Virtual and virtuous?

Can video games change behavior for the better? We may know soon.

Last week, Ubisoft announced plans to make a game based on Allen Carr's book “The Easy Way to Stop Smoking.” The game, for the Nintendo DS, is due in November and aims to provide a digital coach to help smokers kick the habit.

And recently, 12 research teams received more than $2 million in grants to study the ways video games reinforce healthy or unhealthy behaviors among players of various ages. The grants were awarded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through its health games research national program, which is based at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Among the topics to be explored via the studies: How motion-based games may help stroke patients progress faster in physical therapy; and how people in substance-abuse treatment programs can practice skills and behaviors in a virtual environment to prevent relapses in the real world.

Professor takes jab well

Rockstar Games, maker of the best-seller “Grand Theft Auto 4,” released a promotional video on YouTube that makes fun of a hybrid car called the Karin Dillettante. The car – also featured in the game – is an apparent jab at Dr. Karen Dill, associate professor of psychology at Lenoir-Rhyne College and a researcher on the effects of violent video games.

Dill of Hickory has spent more than 10 years researching the effects of playing violent and anti-social video games. Her research has shown that games like “GTA4” desensitize young people to violence as well as gender and racial stereotypes.

Dill felt the spoof was “good-natured ribbing.”

“I actually think it's funny and clever of them,” she said.

Wii rules April

It's probably no surprise, but Nintendo's Wii emerged as the top-selling console in April according to the independent NPD Group, which tracks U.S. video game sales. More than 714,000 Wiis were sold in April, bringing total sales in the United States to more than 9.5 million.

Six of the top 10 games for the month were for Nintendo systems, including Wii titles “Mario Kart” (No. 2) and “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” (No. 5).

PSP to come with Madden

Sony Computer Entertainment America plans to release a metallic-blue PSP bundled with “Madden NFL 09.”

The pack will sell for $199.99 and include “NFL: In Just One Play,” a Universal Media Disc (playable on the PSP); a 1-gigabyte Memory Stick; and a voucher for a free download from the PlayStation music store.

Trying fast fitness

IGN.com associate editor Mark Bozon recently started trying to lose 15 pounds in 30 days using the new Nintendo Wii Fit. You can check out his progress at http://blogs.ign.com/wiigetfit.

Bozon, who loves pizza with his “Grand Theft Auto,” promised to eat healthier during the test.