How Anti-Game Propaganda Spreads: Legislators Discuss Bully as “the Columbine Game”

When anti-game activist Jack Thompson accused Rockstar’s Bully of being a “Columbine simulator,” the game community tended to dismiss the criticism based on its source.

But in political circles, the Columbine simulator label has apparently gained some traction. Consider an exchange from Friday’s hearing before a Utah House committee considering video game legislation drafted by Thompson.

First, let’s set the scene. Jim Olsen, president of the Utah Retail Merchants Association, wraps up several minutes of testimony on the Utah bill. Then, the following exchange takes place:

Legislator: I have one question.

Olsen: Okay.

Legislator: The game, Bully. What would that be rated? Are you familiar with that game?

Olsen: I am not familiar with that game.

(off-mic voice believed to be that of bill sponsor Rep. Wyatt):  “T”

Legislator: That’s the Columbine game?

Olsen: It’s rated “T” for teen.

Legislator: Okay.

(off-mic voice believed to be that of Rep. Wyatt): The Columbine game’s rated Teen…

Legislator: The Columbine game’s rated T?

(off-mic voice believed to be that of Wyatt): It’s not? What’s it rated?

(off-mic voice believed to be that of Steve Sabey, attorney for the ESA): It’s a web game. It’s not rated…

Legislator: Okay, that’s great…

Later in the hearing, Sabey, testifying on behalf of the ESA, returns to the topic in an attempt to clear up any lingering confusion between Bully and the controversial amateur game Super Columbine Massacre RPG, which has been much in the news lately.

…After Columbine the FBI did a study… of Columbine and related shootings… they determined a list of 40 factors that related to why these kids did it. Video games was not listed on that list. Anywhere.

When we met last time there was a suggestion that the ESRB was a sham and the example that was put forward was the Columbine game.  And I mentioned a minute ago, though not on the record, the Columbine game is a game that someone has recently created and put on the web. No legislation – this bill certainly would not address it – no legislation would address it.

There’s no control over it because it’s a game somebody creates. Very poor game, poor graphics that anyone can load from the web, and it’s not a rated game. Rated games – ESRB games – are games that are mass-produced for sale in the stores and they are rated, much like movies are…

If you’d like to listen for yourself, download the audio of this portion of Friday’s testimony in mp3 format (less than 3 megs).

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  1. 0

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    [url=]record audio colorado[/url]And that constable you bedbug on your card, that wasn’t thereof nice. In this constable the eyes encouragement investigate snoop sure proteins without stressing the stomach. It didn’t amend constable license of a chance. I constable her depersonalization equestrian spear me.

  2. 0
    DannyLedonne says:

    I almost wonder if, in some circles, the SCMRPG would be more accepted if it had rich 3D graphics and 5.1 channel surround sound (with all essential game content being the same). It would seem that the legislators were using the aesthetic choices I made with SCMRPG as pejorative detractions rather than motivated themes for the game. I guess I shouldn’t expect a more thorough analysis from the guys who conflate a major release like ‘Bully’ with an underground game like mine.

    Reading through this transcript makes me want to testify before Congress myself and set the record straight. Do you think I’d be invited…?

  3. 0
    neoelasticman ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Here’s a better representation of mods:

    The Lord of the Rings movies were originally filmed with some parts left out. The mods are the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition movies, where there are extra scenes and some of the original scenes are longer. The only difference here is that this was all done by the LotR movie creaters, as opposed to an independant third party.

    It is not necessarily a more accurate metaphor, but probably easier to grasp for its lack of complexity.

  4. 0
    Anonymous says:

    I wouldn’t say they really set the record straight, because the stupid “Columbine simulator” term is still being associated and confused with Bully, and the congress people now think Bully was the Columbine RPG. These are busy congress critters, so them not getting the whole picture and still ending up confused doesn’t surprise me.

    The industry rep really needs to clear things up about the two games, the difference between what is retail and what is online(doubt they can squeeze a demo of both games into these hearings), as well as shoot down that absurd “Bully is a Columbine simulator” FUD. They do need to do this because things are just going to get more messed up, and more then likely could end up hurting them.

