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Cartel video game riles U.S.-Mexico border residents

By Julian Cardona and Alejandro Martinez-Cabrera

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico/El PASO, Texas, Feb 17 (Reuters Life!) - A video shoot-up that turns Mexican cartel violence in one of the world's most violent cities into a role-playing game is upsetting residents on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border ahead of its release.

Players of French video game developer Ubisoft's "Call of Juarez: The Cartel" are invited on the company's website to "take the law into (their) own hands" on a "bloody road trip from Los Angeles to Juarez," the city south of El Paso, Texas, where more than 3,000 people were murdered last year.

Further details were not available. But previewed graphics of the game, due for summer release, show gunmen dressed in Stetsons and flak vests roaming grim city streets toting weapons including shot guns and a Kalashnikov.

The high-powered assault rifle is the weapon of choice of the Mexican cartels, dubbed the "cuerno de chivo" or "goat horn" for its curved ammunition clip.

Community leaders in the troubled Mexican manufacturing city of Ciudad Juarez, which averaged eight murders a day last year including shootings, beheadings and torture killings, said the game glorifies and trivializes the violence for youngsters already drawn to crime.

"Lots of kids say they want to be a hitman, because they are the ones that get away with everything," said youth worker Laurencio Barraza.

His Independent Popular Organization works with youngsters in the city's dirt-poor tin and plastic-roofed shanties that serve as both a recruiting ground and killing field for the cartels.

"This glorifies violence, as if victims were just another number or another bonus," he added.

Ubisoft said it is an entertainment company and the video game is trying to give gamers a "unique" experience.

"Call of Juarez the Cartel is purely fictional and developed by the team at Techland for entertainment purposes only," a Ubisoft spokesperson said. "While Call of Juarez the Cartel touches on subjects relevant to current events in Juarez, it does so in a fictional manner that makes the gaming experience feel more like being immersed in an action-movie than in a real-life situation."

Since the start of last year, at least 40 residents from El Paso have been murdered while visiting Ciudad Juarez, and the game, which is the third in the popular series developed by Ubisoft, is also raising eyebrows in the U.S. city.

"In games you get hurt, you die and you get another life. In real life, you only die once," said commander Gomecindo Lopez of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, which lost a jailer in a shooting in Ciudad Juarez last March that also killed his wife and their unborn child.

Lopez compared the game to "narco corridos," the controversial Mexican ballads that glorify drug kingpins and the traffickers' violent culture.

"This goes along the lines of narco-songs that portray cartel leaders as heroes, but both are a gross misrepresentation of who they are," Lopez said. "They are criminals."

(Writing by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Jerry Norton and Greg McCune)

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