Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Getting beat up at school? Blame a video game!

The videogame Bully has been generating controversy since it was first announced. Just the idea of a videogame about bullying in school gives some people apoplexy and now that demands that they game be scuttled have failed there are many saying
don't buy it.

Now, I happen to know a lot about bullying because I was one of the kids everyone picked on. And I don't think Bully is the problem. Sure, it's a game in which you have to make your way through a school full of delinquents, and there is fighting in the game, and from what little I played there's an unpleasantness about it all (and I did not see any of the "hilarious" humor many reviewers are describing).

But in my experience, bullying happens because teachers and parents and school administrators let it happen. I was teased constantly in school, because it made me cry and of course making people cry is tremendously fun for a certain segment of the population. What did my school do about the kids who bullied and taunted me? Nothing. The basic idea everyone had was that I was the problem. I was sent to a shrink, I was put on ritalin, I was basically encouraged to calm down and chill out. And yes, if I had been less prone to hysterics the situation probably would have calmed down. But then, if bullies had been consistently punished, I think the situation also might have calmed down.

Near the beginning of the movie Dazed and Confused there's talk of a yearly tradition in which the high school seniors pretty much hunt down and torture freshmen, or something like that. And it's just accepted. Bullying is always accepted, it's see as just part of growing up and the kids that don't handle it well are despised as weak even by those who claim they're trying to help them.

Of course I've been out of school for a long time, but recently I was talking to a high school teacher. And I asked her, is it any different now? After all the concerns raised about bullying after Columbine and all the talk about how a videogame is going to encourage bullying, are teachers and counselors and administrators actually really doing any more about bullying than they were 30 years ago? And she said no, she thinks it's just the same.

So all those people spending all this energy whining about a videogame should, IMO, spend a little more time worrying about actual bullies and their victims. You don't stop bullying by stopping representations of bullying in media; you stop bullying by stopping bullies.

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