In the world of mystery writing, I suppose we authors do indulge in some vicarious cruelty, in that we might kill off people who remind us of people we don't like. It doesn't hurt anyone, because it's fictional.
To my surprise, though, this doesn't only happen in the world of books. Today my children earned some Playstation time by doing some morning chores; imagine my surprise when I heard my husband, in the next room, say, "It's not nice to torture, son." Wow. I don't think my parents ever had to share that particular wisdom with me. Mind you, these are PG games, but I guess Graham was given the option to do something bad to a "bad guy." He's bad, therefore it's okay. Hmmmm . . .
On another occasion my older son was playing an educational computer game. He's actually learning things about history, including terms like serf, vassal, fiefdom, tariff. He is the lord of his own kingdom, and the way that he is able to build and expand his empire is, of course, by taxing his people. However, he was given the choice of being a benevolent or a cruel ruler. He was able to choose "no tax," "mild tax," or "severe tax." Naturally, my son chose "severe tax," and one of his serfs knelt in front of him begging him not to do so. I intervened here, suggesting that he NOT tax his people into lives of misery, but he just chuckled and told me that he needed to build a bridge, and this would fund it.
I suppose this would prepare him nicely for a career in politics, but I'd prefer to think of him as a compassionate boy. Still, who am I to judge? I spend my evenings trying to think of someone to kill, and then daydreaming about who would be most likely to kill him. Perhaps sometimes this vicarious cruelty lets us work out that ol' original sin and then allows us to be nicer in real life.
Or so I would like to think. :)