I’ve got a Bully interview/debate set for tomorrow morning on CBC News:Sunday with Mary-Lou Donnelly of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation. I tried to punt this one to journalist Steve Tilley, as I thought he did a great job editorializing on the irony surrounding the teachers’ condemnation of the release of Bully: Scholarship Edition (but he wasn’t available :(

So, I’m doing a bit more research and prep, and trying to understand the core of the teachers’ concern/complaint. In reviewing the CTF’s official statement, they spend most of their words describing how problematic bullying is. OK, no debate there, bullying is a serious and complex issue that needs society’s ongoing attention.

But what about the game itself? It is quite evident that none of the teachers actually played the game or bothered to do much research on it - seemingly defaulting to their likely model of all games being bad. Not only do they misrepresent what the game is about (along with content that doesn’t actually exist), they miss the whole point about the player-character being a kind of anti-bully. That many of the missions are to protect the weaker characters, and connect with the various factions at school. That you need to attend (and excel at) class in order to get ahead. And that actually being a bully has negative repercussions that slow down your progress.

The saddest part of all this is that the teachers are missing a prime opportunity to make progress. Their statement laments that the game “undermine[s] efforts to create safe schools”. Whereas, I’d argue that teachers could have leveraged Bully to both better understand the social politics of high school (by embodying a troubled teen) and open a much needed dialog with students about bullying.

Can we blame them? While some argue that Bully could have been an even more scathing critique of school life, the challenge is that many simply do not look to games for meaningful social commentary (like The Breakfast Club, for example). The mental model (certainly for digital immigrant teachers) is still stuck in the realm of frivolous toy as opposed to valuable cultural artifact…

Update 1: Clint Hocking offers to play Bully with the CTF to understand/evaluate it (book club style). Also, after the TV debate I contacted the CTF to open discussion and find ways to work together… I’ll post updates if/as things develop…

Update 2: Had a nice chat with Mary-Lou Donnelly from the CTF. She’s going to put me in touch with the folks heading up their anti-cyberbullying efforts (which lead the charge to ban Bully). Ultimately, we all want to stop bullying and build safe/effective schools, and there’s no doubt that games can play an important role in that effort. We’ll see what happens next…