News from the virtual world:
— SWING VOTES: Can a video game be as dramatic and tension-filled as this year's presidential race? Perhaps I'm civically irresponsible, but I'd much rather play "Grand Theft Auto IV" than watch another endless town-hall debate.
Still, at least two companies are trying to turn the historic campaign into a video game.
First up is "The Political Machine 2008," Stardock's sequel to the successful 2004 release.
Playing as Obama, McCain, another real-life politico (say, Al Gore or Dick Cheney) or a character you create from scratch, you compete in head-to-head battles for each state's electoral votes.
Your positions on the issues are only one part of a winning formula that also includes charisma, comeliness and credibility.
Gamecock's "Hail to the Chimp" takes a more fanciful approach.
After a scandal costs the Lion his job as King of the Animals, 10 other critters decide to compete for his job. The "debates" generally devolve into physical violence, and there are plenty of chances to play dirty tricks on your opponents.
It's more of a party game than a strategic challenge like "The Political Machine."
Both titles will be out later this month, and I suspect they're not the last political games we'll be seeing before November.
— COURT AND SPARK: Sandra Day O'Connor, game developer? She doesn't quite believe it either.
"Had someone told me, when I retired from the Supreme Court, that I would be presenting at a conference on digital media, I would have reacted with extreme skepticism," she admitted at the Games for Change conference in New York.
O'Connor is collaborating with James Paul Gee, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, on "Our Courts," a Web-based game designed to teach seventh- through ninth-graders about the judicial branch of government.
By letting students play the roles of lawyers and judges, O'Connor hopes the game will also drive students to think about the kinds of issues that make it all the way to the Supreme Court.
"What we hope to do is pioneer a new teaching method designed to respond to the learning styles of this digital generation," O'Connor said.
The Web site, which is being development with help from Arizona State and Georgetown universities, will be launched this fall.
— METAL DISORDER: "Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots" is one of the year's most anticipated games, but its release this week has been preceded by an unusual amount of rancor for video-game bloggers.
The fuss started when publisher Konami asked some early reviewers to refrain from writing about some details of the game, including the time it takes to install the game on the PlayStation 3 and the length of some of its non-interactive scenes.
Some publications, like Electronic Gaming Monthly, declined to review the game under Konami's restrictions. (An Associated Press review will be posted next week.)
Konami eventually backpedaled on some of its demands while pleading with critics not to give away too much of its plot.
For the record, Konami says the initial installation takes eight minutes, with some 2- to 3-minute installs between acts, and some of the cut scenes are very long — but at least you can skip them.
— QORE CURRICULUM: Sony has yet to provide much video content on its PlayStation Network, other than trailers for movies and games.
Its first tentative step toward original video that you can download onto your PlayStation 3 hard drive is called "Qore," and let's just say it's not going to make you trade in your DVR.
"Qore" essentially consists of previews for upcoming PS3 and PlayStation Portable software like "SOCOM Confrontation," "Secret Agent Clank" and "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed."
You get game footage, developer interviews and concept art, and Sony promises demos in the future.
The first episode costs $2.99, and a 13-episode subscription costs $24.99 — which is an awful lot to pay for what is, essentially advertising.
Spend your money instead on some of PSN's excellent downloadable games, like "Echochrome" or "PixelJunk Monsters."
— NEW IN STORES: Competitors are counterprogramming "Metal Gear Solid 4" with the likes of "NASCAR 09" (EA Sports, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2), "Don King Presents Prizefighter" (2K Sports, 360) and "Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit" (Atari, 360, PS3). ... Most gamers will be drawn to the "destroy" part of Majesco's "Blast Works: Build, Trade, Destroy" (Wii). ... The DS has goodies for everyone in the family, with Eidos' "Looney Tunes Cartoon Conductor," Ubisoft's "My Fashion Studio" and Aksys' "Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles."