From Bully To Persona, I Can’t Help But Love A Game With A Schedule

From Bully To Persona, I Can’t Help But Love A Game With A Schedule
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I’ve been thinking a lot about why it is that I love both 2008’s Bully and 2010’s Persona 3 Portable, which I’ve recently started playing on my Vita. Both games are set in high schools, and while I’m on the record as wanting more high school games, that’s only part of the reason I like them as much as I do.

What I really love about both games is that they make me keep to a schedule.

In life, I love having unscheduled time. I’m never that productive with it, but it’s nice (and increasingly rare) when I’ll have a stretch where I’m not supposed to be actively doing something on a deadline. While I love a good open-ended game as much as the next guy, they can sometimes stress me out. There’s too much to do!

In Rockstar’s Bully, players control Jimmy Hopkins, a student at Bullworth Academy. Among all of the open-world shenanigans typical of a Rockstar game, the school schedule is one of the most distinctive features of Bully. There’s a clock in the corner of the screen, and everything I do is part of a regular schedule.

I remember the first time I played Bully, I was working on my first album. It required a lot of writing and a lot of scheduling. And for whatever reason, Bully fit in with my creative process perfectly. I’d play through the morning in Hopkins’ day, attend a class, and then take a break to work on a recording. It provided a lovely rhythm — even the open-world quests that Jimmy is assigned wind up having to fit into his daily routine. And that routine is comforting and relaxing to me.

I feel the same way about Persona 3 Portable, which is much more regimented in its schedule than Bully, and actually more compulsive because of it. Every day there are classes to attend, friends to hang out with, and activities to undertake. It’s all about choices, though — will I train in Tartarus tonight? Or will I head out with Akihiko and take Koro for a walk?

The constant scheduling of P3P is a relief, not a burden. I remember back when Leigh Alexander wrote about /”Nice Guys, Stressed Ladies, and the Curious Ways they Play Video Games”, she interviewed a friend who played Farmville for the comfort of the routine.

I get that! While I don’t particularly enjoy Farmville, I get where Leigh’s friend is coming from when she says “It just feels really good to know that I’m on top of things, I like to know my farm is in good shape and like, everyone can see it.”

I like feeling as though I know just what I’m going to have to do next, like everything I do is according to a set structure. It’s a response to the stresses of being an adult — I have so many decisions to make, things to take care of, bills to pay! Wouldn’t it be nice to just live in a dorm, go to school and occasionally fight giant demons? Yeah, it would.

Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that every game be like this. I love a good wide-open game as much as anyone else. While I enjoyed the balls-to-the-wall intensity of Mass Effect 3, I’m with Jason — I like it when games have downtime, even when they’re boring. Often, to do that, they have to have a lot of unscheduled time where you can just wander around and be bored.

But all the same, I enjoy it when a game makes me schedule my time. I play video games for a lot of reasons. Sometimes I play to get away from the responsibilities and deadlines of my everyday life. But other times, I play to find some structure amid the stress of those same responsibilities and deadlines.

And yeah, OK, also to team up with a robot girl and fight demons.


  • I totally agree. Bully and Persona 4 (P3 had a terrible, terrible ending) are two of my favourite games of all time, because of the schedule. I liked Dead Rising 2 as well.

    • P3 ending wasn’t terrible, bittersweet, but not terrible. It even got expanded on with FES and the Answer chapter.

  • I just finished Persona 3 Portable and I agree that the schedule made it more involving, I actually felt bad ignoring people one day and spent a lot of time working on relationships instead of battling.

    Really, REALLY need to get Persona 4 now.

  • I feel Persona 4 did the school thing much, much better than the P3 trinity. I think the fact that it was a regional school in a small town really integrated the town stuff with the school stuff quite nicely.

    Which is also something Bully did well! (I loved running into kids on the street outside of school hours)

  • How can you have an article about Schedules and not mention Majora’s Mask?
    That game’s schedule system was amazing.

  • I find the schedule thing incredibly stressful. I’m a very planned person. It calls at me to minmax everything, to plan out my entire game in the most optimal fashion, but that’s an absolute chore to do and so I spend all these sorts of games with this terrible feeling that I’m not playing it correctly and am going to screw up all my ability to progress and end up with a stuck game or a bad end because I didn’t optimize my schedule effectively.

    It’s too much like real work. Not relaxing. I like structure a lot, but I don’t want to have to be the one to plan this sort of thing as part of my leisure time. I almost need to play with a guidebook that does the scheduling for me. I really like the Persona games but I’ve never finished any of them because they eventually just get too stressful to schedule everything ‘correctly’ (yes, there’s no “correct” schedule, I know). Same goes for the Atelier games. Recettear was the absolute worst for me, because that game is deliberately made so that you have to fail at your schedule repeatedly, miss deadlines and start a new cycle over and over. That’s not fun, that’s like my personal hell.

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