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Rags to riches - Kicking a lump or two out of ragdolls, the fall-guys of gaming

You've got to admire those flippy-floppy folk known as ragdolls. Shooting them in the skull, piling them on top of each other like prisoners in Abu Ghraib, or throwing them down staircases in exquisite slo-mo.

PC gamers often add to their mental anguish by stripping them and leaving them to rot with their heads in their crotches. Like pulling the wings off flies or reading Heat magazine, this is morally dubious, but it's also part and parcel of playing PC games.

Dr Steve Collins, co-founder of Havok (the physics boffins whose engines have powered countless PC games, from Company of Heroes to BioShock), reckons so. "If you want a convincing portrayal of a character that interacts realistically with other characters or with the world around them, then ragdoll technology is a critical component," says Collins, who left Havok in 2005 to teach game technology at Trinity College, Dublin.

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