Japan PM Abe hops and flips in voter-wooing game app

TOKYO (REUTERS) - It's a bird, it's a plane ...

It's a cartoon version of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, hopping and somersaulting his way through the sky in a smartphone game app his party hopes will lure young voters ahead of a July 21 election.

A growing number of Japanese politicians are venturing into the cyber world after a legal change allowed the use of social media in campaigns, setting up Facebook pages and twitter accounts to woo voters before a July upper house election.

But the app, which has the imprimatur of Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), goes further in its effort to court tech-savvy youngsters, who tend to be apathetic about politics and put off by traditional campaigns featuring white-gloved politicians blaring their names and slogans over loudspeakers.

"There were worries that some young people thought the LDP was distant, that we lacked intimacy ... that they didn't know anything about us," Takuya Hirai, a lawmaker and head of the LDP's internet strategy team, told Reuters.

"We're hoping the game will get people interested in politics in a way they never were before," Mr Hirai said.

In the game, called "Abe Pyon" - "Abe Hops" - using a cutesy word most often applied to rabbits - a business suit-clad Abe avatar bounds high into the clouds via floating platforms.

Missing a platform causes him to plunge to his "death".

As he soars higher, players rack up points, gaining access to facts about Abe and information about the LDP. High scores also allow the avatar to change clothes, whisking him from his grey suit and into jeans or gym wear.

The ultimate prize is a bouncing Abe in a superhero cape.

Abe's app is a rare venture for a world leader. Tech-savvy U.S. President Barack Obama featured in a superhero game in 2009, but it wasn't officially endorsed.

Some voters said they felt fonder of Abe after playing.

"It really gets you thinking about politics. It makes me think I should vote for him," said Emi Yamada, a 22-year-old student.

Others were sceptical. "I reckon it's just a bit of fun and nothing more," said Mizuki Kimura.

Mr Abe, an avid Facebook user who rebounded to power for a rare second term in December after his party's big win, is widely tipped to lead the ruling bloc to victory in the election.

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