Friday, December 9, 2011

Left Behind: Eternal Forces

(image from Wikipedia)

From HuffPost Parents:
A video game about a Christian militia slaughtering Jewish and atheist New Yorkers who won't be converted in the name of a particular brand of Christianity will be on the shelves of more than 10,000 American retailers in time for the Christmas season, including Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target, Circuit City, GameStop, EB Games, CompUSA,, Costco and numerous others. The video game is a spinoff of the wildly successful collaborative novels about "the rapture" by conservative fundamentalist minister Tim Lahaye and the guy who used to write the dialogue for the Gil Thorpe comic strip, Jerry Jenkins.

In Left Behind: Eternal Forces, kids will assume the role of a member of a "Christian" gang wandering the streets of a post-apocalyptic Manhattan, killing or converting as many Jews, Atheists, and other unsavory types in the employ of the Anti-Christ as possible to get to the next level. If the heathen won't convert, the character can kill them. The company is offering a free demonstration model to churches. "We see it as a beacon of light that could shine in the dark world of video games," said Jerome Mikulich, "director of outreach ministries" for the company. "The most important thing is that it helps kids realize there is power in the spirit world, and that by praying they can endure and get through their real-life situations." Praying, and putting a shotgun in the mouth of Jews. Just like all those chapters in the gospel where Jesus preaches that the way to salvation is busting a cap into the ass of those who won't convert.

When I first saw this, I was going to comment on how crazy it was. Would Wal-Mart sell a video game where your objective as a Muslim was to convert or kill Christians? Can you imagine the uproar then? But this game is considered wholesome, right?

I was also going to say that neither this nor Grand Theft Auto really mean anything. This isn't going to make your kid a Christian, just like Grand Theft Auto isn't going to make him a criminal. And neither are going to make him a homicidal maniac.

These games aren't for me, and I don't actually "approve" of them, but they're hardly a threat to our society. Any kid - or adult player (and there are a lot of adults, like me, who play video games) - might feel like a real bad-ass playing a criminal mastermind in a computer game. But when he turns off the game, he'll turn back into the same meek, mild student or office worker, just as law-abiding and peaceful as he always was.

Now me, I always like to play the hero in computer games, probably because I'm not much of a hero in real-life. But a lot of perfectly normal people like to play a bad guy, especially a powerful, dangerous bad guy. And I imagine that this is especially the case with children, who probably don't have much power in their real lives. But it's perfectly harmless, I assure you.

And yeah, a Christian-based game is perfectly harmless, too. The harm comes from the real world outside the game, with people trying to get children to believe in complete nonsense. But the game itself is just a game. All games are fantasy, really. So chill out!

Well, that's what I was going to say, but then I looked into this a bit further. As a result, I'm writing this post just to tell you not to believe everything you read. Admittedly, I haven't played the game myself, but I really do think this "controversy" is just a big load of crap. (Yeah, that's not entirely unexpected at the Huffington Post, which, though I wouldn't say it's the left's version of Fox News - it's not nearly that bad - is still not the place you want to go for reliable information.)

First of all, this is a real-time strategy game, not a first-person shooter. If you're not familiar with the difference, well, an RTS game has you running a bunch of characters at a distance, managing everything rather remotely. There might be more graphic violence than in a game of checkers, but probably not close-ups of throat-cutting or heads exploding. (Think I'm exaggerating? You clearly haven't played many modern games then.)

Here's a screenshot of Left Behind: Eternal Forces:

(screenshot from IGN)

This is only a minor matter, perhaps, but if you're wondering about that "putting a shotgun into the mouth of Jews," well, if that did happen in the game - it doesn't - it wouldn't be all that graphic, at least.

More importantly, I don't think there are any Jews in the game at all! Or any other specific kinds of believers except Christians. Let's see if I can explain this. Yes, the game is based on Christian mythology - and a particular brand of Christian mythology at that, not something shared by all Christians.

More specifically, it's based on those inexplicably popular Left Behind books. That's the premise. Keep in mind that, no matter what game you play - all just as much fantasy as this one - you just accept the premise when you play the game. You don't have to believe it, you just have to accept it as the premise for gameplay purposes.

This is from the review at IGN:
In brief, the game follows the basic premise of the book. One day, all the true Christians vanished from the world. Though the authorities left on the Earth tried to explain this away as some freakish magnetic pulse, a small group of people suddenly realized that the Christians had been raptured up to Heaven. These new believers, those left behind, now find themselves fighting against the forces of the Antichrist who is building his world government on the bones on the United Nations. The game lets players take charge of the new believers in the struggle in a standard real-time strategy format. New York City is your battleground and missionaries are your soldiers. You'll be fighting against the forces of the Antichrist -- secular recruiters, rock stars and cultists.

OK, it's pretty funny, but I've seen far stranger premises for a game than this. And you're "fighting" (not necessarily violently) against the forces of the Antichrist, not against Jews, not against Muslims, not against Hindus. "Secular recruiters," yes, so maybe we atheists are the enemy, but I don't think any of us are going to get upset by that. Otherwise, the big danger seems to be from rock stars!

