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Feature: Violence, Psychology, and Video Games

In a new Gamasutra feature, we speak with a psychologist and developers with strong opinions on violence in the context of games -- are some people afraid of letting their dark side
Why is violence such a central part of video games? That's one question asked in a new Gamasutra feature by Michael Thomsen, who spoke with a psychologist and two game developers from different professional backgrounds about the proliferation of violence in games. "Some researchers have expressed concern that repeated physical action in video games (e.g., defensive shooting) could condition violent responses in the real world. But this is only a theory," said Cheryl Olsen, co-director of the Center for Mental Health and Media and co-author of the video game violence book Grand Theft Childhood. "One could argue that because a gamer has to act to keep the game going, he/she is more aware that the game is a fantasy compared to passively watching, say, a slasher film." Jason Rohrer, the indie developer known for evocative games including Between, said that playing and enjoying a violent piece of interactive entertainment is "A bit like taking the mask off the scary monster and trying the mask on yourself -- you can diffuse the psychological power of a false stimulus by fully deconstructing it. In a movie, we can't do that as easily." It's a dark side that resides in everyone that may be at the root of objections against violence in video games -- many people want to suppress their base instincts. "In real life, there's already this perceived 'dark side,'" Tomm Hulett said. He's a producer at Konami, on Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. "In a horror game (or movie, or book) it's about playing off that dark side and revealing something that the player already fears deep down, and forcing them to deal with it." For a fascinating look at the current state of violence in video games and why gamers are so drawn to virtual conflict, read the full Gamasutra feature, published today.

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