Push the Prayer Button
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Dec 09, 2006 at 11:21:04 AM EST
What's wrong with a video game that depicts a "defensive" religious war set in a real, contemporary US city that's been recreated in loving detail - at least in terms of the physical features of the city - and which features game characters that look nothing like the real city residents they are supposed to depict and who do not bleed when they are killed, at close range, by assault weapons and whose corpses simply fade away from where they lie on the city streets ? What's the big deal if the game is based on a bloodthirsty pop-culture series that's been read by upwards of sixty million people ? So what if the game suggests that "secularism" is satanic and depicts a total war in which there can be no noncombatants ?

So what if this game sidesteps the moral and religious injunctions against killing by enabling players to do rote penance, when the game characters they command kill, by repetitively pressing a "prayer button" on their gaming joysticks ? ( note: this piece has been excerpted from a longer piece of writing entitled Religious Warfare Stocking Stuffer.

Well, the game will condition an already pre-indoctrinated group to go through the motions of religious warfare. Game players will learn that religious wars can be "fun", and that  such wars can be reduced, irrespective of the humans caught up in and killed in them, to a series of complex strategic, tactical and logistical challenges.

A Controversial Video Game

Religious groups and individuals from both the left and right have protested the sale of "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" and a growing coalition has called for a consumer boycott of the game, but those are moral objections and, rightly so, have no legal force. So, this video game - that depicts religious warfare in New York City and in which players can command fundamentalist Christian paramilitary forces with the mission of converting to fundamentalist Christianity or else killing the residents of the Big Apple - is on store shelves, waiting to take its place under festive Christmas trees.

Teenagers who play "Left Behind:" Eternal Forces" will learn that the act of playing out and imagining religious war has the sanction of their parents and the enthusiastic endorsement of powerful religious advocacy groups such as Focus On The Family. Teens who play the game will understand it to be a wholesome, moral enterprise that has the endorsement of authority figures they love and trust.

They will learn that the immorality of killing can be cleansed by going through the motions of ritualized prayer as if saying a few "Hail Mary's" or mumbling some religious incantation. Imagine the outcry if the Harry Potter series described a magical incantation murderers could intone to make the moral and legal onus of their crimes vanish ?
Lots of killing to do ? No problem. Press the "prayer button" as necessary.

"The people who have come into (our) institutions (today) are primarily termites. They are into destroying institutions that have been built by Christians, whether it is universities, governments, our own traditions, that we have.... The termites are in charge now, and that is not the way it ought to be, and the time has arrived for a godly fumigation." - Pat Robertson, to New Yorker Magazine, 1986

Finally, it is important - crucial even - to recognize that there is a wider societal context to the phenomenon of "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" ;

The game is no cultural anomaly but part of a general pattern in which many parents on the Christian right are socializing children with the vocabulary of violence and the expectation that they will wage religious warfare, against specified societal groups, within their lifetimes. That was the context for the recent documentary Jesus Camp and "Jesus Camp" is part of a much wider societal phenomenon ( see: Kids In Combat )

Further, such efforts to socialize children towards religious warfare mesh with a pattern, in American public discourse, of prominent religious, political, and media figures employing demonizing and eliminationalist rhetoric against targeted societal groups and even calling for the use of nuclear weapons against civilian populations ( see: Enough hate speech to stun an ox and Dave Neiwert's writing on hate speech at Orcinus, and Hatecrime.org as well as the  work of the Southern Poverty Law Center in monitoring hate and extremist activity in the US  

Conditioning people to commit acts of mass violence, research has shown, doesn't happen overnight - it tends to be a gradual process. People can be habituated to commit mass violence quite easily, especially of the conditioning is incremental. So, why not start with kids ? It's easier.

( for more on the socialization of violence, see:

How Average Humans Can Be Conditioned To Carry Out Acts Of Mass Violence
for further analysis on how the "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" game may condition and socialize game players towards violence, see Virtual religious, ethnic, and cultural cleansing in "Left Behind: Eternal Forces"
for more on the ideology behind the "Left Behind" book series that the vieo game is based on, see Chip Berlet's eight part series at Talk To Action.

"The conversion of socialized people into dedicated fighters is achieved not by altering their personality structures, aggressive drives or moral standards. Rather, it is accomplished by cognitively redefining the morality of killing so that it can be done free from self-censure. Through moral justification of violent means, people see themselves as fighting ruthless oppressors" - Albert Banduras

I would be interesting to see what outcry would occur if the shoe was on the other foot and a Christmas video game came out called
"Eternal Forces II" and the prey would be the extreme fundamentalists. The the excuses could be the same, not to mention the fact that they are just plain pushy, ignorant of facts and happy to remain so, intolerant and annoying.

I would also like to see a movie made, to be aimed at the general public that would take them back into the middle ages, to let them see what conditions actually were like -  conditions that the fundamentalists would like to see enforced today.  Maybe we could start with the the execution of the mentally challenged 13-year old who was raped in a group home, became pregnant, and was aborted.  We could add a few gays, feminists and Wiccans - Would that not warm the hearts of the most steadfast of the extreme right?

by Concerned on Sat Dec 09, 2006 at 03:44:38 PM EST

To understand a narrative, people need to be pulled into it.

by Bruce Wilson on Sun Dec 10, 2006 at 01:38:20 AM EST

This is one of the features that I find most disgusting about LBEF. As a Vietnam Veteran, I know what it is like to be caught up in the violent maelstrom that is war. If I have learned anything at all from my experiences is this: Whenever you take another human life, no matter how justified and necessary it is, a part of you dies with the other person. A bit of your soul goes away and you spend the rest of your life trying to get it back. The whole concept of the "Prayer Button" makes a mockery of the healing process.

by Frank Frey on Mon Dec 11, 2006 at 09:32:17 AM EST
Frank, that's all I can say. I'm not a veteran, but I had a visceral reaction to your description. That's why I've focosed so much on the "prayer button" : it seems blasphemous to me. It seems to suggest that pushing a button can make the magnitude of what killing really is go away.

Troy Lyndon's son fought in Aghanistan and Lyndon says discussions with his son informed the game, and that the mechanism by which killing is penalized in his game ( penalties that can be lifted by "pushing the prayer button" ) was added to emphasize the moral and spiritual dimensions of kiling.

Personally, I think the explanation is hogwash

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Dec 11, 2006 at 12:33:45 PM EST


First of all, I rejoice that Troy Lyndon was able to have that conversation with his son because that meant that the young man returned safely from Afghanistan. God bless him and may he find his path.
The problem, IMO, is that while that prayer button mechanism may have actually been well meaning it is in truth worse than useless. It sanitizes what is a profoundly life changing experience. It is an attempt to make the unpalatable well...palatable.
General Robert E. Lee once remarked "It is a good thing war is so terrible lest we grow too fond of it." LBEF and other games like take the terribleness out of it and I fear that we may be growing too fond of it.

by Frank Frey on Mon Dec 11, 2006 at 03:23:20 PM EST

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