    That is what certain people love about situations like this, you can get away with a lot of stuff due to confusion and misunderstandings.

  5. 0
    Terminator44 says:

    @Danny Ledonne

    ‘It would seem that the legislators were using the aesthetic choices I made with SCMRPG as pejorative detractions rather than motivated themes for the game.”

    Please keep in mind that most of the people at that meeting were non-gamers, so of course they won’t understand that graphics aren’t usually a good indicator of a game’s quality. Additionally, I would believe some of the legislators there still struggle to check their email. Thus, they won’t understand the underlying distinctions between a homebrew online game and a big-budget title sold in brick-and-mortar stores.

    Really, I think Sabey only made a point about your game’s low production values to explain to these politicians that the game is not sold at retail. Although most of these legislators aren’t gamers, they must know that games are becoming more advanced in visuals and audio and more popular at the same time. Therefore, most of them probably think that gamers judge the quality of a game by its graphics (which is partially true). So when they see a game of SNES quality, they arrive at the conclusion that no developer would design that game for retail, as nobody would want it. Knowing this, Sabey probably made up a correlation between SCMRPG’s graphics and gameplay in order to emphasize to these legislators that it is not sold in stores and not even rated by the ESRB.

    Bottom line: I wouldn’t exactly take those words as an insult until we can be sure of Sabey’s attitudes towards your game. His statement could have just been his way of communicating to the Utah legislature that your game is not being sold or marketed in stores, in language these politicians could understand.

  6. 0
    somerguy says:

    Hmmm those methaphors just aren’t working I think. Let me give it a try. It would be like a kid getting a nerf gun then adding tacks to the nerf bullets. Its not toy makers fault your kid was stupid and you didn’t supervise him….Hows that? lol.

  7. 0
    Benji says:

    This scenario also shows why Jack Thompson is at once a formidable opponent and a despicable man – his employment of the Big Lie. If you repeat a lie often enough, it begins to become the truth.
    In a way this is information spam. JT sends press releases to absolutely everyone about the Columbine simulator, without ever justifying his claims. The vast majority of people ignore him, since he’s just blowing smoke. But a few people listen, and are concerned, and don’t have the information available that one would need to know that the claims are false. And thus JT gains supporters through his own brand of misdirection. It’s quite an effective tactic, but not an ethical one at all, and if I had to resort to deception to get my point across to people I might be inclined to re-evaluate just what message it is I’m trying to send.

  8. 0
    Jer ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I like somerguy’s example of mods.

    two others that came to mind that may help , all the different versions of Monopoly, and the different styles of poker.

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    Zero Beat ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I can think of only one way for them to understand how mods work. We’d have to let them think about the possibility of someone in the mid-1970s who works two jobs, one at a theater that shows films that are rated anywhere from G to R, and another at a theater that only shows what would today be NC-17 or NC (I believe they were still using the X rating back then).

    Now, say this person thought it’d be funny if they snuck a reel containing a hardcore sex scene from a movie such as Debbie Does Dallas and insterted it into a projector during a reel change in a theater that’s supposed to showing a PG rated film such as The Bad News Bears Go To Japan. Also assume that the theater is packed full of families, that is, the mom and dad and any kids they have. Of course, everyone is outraged.

    Now, as for the question of fault, it’s clearly not the responsibility of the creators of Bad News Bears Go To Japan. It’s squarely on the shoulders of the individual running the projector and the company employing said individual (assuming that was the law then; it is that way today).

    While not a perfect comparison as Rockstar did leave the scenes, although in an unfinished state and locked out normally, it is very similar to what we have going on here. The Hot Coffee scene was eventually unlocked by a modder who finished the coding and applied the appropriate textures, thus inserting a film reel that was never supposed to be there, in a manner of speaking.

    So why is it that politicians and parents these days would believe the fault in the theoritical case presented earlier is with the individual running the projector and the company employing said individual and not with the film’s studio and publisher, yet when someone today does what is nearly the same thing to a video game, it’s the fault of the company making the video game? I believe that the answer is because they do not understand video games, and one could argue that they do not wish to understand.

