Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Art Johnson this week issued an urgent warning to parents: Be aware of a controversial new video game called Bully.
Using a mass-calling system to send a recorded message Monday, Johnson blasted the game as disturbing and dangerous for children, considering the recent fatal school shootings across the nation.
Out last week for Sony’s PlayStation 2, Bully puts joystick-holders in control of Jimmy Hopkins, 15, as he enters the bully-filled campus of Bullworth Academy and resorts to violence against his abusive classmates.
Long before the game’s release, educators, parents and politicians waged a campaign against the $39 offering from Rockstar Games, the maker of the popular Grand Theft Auto series.
On Oct. 13, a Miami-Dade County circuit judge rejected a suit seeking to block the sale of Bully to minors. The game is rated “T”, for teenagers 13 and older.
Opponents sought at least a mature rating for players 17 and older.
Broward County’s public school officials say they do not plan on making any special alerts for parents, but rather will rely on programs to target bullying on campus.
Johnson says Bully’s setting is a school and provides “negative influences” for students, undermining his administration’s prevention programs and strategies to reduce incidents of bullying, harassment and violence.
The game “could be detrimental to the educational, emotional, social development and well-being of your child,” the superintendent warned.
A Boca Raton parent and anti-bullying program coordinator, Kim Mazauskas, asked Johnson to deliver the message as the game reached stores; Johnson said he has seen television news reports about Bully but not the actual game.
Samantha Davis, 15, a freshman at Boca Raton High, applauded the schools chief’s voice mail.
“I’ve heard this game teaches you how to fight. Kids are playing these games 24-7,” Davis said.
“They make the games so real, so I think it makes kids more likely to do something.”
Rockstar Games spokesman Rodney Walker said Tuesday the company is delighted by positive responses and reviews nationwide.
“When it comes to the superintendent’s specific arguments and methods, school officials are only accountable to the parents, teachers and students they represent,” he said. “But since parents rely on the rating system to choose the video games they buy, we think promoting a strong rating system is one of the most important ways to help parents.”
Alyse November, a mother of first- and third-grade students at Banyan Creek Elementary in Delray Beach, says she worries that children could try to copy Jimmy’s methods of retaliating, such as using a slingshot and a baseball bat.
“First of all the game is called Bully,” said the licensed social worker, who created an anti-teasing program called “Different Like Me” at Banyan Creek.
“So it can’t be a good thing.”
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