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Monday, December 04, 2006

Left Behind: The Thinkpiece

The makers of a new video game say its Biblically themed action is designed to stir “’thinking and talking’ about matters of eternal importance.”

But opponents on the First Coast say it’s offensive to Christian beliefs.With flashy graphics and intense action, “Left Behind: Eternal Forces” has the hallmarks of a hit video game, but with a Biblical twist. Set just after the Rapture in the Book of Revelation, the game puts you in charge of civilians and soldiers with the Tribulation Force –- an armed group fighting against the army of the Antichrist.

That fighting sometimes means killing. And some religious groups are furious.
-- First Coast News - Local News - Bible-Themed Video Game Stirs Controversy Within Christian Community

Thinking about matters of eternal importance? By smiting whores and coordinating one final bloody crusade? And can a demographic whose base routinely dismisses video games as violent brain drains on children really stand by such an obvious example of hypocrisy? Perhaps that's the matter of eternal importance ... is a violent game given a pass as long as Christ makes an appearance?

The answer of which would naturally say more about the people giving the answer than gaming itself, I would think. Just because I don't think a virtual gun is capable of training snipers means that I think it's a valid bearer of a religious message.

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Thomas said...

The problem with this is not, as "some religious groups" would have us believe, that this is offensive to Christian beliefs. The problem is that, for a large number of people calling themselves Christians, the messages of the game are not only of eternal importance, but are accurately depicted.

I mean, I think it's great that the moderates are starting to stand up now that the artifacts of extremism are becoming more prominent. But it's not like Left Behind started this kind of thing. Warlike dispensationalism is actually a result of twisted fundamentalist thinking, one subscribed to by large numbers of people. If "some religious groups" want to actually make a difference, it would be nice for them to denounce what caused this game, and not the game itself.

Greg Tannahill said...

"Offensive to Christians" is about as helpful as saying "offensive to bipedal organisms". There's as many flavours of Christian as there are of ice cream.

Besides which, the reviews I've read suggest the game is unredeemably crap even if the licence or the religious angle are the kind of thing to float your boat. Poor controls, dull graphics, and annoying camera angles are just the start.

I got the impression it's not actually that violent a game from the player's perspective. You don't go around killing your enemies so much as you do converting them with preachers, and the bad guys who can "kill" your troops are fairly laughable (evil rockstars with satanic power chords). I could be wrong, or it could be the sites I've seen were skewing the perspective.

Josh said...

Well I can't comment on how violent it is - and I feel a little hypocritical for being harsh on a game I haven't played myself.

What I've read is that it can be fairly violent, though, and the makers don't seem to back away from that in the press ... just saying that "it's apocalypse, and that's a violent thing." Or some such.

Honestly, it's the dichotomy that gets me. Killing is OK as long as it's our killing, As long as it's the people we don't like. I still see virtual violence as that - virtual.

I don't think someone necessaarily needs to want or believe in the End Days to play this game ... but when it comes from a self-serving Hubbard-like religious profit engine - that feels like preaching violence for the sake of a dollar in my book.

Troy Goodfellow said...

It is the worst strategy game of the year. And that's not even touching the dubious theology.

But, the campaign has very little killing at all, at least not until you get to the later scenarios. "Good" soldiers lose faith when they kill, so if you go on a shooting spree against the anti-Christ, you will probably fail unless you surround your soldiers with evangelists.

The game emphasizes throughout that this is a "spritual" war, and the biggest physical threat to the unbelievers is their own unbelief; if their collective spirit is too low for too long, demons appear and kill everything in sight.

This is, fundamentally, a non-violent game that allows shooting in some circumstances. If you want to go blowing people up, you have to do it online in multiplayer - if you can find someone else to play against.

It is a terrible game mostly because of its design issues (many of which I have outlined elsewhere).

If you walk in expecting to be shocked, you will undoubtedly find shocking things. Each scenario is followed by a evangelical message leading up to Rapture theology and they start with Creationism. The "character" biographies are your standard anti-intellectual/anti-feminist fantasies that get altered once someone is converted. Until the latest patch, females couldn't become recruiters.

But this game isn't a threat to anyone, and the game dynamics are probably no more offensive than, say Medieval II: Total War, which practically requires me to mass murder members of an opposite faith to keep my empire together.

Troy Goodfellow said...

Just an addendum: A big early moment in the campaign is when armed forces come to take down your church. You have to fight them entirely with prayer and song - you aren't even able to build soldiers yet.

The characters take "turn the other cheek" very seriously, though you can make the book's heroes kick rappers to death if you micromanage it just right.

Josh said...

That makes sense - much of what I've read comes from a multiplayer game between the creators and a reviewer.

And certainly, any war game has moral issues attached. Isn't Total War the franchise where you can gleefully kill prisoners for the heck of it?

Troy Goodfellow said...

Yeah, you can kill prisoners in Total War. In the new one, doing so lowers your piety while raising your dread, making your general a poor governor but a more fearsome force on the battlefield.

In Rome: Total War, the only way to manage population explosion was to massacre whatever population you found in a conquered city and then rebuild it in your own image. In the new Medieval, this is only necessary for wrong faith cities.

Fortunately, the manual includes a disclaimer about how many people take religion seriously and they don't mean to offend anyone.

Good game, nonetheless.