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NEW YORK (Reuters) - As top athletes from around the world gear up for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, video gamers can also lace up the skates or strap on the snowboard in a trio of titles bringing winter sports to life.
Japanese game maker Sega, which won the publishing rights for the official 2010 Winter Olympics video games, has two releases out aimed at extending the Winter Games beyond a few weeks.
Sega released "Vancouver 2010 - The Official Video Game of the Olympic Winter Games" on January 12 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC, with 14 events like alpine skiing, speed skating and snowboard cross, giving fans a taste of the real experience.
"The fact that so many kids are playing video games these days, this game allows them to discover these sports in a different way," said Kristina Groves, a Canadian speedskater.
Groves shares the cover of "Vancouver 2010" with Lindsey Vonn (U.S. alpine skier), Seth Wescott (U.S. snowboarder) and Matthew Morison (Canadaian snowboarder).
"Growing up it was watching the Olympics on TV that inspired me to try speed skating, but if video games can entertain kids and hopefully inspire them to try these sports, I'm all for it," said Groves.
Last fall, Sega also released "Mario & Sonic at the Vancouver Winter Games" for Wii and Nintendo DS.
The first partnership between once-rivals Sega and Nintendo, "Mario & Sonic at the Beijing Summer Games" sold over 10 million copies worldwide.
The new "Winter Games," which has already sold over 800,000 copies in the United States, introduces events like ice hockey, curling and skiing to the mix.
"We wanted the entire family, including the mom and dad who don't play games and even grandpa and grandma, to enjoy this experience with their kids," said Osamu Ohashi, the producer who oversaw both the Wii and Nintendo DS versions of the game at Sega's Team Sonic development studio.
"So we've introduced four-player experiences for most of the events like bobsledding, speed skating and luge."
Ubisoft and American Shaun White teamed up for a second Wii game, "Shaun White Snowboarding: World Stage," which takes an arcade-style approach to snowboarding.
In addition to offering Wii balance board controls, the game allows players to create their own tricks and save them for competitions against friends.
White said video games are a big part of the Olympics for many of the participating athletes.
"Danny Kass (American snowboarder) brought his Xbox with him to Torino and we spent a lot of time up in his room playing 'Call of Duty,'" said White. "We had a ton of games up there and it's just a great way to have some fun and burn some time, especially if you're waiting for the weather to clear."
But one complaint is that Olympic videogames do not include any real athletes as opposed to games like Electronic Arts' "Madden NFL 10" and 2K Sports' "NBA 2K10."
"Clearly, it's a new issue for us to start to address," said Jonathan Kemp from International Sports Multimedia (ISM), the exclusive interactive entertainment software licensee of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
"We've only recently been to that point where technology enables us to do that."
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith