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Leaders duke it out -- on video game

©Associated Press

March 29, 2003

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Wham! President Hugo Chavez delivers a jarring left to opposition leader Carlos Ortega. Pow! Ortega recovers with a blow to the groin. Crowds cheer as a police helicopter hovers.

After a tough year including a coup, street protests and a damaging general strike, some Venezuelans are releasing stress by playing a CD-ROM game called "Politikal Kombat."

More than 2,000 people have snapped up copies since February. That's good numbers by Venezuelan standards, much to the delight of the game's 35-year-old creator, Jesus Barrios.

Even the presidential palace bought a copy, Barrios said.

"I think it was so they could check if the images in the game offended the figure of the president or ruling party members in any way," he said. "We haven't received any feedback, so I imagine there was no problem."

Barrios said pro- and anti-Chavez lawmakers are playing the game, which retails for $18.

Twelve protagonists -- including images of Chavez, whose character wears military fatigues -- fight "for the country's virtual destiny," the game says.

All have an equal chance of winning because "we didn't want to be accused of favoring one side or the other," Barrios said.

In real life, Ortega, a labor leader, went into exile Thursday in Costa Rica after directing a two-month general strike demanding early elections or Chavez's resignation. The strike fizzled out in February.

Venezuela's opposition accuses Chavez of trying to impose an authoritarian regime. Chavez, who led a botched coup attempt in 1992, was elected president in 1998. His second term ends in 2007.

Barrios released the game just as the tension-ridden strike ended.

"The concept is to provide a channel to relieve stress, which is the result of so much political conflict," he said.

At least one opposition lawmaker -- and "Politikal Kombat" figure -- agrees.

"I think it's funny. I'm a lawyer and a legislator shown in a street brawl," Deputy Geraldo Blyde said.

Despite frantic kickboxing, Barrios says he wanted to avoid overt allusions to the political violence that claimed dozens of lives over the past year.

"We made sure there was no blood, disfigured faces, fatalities or heads being ripped off -- just knockouts," Barrios said.

A new version is in the works, featuring more protagonists in Venezuela's political scene.

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