Bullying Video Game for Kids: Violence in Media?

After writing about the prevalence of bullying in our schools yesterday and alluding to the violence in video games, I wanted to bring something to your attention. Here is an example of an enhanced, newly re-released addition of the “Bully” video game that came out last month. It focuses on bullying and violence in schools.

The One Side of the Argument

In the game, the main character, age 15, uses violence to deal with bullies in school. He is described by the makers as “Jimmy Hopkins, a teenager who’s been expelled from every school he’s ever attended.” The player gets points when Jimmy kisses girls, plays pranks on teachers and beats up his enemies. Believe me, I wish I was kidding.

Especially after several examples of YouTube videos showing bullying, a video game promoting violence in school is disturbing. While no guns are used or blood shed (thank goodness), it certainly isn’t a calm day at Bullworth academy.

The game has been suspended in Brazil and has received a lot of negative publicity in the US, Australia, and the UK.

While some gamers actually say that bullying is not glorified in “Bully,” what they are neglecting to acknowledge is that the game adds to the number of acts of violence that a child sees and virtually “experiences” during a typical day.

As we know from extensive research, the average person has viewed around 200,000 acts of violence by the time he reaches 18 years of age. In addition, research has shown that repeated exposure to violence in media can indeed make children and teens more violent and aggressive. It does have an effect on their brains, perhaps temporarily, and what may be the effects over time?

Children’s viewing of violent TV shows, their identification with aggressive same-sex TV characters, and their perceptions that TV violence is realistic are all linked to later aggression as young adults, for both males and females…Results show that men who were high TV-violence viewers as children were significantly more likely to have pushed, grabbed or shoved their spouses, to have responded to an insult by shoving a person, to have been convicted of a crime and to have committed a moving traffic violation. Such men, for example, had been convicted of crimes at over three times the rate of other men.

–Huesmann et al, University of Michigan

The Other Side of the Argument

With every point of view, there’s an opposite one. This topic certainly seems to ruffle some feathers.

The makers are quick to underscore the positive side of “Bully.” Namely, actions do have consequences. If you stay out past curfew, the screen will blur and you’ll become sleepy. Then you’ll pass out. If you skip a class, a group of adults will voice their disapproval. And the incentive for attending the twice a day classes? Your character may get an enhanced ability to flirt with girls or a great recipe to make stink bombs and other prank devices.

Oh, good.

Interestingly, the makers didn’t make a feature that allows the students to post their beatings up on YouTube.

Seriously though, old friends, Dr. Larry Kutner and Dr. Cheryl Olson of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media (and authors of Grand Theft Childhood), performed extensive research that actually supported the playing of video games like “Bully.” They found that that after several years of study that (1) the claims that violent games= violent children was unsupported; (2) Only kids who played over 15 hours of violent video games may be affected; (3) Kids who didn’t play video games at all might be at risk of having low social competency; (4) Kids who play video games have the ability to test new skills and make mistakes and correct them in a fantasy world. Check out this interview with them. (Thank you to Amy of Shaping Youth for the great link).

The big concern that playing violent video games will turn your child violent…there is absolutely no evidence of that…if you look at the violent crimes of teenagers over the last several years its gone down and down significantly and if you look at video game playing, it;s gone up and up significantly.

— Dr. Lawrence Kutner


I have to admit, even after reading the research, I’m still unsettled about this– intuitively, I’m just not into the idea of children and teens playing violent games. How does it serve? It seems so counterintuitive that I just can’t endorse it. I mean, what ever happened to Monopoly and Operation? It sounds to me like we still have more research to do. And is it OK that kids who play video games for over 15 hours per week are, in fact, negatively affected? I don’t think so. What do you think?

My verdict?

Perhaps we should send next month’s Powerful Words curriculum to Bullworth academy? It looks like they need a little help in the area of compassion. I certainly stand behind that intervention.

Here’s to you,


3 Responses

  1. I wrote about ‘Bully’ on Shaping Youth awhile back and added a favorite ‘special needs’ blogger to assess this dynamic as it relates to playground antics, ADHD, autistic kids, and beyond.


    As you’ll see by the links & comments from gamers, there are ALWAYS going to be two sides to every story, (not to mention multiple opinions) but it’s good to listen openly to this debate to hear and respond as social change agents and child advocates. Plus, it’s good to see the dialogue bubbling to the surface, as that’s where ALL shifts begin…

    Have you seen this video clip from the folks who wrote “Grand Theft Childhood?” about contra-indicating research? Interesting indeed: http://kotaku.com/380761/kids-who-dont-play-video-games-are-at-risk

  2. Thanks, Amy! Yes, I can see how this topic has ruffled some feathers on both sides.

    I’ll check out your links. Amazing how much we can learn everyday, isn’t it? Exercising critical thinking, debate techniques, logic trees…I feel like I’m back in school!

    Dr. Robyn

  3. Intense, isn’t it? Gosh, so you know those authors, hmn? Shoulda figured..

    I tend to be in the ‘ugh’ camp of gratuitous violence, though the logical side of me KNOWS there are many shades of gray…

    As I’ve said before, we have someone undercover in some of the roughest spots of violent interaction in Second Life’s virtual world, and he’s a ‘man of the cloth’ as they say, going head to head in fantasy combat with the best of ’em, and he’s clearly NOT a violent man.

    He fills us in on how you can ‘tell’ when someone is a kid masquerading as an adult that’s hacked into the main grid, etc. and why it’s ‘not okay’ for kids to be exposed to some of the more gory aspects of, well…the city of ‘Gore.’

    Anyway, it’s complex…which is why I’m always seeking gamers and PhD analyst/research types who need a place to plop dissertation data and share anecdotal experiences…I’m primarily working with K-12s, so it’s hard to apply some of the PARC data and Stanford’s NickYee.com MMORPG research to my daily doings…Like you say, my ‘gut instinct’ just goes to the ‘what are we creating’ mindset…

    Unsettling to me too…

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