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A COMPUTER game being developed in Edinburgh has caused outrage because it encourages players to make characters use drugs in order to gain special powers.
Narc, currently being developed by Edinburgh-based Vis Entertainment, is expected to be one of the most controversial games of the year.
As part of the game, players are encouraged to make characters take marijuana, LSD, crack, speed and "liquid soul" - a virtual drug created for the game.
While the game is likely to be given an 18 certificate, there is concern it will still find its way into the hands of youngsters.
City councillor Tom Ponton, the Liberal Democrat social work spokesman, condemned the content of the game and called on high street stores to ban it from their shelves.
"The people most affected by drug abuse are youngsters, and when the Government is spending millions trying to promote an anti-drugs message, it seems irresponsible that a company would create a game which encourages people to take drugs," he said.
"Even with an 18 rating, there is no doubt that it will find its way into the hands of the young people who we are trying to protect."
The game, which is being developed for the PlayStation 2 and Microsoft XBox, centres on two undercover narcotics officers investigating a drug called "liquid soul".
Players are allowed the freedom of choice to play the game however they like, meaning they can take drugs confiscated from dealers and sell them on the street for money, or use them for "power-ups". Each drug has a different effect. Marijauna slows the action down, allowing the character to fight large groups of people more easily, while LSD fills the screen with psychedelic colours and makes enemies appear as giant devils.
The developers, who were also behind the controversial State of Emergency game, have been careful to ensure drug abuse carries a penalty, with characters becoming "addicted" and being kicked off the force. Using drugs also does damage to the characters? health.
But Alistair Ramsay, the director of Scotland Against Drugs, said computer games had a huge influence on youngsters and developers needed to be more responsible in the way they depicted drug abuse.
"While the medium of games can be used to great effect to teach people the dangers of drugs within the context of a real lifestyle, there is always the danger of them transmitting the wrong messages if the atmosphere of the game is wrong," he said. A source close to the company said the game was intended for the adult market and insisted the material, in particular the use of drugs, was handled in a responsible manner.
Narc is just one of many recent controversial video games.
Grand Theft Auto, and its follow-up Vice City, were developed by Edinburgh company Rockstar North. Both games, in which players take on the role of a criminal working his way up the underworld hierarchy, were criticised for their violent content.
A Frontline Scotland documentary, being shown tonight on BBC One, examines alleged links between Vice City and several killings carried out by teenagers in the United States.
But the games? success encouraged others such as Vis to tread the same ground. After Narc, the company will be releasing a sequel to State of Emergency.