Bully is a sandbox game set in a school environment. The player takes control of teenage rebel Jimmy Hopkins, who from the opening cutscene is revealed to be a difficult student with a criminal background. The game concerns the events that follow Jimmy being dropped off at Bullworth Academy, a fictional boarding school. The player is free to explore the school campus and town, or to complete the main missions. The game makes extensive use of minigames. Some are used to earn money, others to improve Jimmy's abilities.
School classes themselves are done in the form of minigames, broken into five levels of increasing difficulty. English, for example, is a word scramble minigame, and as Jimmy completes the level, he learns to apologize to bullies, deliver better taunts, apologize to prefects and finally to apologize to the police.
Jimmy Hopkins has a multitude of weapons available, although they tend to run along the lines of things a school boy might actually attain, such as slingshots, bags of marbles, Itching Powder, stink bombs, and later in the game, a bottle rocket launcher and a spud cannon. He also has an assortment of vehicles to operate — mainly bicycles with different abilities, but also a moped, a go-kart, a lawn mower, and a skateboard.
The game takes place at Bullworth Academy, a fictional independent boarding school in the New England area of the United States. Jimmy ends up enrolled in the school when his newly married mother and stepfather go on a year-long honeymoon cruise. The school is located in the fictional town of Bullworth, in New England. The school itself is a neo-gothic design and is similar to many other public schools and colleges in the United Kingdom and New England, in particular Fettes School in Edinburgh. A reference to the year being 1994-1995 as the setting can be seen in one of the various arcade machine minigames, though there are school banners from at least up to 1999.
The game focuses on Bullworth's newest student, Jimmy Hopkins. As he advances through his academic career at Bullworth Academy, he may interact with the school's students and teachers, as well as people from the neighboring towns, many of whom will give him errands to complete. He is greeted by Gary Smith, a scheming, unstable sociopath, and Pete Kowalski, a shy student who has yet to make any friends. Jimmy has to navigate his way through the five cliques at the school — the Bullies, Nerds, Preppies, Greasers and Jocks — as well as the Townie kids, the school faculty and all the other adult townsfolk. Unlike other games from Rockstar no two characters in Bully are the same, and every character has a name.