    This is my take on that issue. If anyone can think of another example, please share it. Also, please feel free to point out any mistakes I made.

  10. 0
    Terminator44 says:


    “But a few people listen, and are concerned, and don’t have the information available that one would need to know that the claims are false.”

    The information is already there. It’s not that hard to do some further research on the game or at least ASK SOMEBODY who has played the game and isn’t pushing an agenda. It’s just that the people who believe these lies are usually gullible to begin with, and will take a person as unethical as JT at their word because they think “Oh, well if he was lying I’m sure somebody would have said so by now.” The irony is that it’s exactly that thinking that allows falsehoods like this to spread. If nobody questions them, then they keep on spreading from person to person until it’s an almost universally accepted truism. Mark Twain said it best: “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can even put on its shoes.”

    Either that, or these politicians HAVE heard the truth, but they don’t listen and instead run with the fib. The reasons they would do this might be A)It’s what they want to hear; and/or B)It supports their agenda. Now, I orignally thought that these attempts at legislation simply stemmed from a lack of knowledge about games and gamer culture on the part of the legislators. Recently, however, I’m beginning to think that these people are deliberately ignoring the facts and rubber-stamping anti-game legislation regardless. This belief would concur with my original view that these officials don’t expect their bills to succed. They just want the attention and “family values” votes that go with them.

  11. 0
    kurisu7885 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:


    Sorry to say, I doubt they would let you in man. They don’t invite reps from Rockstar to clear things up, so I doubt they’d let you in.


    “But a few people listen, and are concerned, and don’t have the information available that one would need to know that the claims are false.”

    Partly correct. Alot of JT’s press releases are sent via Email, so the people he’s misleading have the information readily available, they just can’t be bothered with research.

  12. 0

    […] A legislator asked Olsen if he was familiar with Bully and what rating that game “would” have. Since we aren’t aware of the context, we don’t know why the legislator asked Olsen instead of Sabey about the rating; it was the ESA that established the ESRB (back in the days when the ESA was still the IDSA, the Interactive Digital Software Association). Anyway, here’s what happened (taken from […]

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    MaskedPixelante ( User Karma: -1 ) says:

    Ahh, this is how little the public perception on video games has changed in the last year. It’s nice to know that SOMEONE tried to set the record straight that Bully was NOT a Columbine game.

  14. 0
    Thefremen says:

    Utah once again brings much lulz.

    It’s that there columbine game I tells ya, the kids they get it on some kinda web thing and it’s not even rated….

  15. 0

    […] A legislator asked Olsen if he was familiar with Bully and what rating that game “would” have. Since we aren’t aware of the context, we don’t know why the legislator asked Olsen instead of Sabey about the rating; it was the ESA that established the ESRB (back in the days when the ESA was still the IDSA, the Interactive Digital Software Association). Anyway, here’s what happened (taken from […]

  16. 0

    The legislators and thier understanding of the gaming community is really quite embarrasing.

    The woman from the Eagle forum remarked that the genre name for an FPS game (like Half Life) is *First Shooter* and then she went on to describe a third person shooter and didnt seem to know the name of it.

    Now clearly, her research on gaming itself was sparse at best. The representative was far more interested in columbine-like scenarios pinned on gaming as a motive.

  17. 0
    BetaSword says:

    Well, it does seem as though they ended up talking about two different games, Bully, and Super Columbine Massacre RPG. Looks like the Sabey unfortunately didn’t quite clear that up, though. I mean, to us, yeah, it’s pretty obvious he’s talking about SCMRPG, but to the rest of those people, they probably now think Bully is only available online, and there’s the possibility that someone there will try to make a big fuss over it. Of course, like this bill, it’ll likely lead absolutely nowhere. But still.

  18. 0
    Terminator44 says:


    Good idea. This definately isn’t the first time politicians have tried to legislate something they don’t know anything about, and it won’t be the last. We, as voters, also need to let them know that we won’t stand for such poor decisions based on biased theories and speculations.

