The recent chain of school shootings caused many to question whether the media influences young people to act violently. An interactive multimedia exhibit opening this week at USM explores the effects of virtual reality on human behavior.

“Virtual Shooter,” the work of Kathleen Ruiz, an internationally exhibited artist, opens March 15 at the Art Gallery on the Gorham campus. On March 14 at 7 p.m. in Luther Bonney Auditorium on the Portland campus, Ruiz will join a panel discussion called “Virtual Violence: Does Our Recreation Re-Create Us?”

The panel will include Portland Police Chief Michael Chitwood, Associate Professor of criminology Dusan Bjelic, Assistant Professor of communication Woong Park, and family counselor Rich Lewis.

The diverse forum is an atypical one for the Art Department. “The panel is socially-oriented,” said Eyler. “I’m so glad we set it up this way.”

Ruiz will also give a talk about her work at 4 p.m. on March 15 in Bailey Hall on the Gorham campus, followed by her opening reception at 5:30 in the Art Gallery.

Ruiz, a college professor, got the idea for the exhibit eight years ago while taking her computer graphics class to a virtual reality gaming center. She found her students were affected in a powerful way, just by playing those games. Her show investigates the seductive nature of virtual gunfire found in video arcades.

Eyler said that the art department has helped Ruiz set up the exhibit in an interactive way. A computer game designed by Ruiz will be projected onto a large screen. The player can shoot at images by clicking on a mouse – but instead of killing the images, the player will shoot images of dead bodies that come back to life.

“It gives a little bit of distance,” said Eyler. “You’ll wonder why you’ve clicked that trigger.”

Also included in the exhibit are large digital prints of real life video game participants, stretched on vinyl to look like a painting. There will also be a “comment wall” where visitors can write their thoughts about the exhibit on wallpaper printed with Ruiz’s images of toys and guns.

“What I like about this exhibit is there is some hi-tech stuff involved, but yet it comments on that,” said Eyler.

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