Why Rockstar's Bully still has fans screaming for a sequel

future-u
(Image credit: Rockstar)

There's a reason that the internet explodes every there's even whispers of a Bully sequel. A reason why a GTA Online Bully Easter egg had us all reaching for our pencil cases. Bully was like no Rockstar game before or since, and even 13 years on we miss its cheeky charms. 

Bully was a 2006 Rockstar open-world chimera where you took control of interminable ne'er-do-well Jimmy Hopkins. The game opens with Hopkins getting dropped off outside of the wrought-steel gates of the outrageously stuffy Bullworth Academy, and your goal is to navigate the disparate factions of preps, geeks, nerds, greasers, and tattle-tales, to emerge in order to emerge as the king of the campus. It was basically Grand Theft Auto with a learner's permit.

This was an audacious pitch back in 2006. Rockstar was coming off of the infamous Hot Coffee incident, where hackers sifted through the code of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and discovered a glitchy, intentionally-buried sex minigame. It was one of those ridiculous moral panics of the era that led to congressional hearings and ESRB reclassifications. Rockstar returning with a game entitled Bully was like throwing gasoline on the fire. Brazil banned the game outright. Jack Thompson called it a "Columbine simulator." It felt the company was plunging the games industry headfirst into a brand new culture war. It probably would've been a disaster, if Bully wasn't so good.

The truth is, Bully didn't have much to do with bullying at all. Yes, Hopkins was responsible some light, cartoonish pranks. (You could get in fights, or give wedgies, there's a panty-raid mission, exactly what you'd expect.) But narratively, the game casts Hopkins as an outsider of the blue-blood gentry. Like the majority of Rockstar's catalog, Bully has an extreme distaste for a certain breed of self-satisfied rich prick. Hopkins is painted as an outsider; his primary quest is to destabilize the power systems in place as Bullworth, and he does so by forging alliances with the misfits who've spent their high school years underneath the thumb of the school's elite.

It was a shockingly empathetic story. Yes, Bully did trade in classic high-school romp tropes - there's a lot of Mean Girls, and The Breakfast Club, and Dazed and Confused in its DNA - but it was also one of the first moments it became clear that Rockstar wasn't interested in churning out pure pastiche anymore. In retrospect Vice City looks about as two-dimensional as a Scarface send-up can get. Bully, on the other hand, had a real pathos. Two years after its release, Rockstar reconvened for the somber, wintry harshness of Grand Theft Auto 4. It's hard to imagine the team ever returning to its more anarchic roots.

(Image credit: Rockstar Games)

Honestly, there are so many things you'd like to see Rockstar build upon, 13 years later. Bully had an awesome, Macgyver-ish combat system; teenagers aren't armed with guns on campus, so they do battle with slingshots and firecrackers. The score is one of the greatest of all time; Shawn Lee draped the uptight New England township of Bullworth with anxious bass and jittery wind chimes -- scholastic and suave in equal measure. Unfortunately, it looks unlikely that we'll see a Bully 2 anytime soon. The last game Rockstar released prided itself on its size, weight, and massive consolidation of human resources. Red Dead Redemption 2 had five in-game American territories, animations coded for every environment Arthur Morgan could find himself in, and a dense network of systems and mechanics for the entire arsenal of the Old West. Scaling that vision down to a prep school again doesn't seem like one of the company's artistic priorities. 

But Rockstar, if you're listening: Give us another Bully game. We know it's probably going to be another four years until GTA 6, and another 10 until another Red Dead. In the meantime, go back to the well and resuscitate Bullworth Academy. There are so many good ideas in this universe. I mean, what if it takes place in a summer camp! Imagine a Rockstar-ified version of Wet Hot American Summer. Who wouldn't play that? I'm also willing to accept a Jimmy Hopkins avatar in Red Dead Online. We'll take what we can get at this point.

Find out more about the making of Rockstar's latest epic, Red Dead Redemption 2, in this exclusive interview with the women of the Van Der Linde gang.