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Web site lets kids run for president

The presidential candidate had a decision to make: spend $500,000 on a TV commercial to clarify his position on an issue or $5,000 on a press release that might never make the news. And, oh, there's just $247,000 in the bank account.

Education leaders and Washington insiders faced decisions like that last week when the nonprofit foundation Cable in the Classroom, which provides educational television programs to grade schools nationwide, released an interactive online role-playing game in which students can run for president.

Educators were invited to play along at the unveiling, and many said they would love to play again at home.

That's exactly what CiC was hoping for, said executive director Peggy O'Brien.

"This election and the lead-up to the election has shown us a lot about the role of technology in politics," said O'Brien, referring to voting irregularities and the 2000 presidential election uncertainty.

"We're hoping that schoolkids find it easier and more interesting to be involved with civics through a format that they are proficient and engaged with," she said.

The game eLECTIONS, which mimics a three-dimensional board game, is available through CiC's Web site anywhere there's a high-speed Internet connection. Players manage a campaign budget, release press statements and make appearances in swing states. The game can be played by one person or a group.

CiC targeted eLECTIONS to grade school children. Younger students can ask their parents for help deciding on a platform, ideally creating a dialogue about the economy, education, health care and Social Security. Older students can face off over issues and explore the game's "Digging Deeper" section, which provides audio and video clips from CNN Student News and the History Channel.

According to Drew Hoffman, a self-employed game designer and crafter of eLECTIONS, it is not necessary to be video game savvy to use the program.

"There's almost no game-play," Hoffman said. "You're just thinking about the issues and learning as you go."

eLECTIONS is the second offering in a series of broadband-based Web games focused on learning from CiC. The first game, "Shakespeare: Subject to Change," was released in 2003. The literature trivia exercise was nominated for a prestigious "Webby" award this year and has garnered the interest of educators nationwide.

The organization plans to release a science- and weather-oriented offering in 2005, in partnership with the Discovery Channel and the Weather Channel.

To play eLECTIONS, visit