Violent Video Game Marketed Through Mega-Churches (Part 2)
Strap on your seat belts and hold onto your dashboard Jesus, because the story of how this violent, theocratic video game is being network marketed through pastors and churches only gets deeper and stranger from here. But bear with us as we wade into the corporate mindset of mega-church marketing; the long, strange trip will be worth it.
Along the way, we'll point out four remarkable, man-made features like giant, painted, concrete cowboys along Route 66 - wondrous to behold, and worth a closer look.
First, we'll meet the designers of Left Behind: Eternal Forces and learn what kinds of "Christian stuff" and "cool stuff" this game features - like rotting bodies of New Yorkers piled high on city streets. Seriously: it's a game feature. You cannot make this stuff up.
Second, we'll meet the spiritual warfare practitioner and celebrated management consultant who shaped Mr. Warren's life over the course of more than 20 years. Yes, although Mr. Warren is hailed as "America's minister," he's actually a businessman and a disciple of the most famous management guru of the 20th Century.
Third, we'll meet the man who directed the marketing plan that drove Mr. Warren's book The Purpose Driven Life to the top of best seller lists. And we'll hear the surprising story of why Mr. Warren tried to censor this man's how-to book on network marketing, which treats churchgoers as customers, and converts customers into evangelists for corporate products.
Fourth, we'll find out what Mr. Warren means when he compares his corporate management and marketing practices to an Intel operating chip. Holy Motherboard of God!
All the Christian Stuff, and All the Cool Stuff
Left Behind Games executives Troy A. Lindon and Jeffrey S. Frichner told the Los Angeles Times of their plans to build buzz for Left Behind: Eternal Forces by distributing 1 million sample discs directly through churches nationwide. This is a sign that their approach follows the same marketing strategy that Mr. Warren used to ramp up early sales numbers for his international best seller The Purpose Driven Life. The L.A. Times reports:
" 'Left Behind' has the Antichrist, the end of the world, the apocalypse," said co-creator Jeffrey S. Frichner. "It's got all the Christian stuff, and it's still got all the cool stuff."Okay, so we've got Christian paramilitary forces loose on the streets of New York, fighting to turn the United States into a theocracy, and shouting "Praise the Lord!" as they blow away those who refuse to convert. In the virtual world of Left Behind only the conservative Evangelical Christians were "raptured" - spirited into heaven for the big Super Bowl party and skybox seats to the ultimate battle between absolute theocracy and the absolutely AntiChrist. So who's "left behind" to blow away? Catholics, mainstream moderate Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, suspiciously well-groomed men, lesbians, and conservative Evangelicals who are closet gays. (As Congressman Barney Franks (D-Massively Funny) has said, "Throw the gays out of church? Who do you think has been playing the damn organ all these years?") Blowing away these good folk ("Praise the Lord!") - is that supposed to be the "Christian stuff" or the "cool stuff"?
How about this nifty game feature: the bodies of slain New Yorkers don't disappear after a battle, and no one gives them a decent burial. Instead, the festering corpses just keep piling up: left behind. Is that "Christian" or "cool"? Or how about this: The game portrays the United Nations - hello again, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Catholics, and Jews - as the headquarters of the demonic forces of the AntiChrist, who is spawned by DNA from two gay lovers (hello, Greenwich Village!). So nice to see you all, my errant, resisting brothers and sisters. BLAM! BLAM! "Praise the Lord!"
Mr. Lynch explains in an interview with the video game industry site GameDailyBiz how parents can spend quality time with their children by sharing the joys of infidel cleansing, paramilitary style. He also avers that violence and Christian entertainment naturally - and profitably -- go hand in hand.
"Left Behind Games was established on the belief that given the choice, people will voluntarily choose games with positive moral elements. We just need to make sure the Christian games are as fun to play as other games. Only one of the top twenty grossing movies of all time was rated R, and that movie was The Passion of the Christ.Oh, "positive moral elements," is it? "Caring and loving" quality time? Then how does he explain that his game allows children to switch perspectives and command the demonic soldiers of the AntiChrist, who (I'm not making this up) feast on the Christians. How is that caring and loving? What kind of quality time is that? What deity are the Dads and lads supposed to praise as the demonic forces at their command drink the blood of Christian theocratic militia members?
