Various anti-bullying organisations have spoken out against Rockstar Games after learning that it plans to make schoolyard bullying the subject of a humorous action game for PS2 and Xbox.
"School bullying is a terrible problem in the UK. We are contacted by up to four children a day who want to kill themselves as a result," says Liz Carnell, director of the Bullying Online charity, which along with several other child welfare organisations has lamented the fact that an entertainment company would draw upon such a sensitive issue for cheap laughs.
Carnell also believes that it's impossible to stop this kind of content falling into the hands of those for whom it is unsuitable. "I'm sure games makers are already aware that once a title is released it's very difficult to stop it getting into the hands of young people," she told us. "I know of a case where two teenage boys stabbed another after watching a violent film. They then left the boy for dead and he was lucky to survive."
Nobody outside Rockstar has yet played the game, but the company's typical reluctance to respond and clarify the situation has put it in the spotlight once again.
Bullying Online said that it had attempted to contact Rockstar over a month ago and met with no response. After we contacted Rockstar about this last week, eventually Bullying Online did hear back and was invited to preview the game in New York.
However Rockstar's message seems confused. On the one hand it openly condemns real bullying, but on the other it uses images of teenage bullies kicking one another on the backside to promote the game. Bullying Online was told that the game was "no worse than Just William" - a book serialised on teatime television in the UK several decades ago - but Rockstar also said it expected the game to receive an adult rating. Further confounding the issue, US retailers have apparently been accepting pre-orders from children under the age of 18.
Carnell told us that more controversies were inevitable if content creators like Rockstar didn't act responsibly. "There seems to be increasing violence in films and computer games and the boundaries are being pushed back all the time. What was unacceptable for the cinema in the 1960s is now considered mainstream viewing on TV.
"At the end of the day, computer firms are in the business of making money and if they can't be sensible and police their own activities I foresee more controversies like the one over Bully. As most youngsters rely on their parents for pocket money, if the parents don't like violent games then ultimately the games industry may find it's shot itself in the foot."
At the time of publication, Rockstar had yet to issue any official statement on the subject - despite the fact that a protest group even marched on the company's Manhattan headquarters last week in an attempt to highlight the issue.
Calling themselves the "Peaceoholics", the Washington-based protest group marched on the New York office carrying signs that read "Put the cuffs on Rockstar, not youth" and "Prosecute Rockstar Games; they are felons".
If you or someone you know is troubled by bullying, the Bullying Online's website contains advice for both pupils and parents.