Big Media Round-Up on Religious Warfare Kid Vid
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Dec 17, 2006 at 12:47:33 AM EST
This past week, the controversy over Left Behind: Eternal Forces, a video game based on the Left Behind series of novels, has been propelled into the national, and international news.  The catalyst was a press briefing organized by DefCon, (Campaign to Defend the Constitution), that featured Clark Stevens of DefCon, Tim Simpson of the Christian Alliance for Progress, and me, representing Talk to Action. (I am also a member of the DefCon advisory board.)  

There were wire service accounts by the Associated Press, Religion News Service, Reuters and Interpress News Service, appearing in thousands of media outlets worldwide. as well as generating considerable discussion on talk radio and in the blogosphere. There were also major newspaper stories in the Boston Globe, USA Today and the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as an article on the BBC News web site, and a report on the controversy on The New York Times blog.  

All of these were good articles that covered the gist of the press conference, while often emphasizing one or another of the main points. (If you are going to pick a few, I would try the Globe, the BBC News and the New York Times blog).  But there were some other, quite remarkable articles that cast the story in a somewhat different light.

Ethics Daily's Bob Allen reported the controversy, including the action campaigns called by progressive Christian groups and DefCon. Allen also mentioned Talk to Action's six months of reporting and analysis that has informed the major critiques of the game.

On Sunday Bruce Prescott of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists interviewed on his weekly "Religious Talk"  radio program Jonathan Hutson, who profiled the game in a series of eight blogs on Talk2Action.org between Memorial Day and August.

Hutson said the game "teaches mass killing in the name of Christ" and "indoctrinates children in religiously based violence."

"For me the big point of objection is not that the game is violent," he said in a live Sunday interview also available as a podcast. "I'm certainly not calling for censorship of the game. But I have called in my series for Talk To Action for Christians to boycott the game. If people don't buy this product that teaches mass killing in the name of Christ, then the market for it will disappear."...  Promotional screen shots show armed forces firing at point blank range at civilians and bodies littering the streets. The manufacturer's official description states that in the game there can be no neutral noncombatants.

Hutson, who described himself as a mainstream Christian, said the game teaches that anyone who is not a conservative evangelical Christian is going to be left behind, with a choice to either convert or die.
"The game is teaching these people deserve to die, it's your Christian duty to kill them, and God will be pleased when you do," he said.

A columnist for the the English newspaper, The Inquirer had a distinctly British take, noting that the game is generating an "unholy row" and is "coming in for a bit of stick across the pond."

The main issue is that the game is getting mainstream distribution and is on sale in Walmart stores but opponents say it encourages religious intolerance. It also teaches kids to think that the secretary-general of the United Nations is the anti-Christ. Other bad guys include rock stars and people with Muslim-sounding names.

Much of the opposition to the game comes from some liberal Christian groups who feel that mowing people down with guns is a not good way to get on the right side of God. One church has plans to picket Wal-Mart for flogging the game.

However, it may take a spot of divine intervention to get any kid, Christian or otherwise to want to buy it. The game is reportedly full of bugs and reviews have averaged about three out of ten. The Maker of the game probably thinks the media is owned by the anti-Christ rather than conclude the game is pants.

A spokesman for Left Behind Games said that the company's ultimate goal in offering the game was to bring parents and kids together to talk about the Bible. Odd really, last time we looked the New Testament was a bit short on turning guns on unbelievers. But, then again, it has been a while.

The head line on Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass' take on the game read:

Kill. Repent. Repeat. Happy holidays

Naturally, if you're playing this apocalyptic computer game, you'd want a Dr Pepper with loads of caffeine, so you can stay up until dawn, when the demons are asleep and it's safe to close your eyes.

This way, they won't rip your face off when you're done hitting the "prayer" button for the millionth time.

"The idea that you could pray and the deleterious effects of one's foul deeds would simply be wiped away is a horrible thing to be teaching Christian young people at Christmas time," Rev. Tim Simpson, a Florida pastor, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

"The message is ... there will be religious warfare, and you will target your fellow Americans, people from other faiths, people who you consider to be sinners," said author Frederick Clarkson, a liberal critic of religious conservative groups.

I'm stepping back to let the religious left and right fight this one out, bitterly denouncing each other while forgiving their trespasses. What bothers me is the game itself, which I refuse to play.

For one thing, there's no real bloodshed. And the "good" people have magical powers and glow when they're converting heathens from a distance or, as they call it, "recruiting." And, if you play as the sexy antichrist, you just can't win.

It's rigged.

"As the antichrist, you can win battles," said Frichner, "but you can't win the war. That's the way it is."

What fun is that?

The Monterey (CA) Herald featured a story about Todd Hurlburt, who decided to protest the game singlehandedly and stood with a sign outside a WalMart.

Hurlburt, a documentary filmmaker, said he was unaware of the game until he read a newspaper article this week that called the game "good family fun."

"I had to read it three times," he said. "I couldn't believe it."

Hurlburt, a Catholic, contends the game manipulates fears and divisiveness to make a buck.
"There is already a lot of division in the country," he said. "I'd hate to see someone use this game as an excuse to hurt a Muslim."

Hurlburt wasn't necessarily hoping the retail giant would stop carrying the game. In fact, he learned the store wasn't selling the game at its Marina location, but at select spots around the country. He said he hasn't played the game.

Still, he said, he wanted to discuss what he had heard. The people who listened included the hosts of several AM radio shows, television and print reporters, customers and even Wal-Mart employees, two of whom gaped at him during a smoking break.

"For real?" one of the employees said after Hurlburt explained the premise of the game to him. "Dang. I'm a Christian, too."




Display:
Jonathan Hutson, Bruce Wilson, Chip Berlet and I have been writing about this since May. Our efforts, individually and collectively have informed and framed the current international discussion of the controversy.  This is a case example of what Talk to Action is capable of accomplishing in other arenas as well.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Dec 17, 2006 at 12:58:08 AM EST
It was high time that someone questioned the assumptions behind this game, and the whole "Left Behind" industry for that matter.

by nogodsnomasters on Sun Dec 17, 2006 at 02:19:29 PM EST
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