Bully, an open world action game, originally came out for the PS2 back in 2006, and was ported to several other consoles since. I played it for a while early on, attracted by some of the event scenes which seemed to be stylistically based on Shenmue fight sequences. It was okay, overall; not really my preferred genre, but I could appreciate how others may take to it.

In the game, you are put into a new school where your aim is to rise in status. There’s lessons to attend, which give you various skills (if I remember rightly, chemistry lessons gave you the ability to make stink bombs), social situations to navigate and, as the title suggests, bullying. Though somewhat faded in memory, the game seemed to be based less on the realities of school life (which in my case was mostly boredom and counting down the hours till the school bus took me home) and more on stereotypes and satires of school days, with the addition of the usual Rockstar Games humour.

Bully, by Rockstar Games

Bully was also noted for the controversy over the content, title, possible plot lines and several other aspects of the game – before the game was actually released and played by most of the complainers. (Having said that, there was the lingering suspicion at the time that the game producers stoked up some of the controversy to get headlines and more sales; whether they did so or not, who knows) On launch, and discovering that the content was for the most part fine to all, much of the controversy went away. The game was given an advisory 15, not an 18, rating.

Now, I’m noting that an anniversary edition of the game has appeared as a well-priced app for android devices (both the screenshots on this post are taken from that version). I admit to being somewhat tempted but, as per usual, too many games and too little time.

Looking back now, I think one of my main objections was the horrible haircut the protagonist was forced to endure. As someone who had more than his fair share of bad childhood haircuts (from the cheapest place in town), I can both identify, and don’t want to identify, with a poor head of hair while gaming. Not all nostalgia is good nostalgia.

Bully, by Rockstar Games

Once more unto the gamification breach

(How one word can ruin a classic phrase, any phrase, but I’ll come back to that)

It’s the first of December. The shortest day is soon here; the earliest sunset, for those of us who like walks in the woods, somewhat earlier. Christmas saturates the TV, the High Street and the online Street. My gym is quiet, never a wait for the rowing machines, for one more month until the New Year resolution people make an appearance or two.

And today I’m starting a new piece of work, in the tricky, controversial and sometimes deeply annoying niche of Gamification in Education. Over the next few months I’m synthesizing existing and emerging research, and actual examples, with some critical leeway. The format of the completed and public work is not strictly cast in stone but is currently slated as ten lumps of text as headlined in this snapshot from the contract:


I’m glad I’m doing this work. It snugly complements a larger framework of Games in Education research, with a defined timescale, that I’m knee-deep in. And there’s a long-term itch, this gamification in education issue I’ve been wanting to scratch, now that there’s a substantial amount of contemporary research to read. Some of which so far has inspired, some has left me with an empty nihilistic feeling, and a fraction has made me quietly despair for either the future of humanity, or education, or the notion that the end-point of research is no longer to add to the sum of human knowledge.

But of the better research in gamification and the related-but-not-the-same field of games in education, Nic Whitton‘s excellent “Digital Games and Learning: Research and Theory” book concludes, in part, with:

“…I believe that the current hype over gamification will die down, as it is shown not to be a motivational panacea, and the market will become saturated with points, badges and leaderboards. However, there may be a gradual shift towards more sophisticated models of gamification…”

…and I have a gut feeling Nic will be proved right. Ian Bogost, a game culture critique and digital cow curator, entertainingly (with a point) takes a sceptical stance on gamification:

“More specifically, gamification is marketing bullshit, invented by consultants as a means to capture the wild, coveted beast that is videogames and to domesticate it for use in the grey, hopeless wasteland of big business, where bullshit already reigns anyway.”

At the other end of the tech-in-ed spectrum are many who fly various pro-gamification banners, including the problematic badges for everything brigade (an early title of the 3,000+ word specification for this work was ‘Badges are not the only fruit’). No, badges. Everywhere. Personally, I’ll be curious as to how much my feeling on gamification has shifted come the end of this work. It should be more nuanced; if not, I’ve done something wrong. Whether it’s more pro- or anti-, and whether the feeling is the same with gamification as applied to (or forced on) education, is another thing.

As a side-point and conclusion here, a small part of the problem with gamification is … the word gamification. It sounds horribly artificial, something dreamt up by the marketing team from hell. Perhaps it was? Some find it difficult to say. And it’s five syllables so it really slows down a piece of writing or monologue, and trips up the speaker or reader, pointlessly. Say ‘’gamification’ fifteen times (no badge for doing that) and see how annoying it is by the end.

Those three factors, combined, possibly prejudice and pre-load much impartial discussion. I’m also not looking forward to reading it, and writing it, many times a day for a few months so one of the very first things that will be done – partially to offset bias, and partially to maintain sanity – will be to try and find an alternative or workaround.

Wish me luck (or, at the least, the retention of objective sanity).