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Seeking New Twists on Violence

The surging popularity of mass-marketed games has prompted a backlash. Over the past few months there has been a resurgence in bills to ban the sale of violent games to minors. Lawmakers in the District and Maryland recently joined those in California, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Michigan to propose fines for retailers selling games rated "M" to those under 18.

One weekday afternoon, the Running with Scissors team is working on the next Postal sequel, code-named "Catharsis."

Steve Wik, from left, Vince Desiderio, Andrew Hall, J.B. Gore, Mike Jaret and Bill Kunkel are game designers. (Ariana Eunjung Cha -- The Washington Post)

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They are at Desiderio's home. Half-empty bags of chips and Wonder bread lay about. The walls are decorated with things from the company's fans and enemies -- a picture sent by a special forces commander in Afghanistan who loves the game, a snapshot of a grinning Lieberman at a congressional hearing on violent video games, the infamous letter from the U.S. Postal service expressing its revulsion at the game.

Desiderio is in a stained navy robe and flip-flops and playing host by cooking lunch for the other developers: Jaret, the youngest, a beefy former biology major at the University of Arizona who dropped out because he played video games too much and who moonlights as a bouncer at some local clubs; Kunkel, a balding video game veteran who became famous for developing a popular wrestling game and was founder of an early game review publication; and Wik, a mild-mannered former comic book store clerk who says he finds real violence so scary that he can't watch five minutes of the Ultimate Fighting Championship without his stomach turning.

Wik is summarizing a proposed plot of the new game.

The year is 2007 and the Dude has just left the town that was destroyed in the last game after accidentally finding and setting off a "weapon of mass destruction" misplaced by the U.S. government. He flees the atomic Armageddon and finds himself at a political rally for a presidential candidate in a nearby suburb.

The plot unfolds as the player attempts to get random temp jobs that will cause him to cross paths with the presidential candidate, the Taliban, environmental advocacy groups and others.

Except there's a twist: The next Postal will be a violent video game about nonviolence. You'll still have access to a slew of weapons, but you'll be rewarded with a better outcome if you play peacefully. For instance, while driving around one day the Dude will encounter a wounded person on the street. The player can either run over the guy, ignore him or give him a lift to the nearest hospital.

"The three scenes represent three moral paths," Wik says.

Depending on the choices the player makes, he'll end up either as a serial killer, an eco-terrorist -- or . . . the new presidential candidate.

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