Video Game Seems to Take On Venezuela's Chavez

A U.S. company's video game simulating an invasion of Venezuela is supposed to hit the shelves next year, but it's already raising the ire of lawmakers loyal to President Hugo Chavez.

Chavez supporters in Venezuela's National Assembly suspect the makers of "Mercenaries 2: World in Flames" are doing Washington's bidding by drumming up support among Americans for an eventual move to overthrow Chavez.

"I think the U.S. government knows how to prepare campaigns of psychological terror so they can make things happen later," Congressman Ismael Garcia said, citing the video game developed by Los Angeles-based Pandemic Studios.

Pandemic describes "Mercenaries 2" as "an explosive open-world action game" in which "a power-hungry tyrant messes with Venezuela's oil supply, sparking an invasion that turns the country into a war zone."

The company says players take on the role of well-armed mercenaries.

Chris Norris, a publicist for Pandemic in Los Angeles, said the game wasn't intended to make a political statement about Chavez, though designers "always want to have a rip from the headlines."

"Although a conflict doesn't necessarily have to be happening, it's realistic enough to believe that it could eventually happen," Norris said.

Lawmaker Gabriela Ramirez said "Mercenaries 2" gives a false vision of Chavez as a tyrant and Venezuela as being on the verge of chaos. She said the game could be banned under a proposed law aimed at protecting Venezuelan children from violent video games.

In the U.S., "it sends a message to Americans: You have a danger next door, here in Latin America, and action must be taken," she said. "It's a justification for an imperialist aggression."

U.S. officials have repeatedly denied planning an attack on Venezuela, though President Bush said he is concerned about "an erosion of democracy" here — an accusation Chavez has called blatantly false.