  19. 0
    Kyouryuu says:

    I chalk it up to the generational divide. They are easily confused and do not appreciate the differences between a published, commercial game and a homebrew thing like SCMRPG (although I don’t know if the “poor” comments were really necessary). I think the best way to explain such things to the old timers is through metaphor – going to something they are familiar with. The ESRB serves the blockbuster movies – the Titanics, the Jurassic Parks, the Back to the Futures. SCMRPG is the small independent film you shot with your friends using your dad’s camcorder last weekend.

    This is an easier argument than mods for existing games. Oy.

  20. 0
    ChrowX ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I just really think that little exchange just proves that most of these people have no business criticizing or trying to regulate gaming at all.

    The only way they could be more out of touch would be if they complained about kids and their devil’s music. Dern kids! gyrating their hips in such a vulgar manner!

  21. 0
    Bryan Cloud says:

    What is most frustrating for me is that these polititians who are making the legislation and passing the laws about video games are very uneducated and uniformed about them. Maybe durning these sessions they should actually sit down and play a game like bully so that they can attempt to find out what it is all about. It just worries me that polititians all over the united states are making poor uniformed decisions about these games. I elect my local and federal representatives so that they can make good, educated, and informed decisions on my behalf so I would like to see them making a little bit more of an effort to understand and educate themselves about an issue like video game violence before creating and kind of legislation or passing any law.

  22. 0
    Bigman-K ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    “It’s nice to know that SOMEONE tried to set the record straight that Bully was NOT a Columbine game.”

    I second that. Someone needs to educate these politicans about what they are legislating against as the sources that they are getting from the likes of JT, and conservative anti-gaming groups that lend support to these bills is all wrong. If these groups are going to attack violent video games they should at least get their facts straight before doing so.

  23. 0
    nightwng2000 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Rough draft idea summary for new legislation to be passed in all states of the US:

    No senator may draft, sponsor, give testimony or ask questions of those giving testimony in any hearing, nor make public statements regarding any issue for which they have not passed a 100-200 question closed book test regarding the facts (as opposed to opinion, theory, and speculation) of the issue.

    NW2K Software

  24. 0

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    AnonAmbientLight says:

    You know, all this can be stopped, if parents got involved and more active in what their kids are doing.

    In the information age today, nearly EVERYTHING is available at our finger tips in the blink of an eye. Parents need to be one step ahead, and on top of their kids, as far as games are concerned.

    What we see here is a failure for parents to do, just that.

  26. 0
    J-Guy says:

    More proof that politicians don’t even know what they’re talking about. If someone wrote a letter to a Supreme Court justice or to a court currently deciding on a bill for video games, they WILL be able to show all judges that no bills suggested by politicians to regulate video games should be passed.

    This article would be the perfect source to prove how ignorant our representatives are.

  27. 0
    pest_control says:

    Im not even sure that these legislators didnt know that Bully isnt “The Columbine Game”. Theyre interested in getting votes, and theyll lie or mislead to do it. They dont care about facts, they care about demagoguing an inssue to get re-elected.

    That was an intresting bit of intfo abot the FBI though, I hadnt heard that before.

  28. 0
    F**ked up says:

    Nah mods is like that thing tyler durtin dis from fight club. U know where take a movie real and add in a frame of his own. And the frames could be very long.

    and we already know politicians are screwed up well if u watch the daily show often enough. They have there own agendas and being pooly informed never stopped them before. the public disagreeing with their opinion never stopped them. I m waiting for the “I dont need to _____ to know its ____”

    and my corollary is “I dont need to read the bible to know it bad for you”

    where steven colberts’ fake logic when u need it.

  29. 0
    Daniel says:

    This doesn’t make sense. If games aren’t on the list of causes for school shootings, then why are they getting most of the blame when a moron goes crazy and shoots people? That fact alone should destroy and obliterate the arguments of anti-game activists and there is nothing wrong with saying that Jack Thompson riles people up. Dennis, what do you call it when a man says, “These games are murder simulators and they will make children in your state kill and people will die if you don’t sponsor my legislation.”

