Players of violent video games believe they are just "exhilarating" escapism which does not desensitize them to real-life mayhem, according to a new survey of one of the entertainment industry's fastest growing sectors.

However, gamers do concede that people "who are already unhinged in some way" may be pushed over the edge if they play violent games obsessively.

Responding to public and political concern about video games, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) commissioned the survey, interviewing gamers, parents and industry figures about their effect.

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The Board, which classifies up to 300 games a year, concluded that for gamers, "the violence helps make the play exhilaratingly out of reach of ordinary life."

But it added, "gamers seem not to lose awareness that they are playing a game and do not mistake the game for real life."

Video games tend to polarize opinions, with some games demonized for their graphic portrayals of violence.

But one survey participant insisted they were not all living in a fantasy world that tempted them to turn violent: "I no more feel that I have actually scored a goal than I do that I have actually killed someone. I know it's not real."

Another gamer said "Sometimes when I get really angry, I go upstairs and play some games and it calms me down."

But some young gamers under the age of 15 said they found some of the violence upsetting. Uncomfortable about the level of gore portrayed in the graphics, they admitted to having nightmares.

That prompted BBFC Director David Cooke to urge parents to be vigilant. He said it was vital to ensure children were protected from games with adult content.

The survey canvassed reaction to a wide range of popular games from "Manhunt" and "Grand Theft Auto" to "World of Warcraft."

One "Manhunt" fan admitted, "I was quite addicted to it. You really were sticking an axe in someone and taking a couple of chops to their neck until their head fell off."

As for the attractions of "Grand Theft Auto" games, the survey concluded, "The sex makes a contribution to the exhilarating sense of trashing the tedious constraints of everyday life."

But with fast developing technology, today's "cool" game soon becomes outdated.

"It's like when you have a puppy, everyone wanted to know you. When it grows a year older, they don't want to know," one gamer concluded.