Bullying Video Game for Kids: Violence and Media

A portion of this article was posted on Dr. Robyn’s Powerful Parenting Blog as a service to Powerful Words Member Schools.

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.

This is the kind of media that makes parents believe that martial arts is bad for children– the main character in this game learns some of his moves in wrestling class. Those of you who teach grappling, wrestling and judo know that the aim is NOT to teach children and teens to fight.

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,

2 Responses

  1. I haven’t played the game but looking at the clip it seems to me to be more like the cartoon violence of Tom and Jerry rather than the more believable graphic violence of TV and film.

    Does it damage kids or does it simply let them have some fun? I doubt that the answers to this will be forthcoming anytime soon.

    I believe that Martial Arts should be taught as part of every schools’ curriculum. I believe that this would go a long way to reducing violence… Am I right? Some would agree with me and others strongly disagree…

    The simple answer is that every parent has to take responsibility for their own children and every teacher responsibility for their own pupils… If only!!!

  2. Being both a parent and an avid gamer I can see both sides of the coin.

    Yes, this game, and many out there, depict graphic scenes of violence. Most games actually reward you for the amount of violent acts you do.

    However, ALL video games are given a rating much like Movie and TV ratings. These ratings are intended to help PARENTS judge if their child should be playing the game. They are clearly labeled on the product boxes of every video game AND the ESRB provides an excellent resource for researching games. Bully has a rating of “Teen” for “Animated Blood, Crude Humor, Language, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, Violence”.

    So, could these games be sending a bad message to the youth? Yes. However, where are he parents who actually parent their kids? Should they not seek to understand and have knowledge of what their children are reading, watching, or playing with?

    The message I’m trying to get across is that instead of bashing or censoring video games and popular media, we should be encouraging parents to take a more active role in thier children’s lives. Encourage them to actually guide them and help them grow and make the proper choices.

    Just my 2 cents, for what they are worth.

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