This Week in Games: Feb. 2, 2007

News from the virtual world:

BURNING SENSATION: There sure are a lot of Blood Elves and Draenei running amok on the Internet these days.

They're the two new races that were introduced in "The Burning Crusade," the long-awaited expansion to the online game "World of Warcraft."

Publisher Blizzard Entertainment said more than 2.4 million copies of the expansion were sold in North America and Europe during the first 24 hours it was available, making it the fastest selling computer game ever.

By the end of the day, more than 1.7 million of those buyers had begun playing the expansion.

"`The Burning Crusade' has already exceeded even our most ambitious expectations," Blizzard president Mike Morhaime gushed.

There are more than 8 million "WoW" players worldwide, and Blizzard has already shipped enough copies of "Crusade" to satisfy half of them. Resistance is futile.

POPE WEIGHS IN: Opponents of violent video games have gained a powerful ally: the Pope.

"Any trend to produce programs and products — including animated films and video games — which in the name of entertainment exalt violence and portray antisocial behavior or the trivialization of human sexuality is a perversion, all the more repulsive when these programs are directed at children and adolescents," Benedict XVI said during the Catholic church's World Communications Day. "How could one explain this 'entertainment' to the countless innocent young people who actually suffer violence, exploitation and abuse?"


Benedict said parents need to take the joysticks out of children's hands and expose them to classic literature, fine arts and "uplifting music."

So, Harry Potter, SpongeBob and Fergie — you're on notice too.

NO PRIZE: The Interactive Achievement Awards, which have been presented for 10 years now by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, were once considered the most prestigious prizes for computer- and video-game designers.

But that reputation took a hit last year when the academy ignored Capcom's "Resident Evil 4," one of the most popular and well-reviewed games of 2005.

Not coincidentally, Capcom isn't a member of the academy — and its titles, most notably "Okami" and "Dead Rising," were snubbed again this year.

Capcom's Seth Killian lashed out at the academy, saying, "We find ourselves questioning the value or credibility of awards that seem to honor developers for their creative work, when the truth is that their marketing departments have to pay to obtain consideration."

The academy's nominees for game of the year — "Gears of War," "Wii Sports," "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess," "Guitar Hero 2" and "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion" — are all worthy.

But the absence of "Okami," particularly in categories in which it should have been a sure thing (like art direction and story), diminishes the luster of these once sought-after trophies.

THIS JUST IN: Will gamers actually use their new consoles for something as old-fashioned as reading the news? We'll find out now that Nintendo's Wii News Channel is live.

The new feature for broadband-connected Wiis uses an interactive world map; you use the remote to zoom in on stories around the world.

Since The Associated Press is providing the content, we'll refrain from comment on the channel, other than to say that it weirds us out that you might be reading this through your Wii.

PAINT BY NUMBERS: Revenue from Microsoft's entertainment and devices division, which includes the Xbox 360 and "Gears of War," during the last three months of 2006 jumped 76 percent over the same period a year before.

Nintendo, meanwhile, said its profits for the last nine months of 2006 were up 43 percent over the same period in 2005, thanks to the runaway success of its Wii and DS systems. Looks like it was a happy holiday for at least two of the console manufacturers.

NEW IN STORES: PlayStation 2 stalwarts get a treat this week with the debut of Sony's "Rogue Galaxy," a spacefaring RPG from "Dragon Quest VIII" developer Level 5.

PlayStation 3 owners get the new "Sonic the Hedgehog" game from Sega, while the Xbox 360 nation gets Eidos' "Battlestations: Midway" and Microsoft's "Fuzion Frenzy 2."