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Game lets players stump for Bush, Kerry

Think you can plan a better campaign than the president or his challenger? Ubisoft's newest PC game lets players manage the election effort of either man or create a fictional candidate.

The typical video game calls for players to shoot aliens, race cars and beat enemies into submission, but publisher Ubisoft Entertainment has decided gamers may also enjoy stumping for votes at a nursing home somewhere in Ohio.

The company said Wednesday that it has signed a deal to publish "The Political Machine," a new game for PCs that puts players in control of the 2004 presidential campaigns of either incumbent President Bush or his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry.

Players will also have the option of creating their own Republican or Democratic candidate or managing the campaign of a historical figure like Ronald Reagan or Franklin Roosevelt.

The game will allow players to raise funds, barnstorm for votes and join candidate debates.

"We figured it would be kind of fun to be able to go around the country and try to take out ads, debate on the issues that are out there...and see how different candidates played up against each other," Brad Wardell, the game's designer, told Reuters.

Taking turns against the computer or another live player, budding "campaign managers" will have to manage a budget, coordinate strategy and give interviews on spoof political TV shows like "60 Seconds" and the "O'Maley Factor."

Most of the game's demographic data is gathered from the U.S. Census, and candidates rise in the polls by appealing to states on the issues judged most important to them.

That will require players to finesse their message to gain the backing of special interest groups and get as many states as possible on board with their candidate, Wardell said.

"A player who's not a political junkie quickly learns why real-world candidates seemingly flip-flop on the issues," Wardell said.

The game is expected to be released sometime this summer, between the Democratic convention in July and the Republican convention in August.

Wardell said the public seems to be more evenly split between the two parties and the candidates than in the past, which may make the game more interesting.

"We wanted to do this before the 2000 election, but our models said Al Gore was going to win, so we decided not to do it," he said.

And while the game is clearly fallible as a predictive tool, Wardell said it offered some insight into real-life politics.

"According to our model, Kerry should pick Gephardt as his VP," he said, referring to Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, who has said he could deliver states like Iowa and Missouri.

So what about the outcome in November? "Right now, according to the model, Bush is going to lose by quite a bit," Wardell said.

Story Copyright  © 2004 Reuters Limited.  All rights reserved.