    If that’s not riling someone up, what is? He riles people up and convinces them to blame violent video games for all their problems. I know you deleted my post on the other entry where I accused him of being a trouble maker and riling people up. All of what I said was 100% true. He is a trouble maker and he does rile people up. How else does he convince people to file lawsuits against the video game industry? Please tell me that.

  30. 0
    Mnementh2230 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    As I am unable to figure out who to send disparaging emails to, I shall instead post the needed text here and hope the idiots in charge will read them.


    Dear “idiots in charge”,

    Allow me to clear up a few things which you seem to have no understanding of, as evidenced by the recent conversation quoted on Game Politics. There are many different types of games, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll narrow it down to two: Those games that are commercially released, and those that are free for download (usually made by one or two people, no corporate involvement). The “columbine game” which you have probably never even seen, is actually named “Super Columbine Massacare”, and is one of the latter types of games – no commercial release, and therefore no ESRB rating. The game “Bully”, as it is known in the USA, is a commercially released game from Take Two interactive, and is rated T for Teen by the ESRB.

    “The Columbine Game” can never be regulated effectivly, as it is free, and while tasteless is not overtly objectionable enough to fall under a profanity or pornography law. Discussing this game during business hours is a waste of tax-payer dollars.

    “Bully” is already industry-regulated, and is rated ‘T’ because of its cartoon-like violence. The theme is about standing up to bullies by being violent back to them (which in my experience WORKS, as opposed to the new-age crap recommended by most so called experts). The only other content that anyone would find objectionable is the possibility of homosexuality, which is only available if the player choses to persue the game in that manner – the issue is not forced upon the player. In that regard, a gay teen playing the game is actually more able to persue the game in a manner agreeing with his sexual preference, which broadens the game’s appeal to that demographic. Beyond this, however, the farthest any relationship in the game goes is kissing, and awkward kissing at that – there’s nothing in that that isn’t shown in television market towards the same age group.

    Please, PLEASE get your facts straight before making decisions – doing otherwise makes you look like a self-important wind bag, ego so over-inflated you can’t be bothered to do five minutes of research – literally, five minutes is all it took to read this far, and that’s if you read slowly. Legal decisions are your ballywhack, so I wouldn’t dream of telling you which way to decide on the issue, but at least get the damn facts straight before making that decision, lest you make the wrong one.



  31. 0

    Can you believe it.
    Take a total misunderstanding of computer gaming and add politics and / or alchohol to the mix.
    Imagine if they were to restrict these adult lawmakers guns for recreational hunting ( including AK47s for gaming).
    Clueless lack of understanding of any computer, gaming , gaming platform technology and communications in any manner.
    Back to the dark ages.
    Lets play checkers.

  32. 0
    Siftr says:

    Calling it a “columbine game” is the end result of one thing. Jack Thompson refusing to call it anything else.

    Super Columbine Massacre Role Playing Game is a free game and therefore cannot be rated, but then again, I really can’t expect politicians to be smart enough to do their homework.

  33. 0

    […] Ok, so in Utah, there is another bill, one of Jack Thompson's brilliant schemes to kill of Video Games once and for all.  This same bill was stopped before it even made it into law last year, but has resurfaced and is now being evaluated in the Utah legislature.  In the process, the legislators end up confusing two games.  They confused Bully, made by Rockstar Games, with Super Columbine Massacre RPG — which was released freely on the Internet.  Now, from the following screenshots, it is easy to see where there could be confusion: […]

  34. 0
    LostSoul says:

    I came across this link not too long ago. I can think of nothing more fitting to show the amount of BS that Mr. JT is spewing from one of his orifices (I’ll let you decide which).

    Me, I say we send this link to every Representative and Senator on the payroll of the American public. Maybe then they’ll start using some braincells in their jobs that they have sworn to perform to the BEST of their abilities.

    I think that’s what insults me most of all. They prance around on the tax payer’s dime (to the tune of millions of dollars) and can barely be bothered to pull their heads out of their collective asses to make an informed decision. Is it really any wonder that voter turn-out is so low? Half the people put up there I wouldn’t trust to tie my shoe, let alone have an idea about what would be good for my country.

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