Imagine a video game about the difficult life of a typical, but troubled adolescent. Heâs the product of a broken home and alienated from his parents, who are more interested in the novelty of their new marriage than in the responsibility of raising a child. Heâs been in and out of different schools and finds it hard to make friends. Disappointing relationships make it hard for him to trust other kids, and more so other adults. He acts out and gets in trouble, sometimes from boredom, sometimes from belligerence, and sometimes just to get some attention, since he doesnât get any at home.
If you ask him, heâd probably tell you that most people are not to be trusted, that theyâd rather push you around than give you the time of day. Rather than wait to be proven right, he might knock you down first if you have the wrong look about you. He sees himself as an outsider and despises cliques, although he really has a lot in common with a number of mainstream social groups. Heâs had a few crushes but never had the chance to really pursue amorous relationships, partly because he never had a positive model for them at home, and partly because he tends to get in trouble before he can make a move. He has intellectual promise but rarely lives up to his potential, mostly because he doesnât know how to channel his positive and negative energy into pro-social pursuits.
The video game would allow the player to live in the shoes of this typical adolescent during a time-compressed academic calendar year, in order to understand the conflicted social situation for a troubled teen. The game might be appropriate for teenagers, especially as a curative. But it would really be targeted at adults, especially the parents, educators, and policymakers who have the power, authority, and life experience to help counsel teens like him in the real world.
This description sounds like it might have been lifted from a grant proposal for a serious game, one that a researcher might submit to the Department of Education, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), or the National Science Foundation (NSF). But itâs not. Itâs the premise for Rockstar Games’ controversial new title, Bully.