Riding the coattails of Red Dead Redemption 2, Rockstar's next big score is steeped in secrecy and speculation. Hopeful prospectors are itching for a Grand Theft Auto sequel, and while rumors of a GTA VI being in production have been on-going for years now and with V regularly making them boatloads of cash, it's safe to assume we won't see another Grand Theft Auto for a while. Maybe it's the long-forgotten Agent, a stealth-action game announced a decade ago that was supposed to be set in 1970's Cold War. Doubtful, but what if it's another Midnight Club? Playing Los Angeles on PS4 may not have been the same as playing Midnight Club 3 on the PlayStation Portable, but it was still a good game. Unfortunately, it's none of these great franchises. Whispers in the industry seem to theorize that another Bully is in the works, and boy am I excited...
...Excited for the controversy. Initially released, like many of Rockstar's titles, to scathing controversies in 2006, Bully was an irreverent take on one boy's life at Bullworth Academy. The single-player action-adventure game gave you control over James "Jimmy" Hopkins, who gets unwittingly tossed into a school filled with bullies. Jimmy's goal is to surpass them all, to stand up not only to the bullish classmates but also to administrators. Most of the criticism presented on the game was pre-release based, with educators and parents claiming it glorifies bullying, pointing to the very title of the game and the history of Rockstar as signifiers. Yahoo! Games listed it among the top ten most controversial games of all time in 2007. With sexuality and in-school fighting as core dynamics throughout the plot, it's not too hard to agree with the critics, but were they fair to the actual product?
Bullies Aren't Heroes
While it may have somewhat glorified bullying on a small scale, Bully wasn't intended to send that kind of message. The game was meant to promote firmness in a lighthearted and adolescent manner, showcasing a protagonist that stands up to bullies and overcomes his weaknesses. At the heart of the game, a special and meaningful message was supposed to be represented. However, Rockstar's rather comical take on pop culture in games, seen most prominently in Grand Theft Auto, disallows the studio any serious edge. Similar to how Red Dead Redemption 2 was treated, Bully had a motive, it could have said something about society, yet it lacked proper depth. While I do think Bully holds up well, even now with ancient graphics, I still think the tone of the game may not be what's best for our current cultural state.
With GTAO still raking them in cash as Red Dead Redemption 2 dwindles into obscurity, Rockstar seems to have its eyes set on a Bully sequel. Most of the speculation points to a possible college setting, likely showcasing how Jimmy has grown up since the events of the original. Both ComicBook.com and YouTuber SWEGTA, who is a Rockstar fanboy, reveal through their own sources that Bully 2 will be appearing on next-gen consoles as early as 2020. Despite all this immense hope and excitement, Rockstar (in prototypical Rockstar fashion) has yet to comment, but the studio did drop an easter egg in GTA's casino update. Speculation casts a possible late 2019 announcement, though I'm still thoroughly unconvinced.
Placed within a college setting, Bully 2 may be able to avert the same backlash the original faced in 2006. Though Bully itself may be a game ripe with political incorrectness, broadening the scope, maturing the story, and enveloping mechanics in such a way may make the sequel a prize not to be ignored. College is all about gaining independence, learning oneself, growing into a beloved friend group, and literally accepting the education of your future. Rockstar could pull this off, but what happened with Red Dead Redemption 2 is proof enough that serious isn't Rockstar's best tone.
Even Rockstar Isn't Immune To Shifting Culture
In our swiftly evolving social climate, it's hard to believe GTAV didn't get a similar round of backlash as Bully. The hot coffee mod for San Andreas created a huge stir, which even led into the eventual disdain for Bully. As certain principles change and the way we all view the world evolves, it will be interesting to see how Rockstar handles this new way of thought. These days you have to be real careful, not only in what you say but how you say it, as well. Rockstar has had a knack for saying whatever, whenever. That doesn't fly anymore. Especially for both Bully and future GTA titles, Rockstar will have to adapt to these new worldviews, or else their games may miss their audience or get construed by the public.
Bully 2 needs to have that same energy from the original, only far more controlled and centered on deeply expressive topics. A theme of standing up for oneself is terrific, but it can't be all jokes and straight-up reverse bullying. A social commentary needs to have a grounded message. If they fused this comedic prose within a college background, maybe showcasing Greek life in some capacity, and tackle deeply personal questions in a serious way, Rockstar would have a giant of a video game. Bully 2 needs to ignore Rockstar's past, taking away light-hearted jokes for hard-hitting facts mixed with that special irreverence only Rockstar can perpetuate. If they utilize serious topics, they must also be as thorough in these depictions as possible.
The prospects of returning to Bullworth are tantalizing, I will admit. However, the truth of the matter is that we're simply not ready, or maybe Rockstar isn't ready. Emulating the very game they're discussing, even Polygon was joking about certain leaks recently, so the game's existence is still not even set in stone. The nature of our culture right now and the state of America, what with mass shootings, political misalignment, and prejudice still running rampant, another Bully installment may just fan the fires. As long as Rockstar can creatively adapt the storyline and enhance the joking nature of their games, the public may just turn around and pick up that slingshot, after all.
Until then, I'll be in the schoolyard practicing my aim. As Jimmy himself would say:
"We shall see, my friend. I only give people what they have coming to them."