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The moral messages children receive about how they should act can sometimes feel oppressive and burdensome. It's not unusual for adolescents to resist this through acting out and risk taking, which sometimes involves "evil actions." This may also be what compels some religious and political leaders to transgress: they are working so hard to be paragons of virtue, the burden of this responsibility can create overwhelming pressure and perhaps an unconscious desire to let go of being good all the time.

These brief examples may well be a reflection of something very basic about human beings -- that we have nasty, rapacious, and destructive tendencies, which probably served important and even adaptive functions in the course of our evolution as a species. When life is an extremely competitive struggle for survival, it can pay to be vicious.

As history bears out, there are times when these tendencies emerge, and we become murderous and destructive toward others whom we decide are bad. The evil, which children can own through role-playing, becomes projected onto a group of others, and crystallizes as a static identity. We have a remarkable ability to de-humanize these others so that even murder can be rationalized -- they are sub-humans, cockroaches, non-entities, and they need to be stamped out for society to be healthy.

But much of the time, these urges are managed, despite the competitive nature of socialized life, where success requires aggression and determination. Most of us don't succeed by being vicious and evil to others -- we actually succeed through cooperation, collaboration, and reciprocity. The adaptiveness of these tendencies is also quite powerful and counterbalances the power of viciousness. However, triumph through planning, consensus, compromise, and delayed gratification requires a significant amount of thoughtfulness and perspective, which can often only be attained through greater maturity.

Being evil can be more fun, more immediately effective, and more satisfying.

So I think you can learn something about yourself from the fact that you go for the evil actions. As part of the human race, you have the same tendencies as the rest of us. You may well be doing yourself some good by having a safe and contained place to act them out, and this can serve a useful psychological function in helping you continue to be a nice guy in real life.

Or you could be rehearsing evil plots and plans that you will eventually unleash upon the world.

But I doubt it.

Dr. Mark Kline spends most weekends traipsing around remote suburban Boston as a marginally attentive youth soccer spectator. Since recovering from a year-long intensive WoW habit, he sticks to computer Risk and casual word games, but is still trying to figure out why his children like The Sims.

Have a question for Dr. Mark? Send it to askdrmark@escapistmag.com. Your identity will remain confidential.

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