions of women, and a reductive view of mental health (see: Gary, the main antagonist of the series).
But it’s a lot of fun to wheelie around on a BMX and throw eggs at the houses of garbage teachers, innit.