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Game case study - Canis Canem Edit: Bully

Standing up to bullies

This controversial game was classified 'R13: contains violence'.

Bully, a console game for Playstation 2, was submitted to the Office of Film and Literature Classification for classification on 21 August 2006. After it had been submitted, its name was changed by the game's distributors to Canis Canem Edit. The Latin title translates to 'dog eat dog' The game was classified in New Zealand as 'R13: contains violence'.

The game

The game is about how one student deals with high school.

The player takes the role of Jimmy, a student trying to navigate the complex social hierarchies of a boarding school called Bullworth Academy. The game takes place over the course of a school year during which Jimmy must successfully negotiate a number of missions that generally involve standing up to bullies.

The run-down school has five different cliques: the Nerds, the Jocks, the Preppies, the Greasers, and the Outsiders. The object of the game is for Jimmy to be accepted by each of the cliques so that he can discover who is behind a scheme to destroy the school by setting the cliques against each other.

Public concerns

People were concerned about Bully before it came to New Zealand.

Discussion over the content of Bully was covered in New Zealand and overseas media prior to its official release. Community interest groups and parents expressed concerns in the media about the game that they believed would promote physical violence and bullying.

In the game the player stands up to bullies.

In the third person perspective game, the player takes on the character of Jimmy, a new 15-year-old student attending a boarding school called Bullworth Academy. The player, as Jimmy, is required to undertake a number of missions standing up to school bullies.

The missions include good deeds such as standing up to bullies, stopping them tormenting other students, and escorting younger children to the toilets to protect them from bullies, as well as pranks... Breaking school rules, vandalism, truancy, and fighting will have Jimmy quickly overwhelmed by prefects or, if he is in town, by Police.

Written decision for Canis Canem Edit: Bully

Classification considerations

The Office noted that Jimmy's actions had realistic consquences.

When examining the game, Classification Office staff looked at the consequences Jimmy's actions had in the game, and whether these consequences reflected real life. The written decision noted that:

Jimmy can attempt to escape [the consequences] by running away, but this is usually unsuccessful. The resulting punishments are proportionate to the seriousness of the offending and include Jimmy having to mow a large lawn, a task that takes four minutes of real time before the player can resume game play. Instant discipline and purposely boring punishments act as a strong disincentive on the player. Jimmy learns from his mistakes.

The way the violence was presented influenced the classification decision.

The Office assessed the content in Bully against the legal criteria in the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993. In particular it considered the depiction of violence, and the extent, degree and manner in which the game promotes or encourages criminal acts. The Office concluded that the violence in Bully was limited to small incidents that did not result in serious physical injury:

There are no apparent injuries or blood and, unlike many other fighting games, no special effects to intensify the violence. The violence is not expressed in a graphic or excessive manner, and is given context by each particular mission.

Things people were concerned about weren't actually in the game.

The content of the game did not reflect the types of activities discussed in the media prior to the release of the game. The community interest groups commenting on the game had not had the opportunity to play the game and were commenting based on existing media coverage.

The Classification Office considered that the dominant effect of the game on its intended audience was to convey that bullying is bad:

The player's character Jimmy must negotiate his relationships with various high school cliques. Although Jimmy uses low level violence and commits petty crimes, he learns that violence has consequences and that he must take responsibility for his actions.

Classification Office decision

The game Canis Canim Edit, also known as Bully, was classified 'R13: contains violence'.

Classification Office's decision for Canis Canim Edit (Bully) (PDF, 85KB)

Game case studies

Canis Canem Edit: Bully artwork

It's almost impossible not to be engaged by the exploits of 15-year old Jimmy Hopkins as he works his way up the chain of power at Bullworth Academy from his humble new-boy beginnings, fulfilling the kinds of juvenile revenge fantasies that have been played out for years in things like Just William, Saint Trinian's and Grange Hill.

Quite contrary to claims that Canis Canem Edit is likely to inspire a whole new generation of wannabe tearaways hellbent on social destruction, Rockstar's latest game present an utterly empowering take on school life, with its open-ended mischief focussed on usurping the oppressive bully regime - with maybe a few romantic tangents along the way.

Matt Wales, IGN.com

Useful links

Screenshots from the game

A screenshot from the game of two male students fighting in front of a traditional-looking school building
Aggro outside the gates of Bullworth Academy
A screenshot from the game of one male student offering a bunch of flowers to another
Want some flowers?
A screenshot from the game of three male students - one wearing a face mask resembling the other, the third dressed as a pink rabbit having been pushed into a large rubbish bin
The man in the mask... and the rabbit
A screenshot from the game of two male students wrestling in the gym - the one on top is about to punch the other
Wrestling practice turns nasty
A screenshot from the game of three male students fighting - one is kicking the other while the third looks on
Fight!

Classification

R13 classification label
R13: contains violence