Since the "true" Christians have all been raptured away, apparently this implies that there are still good people among us non-believers, doesn't it? At any rate, those are your people, those of us who aren't "true Christians" now. Those folks weren't Rapture material, but they've finally come to their senses. (Hilariously, we skeptics apparently try to "explain away" the instantaneous disappearance of one-third of the Earth's population - sans clothes - as "some freakish magnetic pulse." Heh, heh. Yeah, that seems perfectly reasonable to me...)

As GameSpy points out, this is all pretty mild stuff. We atheists certainly aren't going to be upset by it, and if you're this thin-skinned, I'd say you've got bigger things to worry about.
As storylines go, it's interesting enough for non-believing gamers; it's hardly the most bizarre premise we've seen for a game. In fact, the major weakness of the storyline is that it sometimes seems watered down so as not to offend non-believers. Left Behind is based on biblical passages involving Death on a pale horse, oceans of blood and seven-headed demons rising from the earth, but none of that cool stuff can be found in Left Behind. Where's my fire and brimstone?

As I understand it, your enemies in the game aren't specifically Jews or atheists or anyone else in particular. Instead, you're battling the "Global Community Peacekeepers," who are under the control of the Antichrist in the new world government. (I'm not sure how we get to a single world government just because the Christians vanish, but this follows that mythology just like X-Com: UFO Defense followed UFO mythology. I don't see that it's any different from that.)

And here we get to the third thing that makes that alarmist article a big load of crap: violence in this game is counterproductive. If you really do try "slaughtering Jewish and atheist New Yorkers who won't be converted," you're going to lose the game. That's because killing people lowers your spirit, and spirit is your essential resource.

Here, again, is IGN:
Although the buildings you own provide important resources like housing, food and cash, everything in the game revolves around the resource of spirit. Each unit has their own spirit ranking. You can increase it by praying or decrease it by killing other units. Raise the spirit of a neutral and he or she will join the good guys. Lower it and they'll take their part with the forces of evil.

Yes, the whole point to the game is to convert people, but you have to do it nonviolently. You do have soldiers, and you can defend yourself (your enemies apparently have no incentive to avoid violence), but in general, you have to avoid actually harming people. So much for "busting a cap into the ass of those who won't convert," huh?

So, if you can't use violence, or not much of it, how do you combat your enemies? You pray! This is from the review at Ars Technica:
There are a lot of bad guys running around, denoted by red bars over their heads, and they will shoot red balls at you. These balls sap your "spirit," which is like mana, and you have to pray to get it back. In the first mission I spent a lot of time running away from big gangs of people who were shooting these anti-God balls at me, and that got old quickly. Run and pray, run and pray. It was a lot like being at Wal-Mart on Black Friday.

If prayer bothers you that much, this game probably isn't for you. But it hardly seems to be anything to get bent all out of shape about. Here's GameSpy again:
Within the game itself, the amount of proselytizing is kept to a minimum. Units bow their heads to pray in order to replenish their "spirit" resource and giving a unit orders may elicit a response like "For the Lord!" or "In His name!" Prayer scrolls with Biblical verses are also available as power-ups that can call down angels for bonuses, but anyone looking for explicit "Kill the unbelievers!"-style content to justify their fear of the game won't find it here. The biggest "message" portion of the game is actually the "Learn more" screens that become available after each mission. These display interesting text passages about the history of Christianity and CliffsNotes versions of aspects of evangelical theology while playing cuts from top-selling Christian musical acts (with a convenient "buy the album" link to the Internet). I'm not a believer, but I found the passages interesting. I also liked a lot of the music (albeit in the cheesily ironic way I enjoy Barry Manilow).

Read that Huffington Post piece again. Does that really sound like this game? I probably won't buy Left Behind: Eternal Forces, but that's just because it doesn't sound like a very good game. (Check out the full reviews at IGN, Ars Technica, and GameSpot, if you're actually interested.) But as an atheist, it wouldn't bother me in the slightest to play this game, and certainly not to think that others are playing it.

Believers are often pretty thin-skinned, but even so, if this game bothers you, well, you need to get a life! OK, OK, I haven't played it myself, so I can't say for sure. But at the very least, I'd say this is a clear lesson in not believing everything you read online.

Unless you read it here, of course. :)


Jinx McHue said...

A hearty and well-deserved "THANK YOU!!!!!!" from this Christian who has been doing the little he can over the last 5 years to correct the lies about this game like those found in that HuffPost article. Believe it or not, you are an extremely rare exception -- someone who heard about the claims about this game promoting violence (and graphic violence at that) against specifically named non-Christian groups, but actually engaged your brain, questioned the claims and performed some very simple, very easy research to find out if they were true or not.

WCG said...

Thanks for the comment, Jinx, but I hate to admit how near a thing it was. It's all too easy to accept what seems to confirm my own bias, while looking skeptically at everything else.

Well, maybe I just lucked out this time, but your comment still made my day. So thank you.

Jinx McHue said...

You are most welcome.