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MP asks government to ban new Rockstar title

Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East, has called on the government to ban forthcoming Rockstar title Bully on the grounds that it depicts violence against schoolchildren.

Keith Vaz, former UK minister and Labour MP for Leicester East, has called on the government to ban forthcoming Rockstar title Bully - on the grounds that it is expected to depict violence against schoolchildren.

Speaking in parliament earlier this week, Vaz asked Commons leader Geoff Hoon: "Do you share my concern at the decision of Rockstar to publish a new game called Bully in which players use their on-screen persona to kick and punch other schoolchildren?"

Vaz continued: "Will you ask the prime minister to refer this video to the British Board of Film Classification? If they don't make any changes, will the government use its powers to ban this videogame?"

Hoon replied that Rockstar has yet to submit the BBFC for rating, adding that the exact contents of the game - "disturbing as they sound" - are "not yet known."

Bully, due out on PS2 and Xbox next year, is a third person action adventure set in the fictional Bullworth academy - a cross between a boarding school and a juvenile detention centre. No one outside Rockstar has had the chance to play the game as yet, but the publisher has released a screenshot which depicts a shaven-headed youth kicking a fellow pupil in the back.

Vaz's comments were echoed by Liz Carnell, director of the charity Bullying Online. "Our view is that bullying is not a joke. It is not a suitable subject for computer games," she said, adding that an 18 rating wouldn't stop children from getting their hands on the game.

ELSPA director general Roger Bennett has said it's too soon to start talking about a ban, however.

"Every game published in the UK carries an age rating on the box, providing guidance to ensure that consumers can make informed choices when buying games, in the same way as one would buy a film or take guidance on post-watershed TV viewing," he said.

"As Mr Vaz knows, any game can be automatically referred to the BBFC for a rating. It is disingenuous to suggest any game be banned when the content has yet to be finalised."

Rockstar's response was as follows: " We support and admire the groups who are working hard to address the long-standing problem of bullying. We all have different opinions about art and entertainment, but everyone agrees that real-life school violence is a serious issue which lacks easy answers."

"Bully is still a work-in-progress, but when it's finished we believe most people will agree it offers an exciting experience and tells an engaging story."

"More and more people are beginning to recognise that the stories in video games have as many themes and plotlines as books and movies. Just as books aren't judged by their covers, videogames shouldn't be judged by their titles or individual scenes."

This isn't the first time Vaz has taken on Rockstar - last year he raised questions in the Commons after 14 year old Stefan Pakeerah was murdered by an older friend who was said to have been influenced by Rockstar title Manhunt.

At the time, Tony Blair said the issue of videogames classification was "worth looking closely" at, but stressed that the UK had "Europe's strongest system for controlling the sale of computer games that are not suitable for children."

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Ellie Gibson

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Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.