Real news from the virtual world:
— TEEN SPIRIT: Who plays video games? Just about everybody — if they're ages 12-17.
According to a new survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 97 percent of kids in that age group (99 percent of boys, 94 percent of girls) play computer, console or portable games.
So what's up with the other 3 percent? Are they being punished? Or are they doing something less anti-social?
Turns out that teens who play games with some element of civic engagement also get involved in their real-life communities.
Pew defined various types of "civic gaming experiences," including helping other players, forming online guilds and making decisions about how a country should be run.
The survey found that teens who played such games (like "World of Warcraft" or "Civilization") are more interested in current events and more likely to participate in civic activities, like volunteer work or charity fundraising.
The most popular genres among teens are racing ("Mario Kart," "Burnout Paradise"), puzzle ("Bejeweled," "Solitaire") and sports ("Madden NFL," "FIFA").
"Madden" also scored as the third most popular franchise, following "Guitar Hero" and "Halo" — all games that are a lot more fun to play with your buddies.
— HEALTHY CHOICE? The stereotype of online gamers, particularly those dedicated to massively multiplayer games such as "World of Warcraft," are fat, red-eyed slobs surrounded by empty energy-drink cans and snack-food bags.
But New Scientist magazine reports that such gamers may actually be healthier than most people.
Researchers at the University of Southern California, the Palo Alto (Calif.) Research Center and the University of Delaware surveyed 7,000 players of the role-playing game "Everquest II."
They found the gamers had an average body-mass index of 25.2 compared with 28 for the average American. And the average online gamer also engages in vigorous exercise once or twice a week.
On the downside, "Everquest" players were more prone to depression and substance abuse. The University of Delaware's Scott Caplan theorized that players "may be drawn to use the game to help deal with emotional distress."
— CONTROLLED EVOLUTION: "Spore," the universe-spanning "god game" from "The Sims" creator Will Wright, has stirred up some controversy — although not, as expected, from creationists outraged by its playful take on evolution.
Instead, "Spore" buyers have flooded publisher Electronic Arts with complaints about the game's digital rights management, or anti-piracy, measures.
If you buy a copy of "Spore," you can install it on no more than three computers — which the majority of players won't have an issue with.
But a very vocal contingent of "Spore" buyers has made a big deal out of the restriction. And EA has blinked, promising to change the DRM to allow users to install the game onto as many as five computers.
"We're willing to evolve our policy to accommodate our consumers," EA Games President Frank Gibeau said. "But we're hoping that everyone understands that DRM policy is essential to the economic structure we use to fund our games and as well as to the rights of people who create them."
— TIP OF THE HAT: Is Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert the biggest game geek on television (other than the guys on G4TV)?
Guests on "The Colbert Report" have included the aforementioned Will Wright and "Ultima" creator Richard Garriott, who's taking Colbert's DNA to the International Space Station.
Colbert has been most enthusiastic lately about MTV Games' "Rock Band," which makes for excellent corporate synergy since Comedy Central and MTV are both part of the Viacom empire.
In July, he got the members of Rush to perform their song "Tom Sawyer" on "Rock Band" instruments. And last week, MTV released a downloadable version of Colbert's 1980s synth-pop classic "Charlene (I'm Right Behind You)" that you can play on "Rock Band."
It's hilarious and it's free.
— NEW IN STORES: Warner Bros. takes a more lighthearted look at the Caped Crusader in "Lego Batman" (for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PlayStation Portable). ... THQ's "De Blob" looks like one of the freshest Wii games in a while. ... Ubisoft sends its "Brothers in Arms" heroes back to the front with "Hell's Highway" (360, PS3, PSP) and "Double Time" (Wii). ... Nintendo brings back two of its second-tier characters in "Wario Land: Shake It!" (Wii) and "Kirby Super Star Ultra" (DS). ... Sony launches a new season of trivia challenges with "Buzz! Quiz TV" (PS3) and "Buzz! Master Quiz" (PSP).