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November 15, 1999
By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS
Associated Press Writer
SPOKANE -- If slaying aliens or the living dead is not satisfying, a new computer game offers disgruntled workers the chance to "Blow Away Your Boss."
Players put a photo of their boss, or anyone they despise, into the game and then hunt the enemy with a handgun through the corridors and cubicles of a generic office.
"Don't throw away your life by 'going postal,"' creator Bret Wengeler said. Instead, exact "revenge in a virtual reality environment."
Wengeler acknowledged the game may seem in poor taste in an era of workplace violence. But at least the targets have a fighting chance.
"They shoot back," said Wengeler, 35, a professional juggler. "They're aggressive."
A simple version of "Blow Away Your Boss" can be downloaded for free on the Internet. Wengeler, who lives outside of Cheney, hopes to cash in on workplace discontent by selling a more complicated edition in the future.
"That's a good indication of the amount of rage that really does exist in the work place," said Mark Braverman of Newton, Mass., author of the book "Preventing Workplace Violence."
"The fact that the game exists is a danger sign," Braverman said.
But he also noted that social scientists disagree on whether such games can breed actual violence, or if they deflect it by allowing a person to vent at virtual characters.
A well-adjusted person who downloads the game for fun is probably not a concern, Braverman said.
"But if you've got somebody with a reason to be angry and who seems to be obsessing and preoccupied with violent thoughts and imagery, you want to take a good look," Braverman said.
Wengeler said he deliberately made the game without bloodshed or gore such as severed limbs.
"I'm not a violent person by nature," he said.
He was motivated by an episode of the Oprah Winfrey television show this year that dealt with people dealing with verbally abusive superiors. Hidden cameras showed bosses swearing at some workers.
That inspired Wengeler to arm the boss characters with the symbols for swear words used in comic strips, and to hurl them as weapons. In a nod to convention, there are also robots armed with machine guns that shoot at players.
In the sample game, players can blow away authority figures such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates or actor William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk on "Star Trek."
The bad guys are not killed. They dissolve into piles of what the game calls compost. Happy music plays in the background.
The deck is stacked in favor of the worker.
"If I make it so the boss kicks your butt, then how is that different from your miserable job?" Wengeler wrote on the Web site.
Wengeler makes his living as a juggler on cruise ships and in ice shows.
"I've never had a bad boss," he said.
While he expects to be criticized, Wengeler said he doesn't believe "Blow Away Your Boss" will cause violence.
"If you are heartless, soulless and selfish enough to take another's life, my game is not going to give you ideas," Wengeler said.
He also does not claim his game is a vent for frustrated workers.
"I'm not a therapist," he said. "I just made it because I thought it might be fun."