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War-themed video game sales booming

If you want to see a thrilling war movie about America's battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, forget about heading to your local movie theater or calling up your Netflix queue.

If you want to see a thrilling war movie about America's battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, forget about heading to your local movie theater or calling up your Netflix queue.

You need an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 video game console and a game like "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" for epic action from today's front lines.

Hollywood churned out dozens of in-the-trenches, pro-America extravaganzas while World War II was being fought.

But the portrayal of the U.S. military during its current engagements has been more subdued and even critical.

Game makers have stepped into the breach. And they're making huge bucks crafting patriotic entertainment pieces for which the movie industry used to be famous.

Most notable of the new virtual epics is "Modern Warfare 2" and its predecessor, both from California publisher Activision Blizzard.

"Modern Warfare 2," which is set partially in Afghanistan and lets you play as American and British soldiers hunting terrorists, is a cultural sensation.

When it came out Nov. 10, it became the biggest entertainment product launch in history, grossing $310 million in North America and the United Kingdom in its first 24 hours. In its first five days, "Modern Warfare 2" sales hit $550 million.

Activision was quick to put that in perspective, noting that the largest worldwide five-day box-office take for any movie was "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" at $394 million.

"The title's success redefines entertainment," Kotick said.

Games like these aren't just redefining entertainment: They're redefining perceptions of America at war.

During the 1990s and earlier this decade, Hollywood was happy to show U.S. soldiers battling on the other side of the world. From "Three Kings" to "Black Hawk Down" to "Rules of Engagement," audiences saw stars including George Clooney, Josh Hartnett and Samuel L. Jackson play troubled but essentially heroic soldiers fighting in real or realistic conflicts.

But after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Hollywood went silent instead of ramping up production on war epics as it did when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.

When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, that silence turned largely to criticism, as anti-war films like "Redacted" and "Lions for Lambs" emerged.

But the $20 billion-a-year video game industry was ready to enlist. Besides "Modern Warfare" games, other successful military games released since 9-11 include "Conflict: Desert Storm" and its sequel, "Back to Baghdad"; "Full Spectrum Warrior" (originally developed as a U.S. Army training simulator), and the "SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals" series.

More will soon join the fray.

Electronic Arts' "Medal of Honor" franchise, which previously focused on World War II battles, is making the leap to the modern era. The next installment, due in 2010, will focus on U.S. special operations forces fighting their way through Afghanistan.

Sean Decker, vice president and general manager of the Los Angeles division of Electronic Arts that is overseeing development of the new "Medal of Honor," said video games rather than movies are becoming a cultural touchstone for a growing number of Americans.

"There's a new generation of consumers of media, and they're looking for something that's a little less static," he said.

But not all video games have been able to delve into the current wars without getting singed by controversy.

Earlier this year, Japanese publisher Konami said it would produce "Six Days in Fallujah," which would let gamers play as U.S. Marines during the 2004 battle in Iraq.

Criticism poured in from all sides of the political spectrum. Anti-war advocates attacked it as glorification of a controversial battle and ill-advised war, while war supporters assailed the developers' decision to consult with enemy insurgents to enhance the game's realism. Konami quickly dumped the game.