The Killer Instinct

Sep 6, 2007

Gaming brings out the dark side in all of us. When we're not cold-bloodedly shooting at friendly troopers in Resistance: Fall of Man, we're deliberately driving our rally car into the crowd in Colin McRae DiRT, praying to god that this time they've found a way to render deformable people. And if we're not doing that, you'll find us idling away the hours in Spider-Man 3 by attempting to find the most creative way to torture and brutalize low-level criminals.

According to the latest research into violence in videogames by top behavioral psychologists, these random acts of brutality can be partially explained by the inherently inquisitive nature of the modern gamer. Contrary to the stereotype, the games-playing animal is actually a bright, curious beast, an intelligent individual with a keen interest in understanding "how stuff works." Pointing your AK-47 at friendly units or deliberately driving your Subaru Impreza into the watching crowd is just one expression of this; it's you the player testing your boundaries, seeing what you can get away with before the game snaps back and smacks your bottom.

All of which means that just because you like to engage in the occasional videogame-based mass genocide, doesn't make you insane. A paper published jointly by psychologists at the Universities of Michigan and Illinois earlier this year showed that individuals who engage in extreme acts of videogame violence are no more likely to transform their local school playground into gore-speckled crime scenes than those who don't.

That said, the very nature of these acts does point to one anti-social behavior that we gamers seem to have in common: rebelliousness. These are all things we know we're not supposed to do, and yet we do them anyway. In every videogame there's an authority figure. Typically, it's the game's developer, an invisible, all-powerful force that sets your rules and hurls obstacles in your path to keep you on the straight and narrow. Sometimes it's a literal authority figure, like the prefects in Bully. The point is, we gamers get off on giving the finger to whoever's in charge, rebelling to see what we can get away with.