Originally published in Metroland, Volume 29 - Number 26 - June 29, 2006
New video game could bring righteous bloodshed to a church near you
By Glenn Weiser
You’re a heavily armed 13-year-old boy patrolling the streets of Manhattan with a paramilitary group, ready to kill for Christ. Never mind that pesky commandment against murder—you’re exempt now. The Apocalypse has begun, and most of your fundamentalist brethren have been bodily whisked away to heaven in the Rapture to await the Second Coming, leaving behind on Earth only your militia, the Tribulation Forces, along with the civilians who haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior, such as Jews, gays, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, and mainline Protestants, and your foes, the Antichrist’s Global Peacekeeping Forces (read: the United Nations). Your mission is to convert unsaved souls to born-again Christianity. If they don’t get religion, blow ’em away as you cry “Praise The Lord.” Converts become your fellow Christian soldiers fighting for an American theocracy.
This, the blog Talk to Action asserted last month, is the gist of Left Behind: Eternal Forces, a forthcoming video game slated for release this October from the Murrieta, Calif.-based Left Behind Games. Although some questions remain this week about the accuracy of the blog’s description, Eternal Forces already has drawn sharp criticism.
The slickly produced, real-time strategy game is based on the best-selling Left Behind series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, a fictional account of the Final Days derived from a fundamentalist interpretation of the Book of Revelation known as Dispensationalism. Created by Troy A. Lyndon and Jeffrey S. Frichner, the game will be marketed directly to evangelical congregations and advertised in secular gaming magazines. Violent video games are nothing new, but critics have branded Eternal Forces as an attempt to justify digital carnage with a veneer of religiosity. Even born-again Christians have objected.
Newsweek wrote about Left Behind: Eternal Forces in a brief March 6 article noting the game’s “top shelf design” and comparing its level of violence to that of Grand Theft Auto, but it wasn’t until May 1 that many details emerged. In a promotional interview published on the company’s Web site, Greg Bauman of Left Behind Games explained that the game is based on the first four of the 12 Left Behind novels and uses several of the books’ characters. The game comes with various options, he continued, including single- or multi-player modes for offline or online PCs respectively, levels of increasing difficulty, and the choice between fighting for Jesus or the Antichrist. As for the game’s depictions of killing, Bauman pointed out that the Bible narrates much violence, especially in the Old Testament.
On May 10, the Los Angeles Times covered Eternal Forces and gave a born-again critic his say. “We’re going to push this game at Christian kids to let them know there’s a cool shooter game out there,” the paper quoted attorney Jack Thompson, an author and opponent of violent video games. “Because of the Christian context, somehow it’s OK? It’s not OK. The context is irrelevant. It’s a mass-killing game.” And a mass-proselytizing one, too. Even though authors LaHaye and Jenkins are not directly involved with the project, they are, according to Greg Bauman, “supportive of this new means to reach people with the message in their books.” The Times also quoted Tim LaHaye, who said, “Our real goal is to have no one left behind.”
Later in May, a blogger, Jonathan Hutson, wrote about Eternal Forces on the left- leaning Talk to Action Web site, talk2action.org, stating that the game’s protagonists actively targeted groups such as Jews and gays. In describing scenes of “the bodies of New Yorkers piling up,” he also implied that civilians could become victims as well as opposing shooters. The Daily Kos (dailykos.com), recently credited by The New York Times as being the Net’s most influential progressive blog, quickly carried the story.
Hutson also discovered that Mark Carver, the executive director of megachurch pastor Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Ministries, was on the game company’s advisory board. He noted with concern that Warren, also author of the best-selling The Purpose Driven Life, is an adherent of Dominionism, an extremist belief that Old Testament law must be established worldwide in order for Christ to return. Imposing Mosaic law would, in theory, lead to mass executions by stoning of unrepentant gays, pagans, astrologers, and others, and also reinstate slavery. To achieve this, Warren, who also heads the 22,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and a global network of 40,000 fundamentalist congregations, has said he needs a billion foot soldiers. (Fortunately, he’s nowhere close.)
But Warren has also publicly opposed shooter games, and Hutson’s article made him look hypocritical by exposing Carver’s involvement with Eternal Forces. On June 1, Mark Kelly, the press director of Purpose Driven Ministries, issued an e-mail statement denying any connection between Rick Warren and the game, adding, “I think the game’s developers will discover that Christian pastors and parents find the idea of such a game to be in extremely bad taste.” That didn’t quell the controversy, though, and on June 5, Purpose Driven Ministries again disavowed any ties between Warren and the game, and announced that Carver had resigned from the advisory board of Left Behind Games.
Troy Lyndon also has been bruised by the brouhaha. On June 15, the Left Behind Web site posted a statement by him disputing the blogs’ characterization of the game, saying, “The player does NOT target Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, or any other group.” The Web site Game Spy said in its review of Eternal Forces, “Players aren’t competing to kill the enemy army—rather, they’re trying to save them, and each person killed represents a failure rather than a success.”
In a June 27 phone interview with Metroland, Jeffrey Frichner denied that neutral civilians such as gays and Jews could also be snuffed for not coming to Jesus: “The people who wrote that have never seen or played the game.” Under persistent questioning, Frichner finally claimed not to know “that level of detail.”
He added, “I don’t know why that’s such an issue. Can you enlighten me?”