Just how crass is it for a children's "physical and spiritual warfare" game to be set in New York City, where billows of smoke roil from downtown skyscrapers, and ambulances all have "911" painted on their roofs? In real life, these ambulances would have a red cross or a paramedic star on top, not a "911". But Left Behind Games was created in October 2001 -- the month following the tragedy of September 11, 2001. So maybe the game designers had that on their minds when they created a game that has New Yorkers being killed by paramilitary fighters shouting, "Praise the Lord!" That's not a far step removed from the terrorists who slammed planes into the World Trade Center, shouting, "God is great!" And speaking of the World Trade Center, with its billows of smoke and people holding hands as they leaped to their deaths... This is actually hard to write. I went to New York University School of Law; I have close friends who saw the flames, the smoke, the bodies and body parts heaped on the street. That's the stuff of post-traumatic stress for New Yorkers who witnessed that. So what kind of caring, loving Christians design a game where New York City is choking with smoke billowing from skyscrapers, as bodies pile up in the streets, and holy warriors kill infidels while shouting, "Praise the Lord!"?
This outrage demands an apology. This is shameless and bigoted filth, and it is an abomination that any pastor, any mega-church would push this product in its pews. Make that peeYEWS, because this stinks to high heaven.
In its review of Left Behind: Eternal Forces GameSpy wrote:
As for the violence in a game built from a Christian perspective, Lyndon doesn't shy away from that either, pointing out that the Bible itself is quite a violent book. "The point of morality is that people have a choice in how they react to situations -- and one of those choices is always going to be violence." While the game itself has no blood, it doesn't shy away from showing corpses, and lots of them. In fact, one of the things people might find surprising is that bodies in this game don't disappear, making for some gruesome landscapes as corpses pile up in the streets of New York. "Violence has consequences -- even justified violence," Lyndon said. "You can behave morally and still cause harm."But can you callously cause harm and call that morality?
What Would Drucker Do?
Time magazine, which once designated the Rev. Billy Graham as American's foremost evangelist, has now dubbed Mr. Warren as "America's minister" and the Second Coming of Rev. Graham. But the dry-eyed Forbes magazine has appraised him from a Wall Street perspective. Forbes called Mr. Warren's previous book, The Purpose Driven Church, "The best book on entrepreneurship, management, and leadership in print." Oh, by the way, it's got some new age spirituality mixed in with the management and marketing theories, too.
Mr. Warren received his Doctorate in Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. At the same time, he sat at the feet of a man who is remembered as the greatest management guru of the 20th Century, Peter F. Drucker, who taught at the nearby Claremont Graduate School.
Mr. Drucker is known as the father of modern management for his work on innovation, entrepreneurship, and strategies for change. Mr. Drucker once said, "I became interested in management because of my interest in religion and institutions." It was Mr. Drucker who taught Mr. Warren how to apply the systematic study of management to mega-churches. Mr. Drucker coached pastors, including Mr. Warren, through the Leadership Network. In a tribute to Mr. Drucker, the Leadership Network speaks of Mr. Warren and his Saddleback Church leaders:
Warren says his staff reads and discusses Drucker's writings, using them to manage the church's multi-faceted ministry. Everyone who walks into the pastor's office is reminded of Drucker's well-known advice, which appears on a print that Drucker signed and gave to Warren:Mr. Warren has described Mr. Drucker as his mentor of more than 20 years.
"As a young man (I was about 25), I began to call him up, write him, go see him," Mr. Warren said in eulogizing Mr. Drucker, who passed away in November 2005 at the age of 95. "Before his passing, I would sit at his feet regularly. He honed into me hundreds of one-liners and taught me that growth always comes from the outside -- from people who are not now using your product, or listening to your message, or using your services."
Mr. Drucker stopped giving interviews, for the most part, in 2002. But he made an exception in October 2004 - for Mr. Warren - who arranged an interview by Forbes Publisher Rich Karlgaard. The interview took place in Mr. Drucker's home in Claremont.
"The most dangerous traps for a leader are those near-successes where everybody says that if they just give it another big push it will go over the top," Mr. Drucker told Forbes. "One tries it once. One tries it twice. One tries it a third time. But, by then it should be obvious that this will be very hard to do. So, as I always advise my friend Rick Warren, 'Don't tell me what you're doing, Rick. Tell me what you've stopped doing. ' "
Left Behind Games first announced that it would release its violent, theocratic videogame in late 2005, and then promised it would hit the shelves of Walmart, and the pews of mega-churches, by Easter 2006. Now, they're giving it a third try, aiming for an October 2006 release, in time to see their video - and its vision of fundamentalist, religious zealots attacking New York City and dead New Yorkers rotting on the streets - gift-wrapped for Christmas. Meanwhile, they continue to merchandise their product by invoking the name brand of the Purpose Driven Church on their web site.
It seems far-fetched to suppose that Mr. Warren allowed his organization's name brand to be used by accident, or without his prior approval. But if he knows nothing of this, then he should follow his mentor's advice, and tell us what he's stopped doing.
Mr. Carver is advising the corporation that created and marketed this game. Why is he involved? First, to give them business advice, because he is involved in marketing analogous products to the same customer base - pastoral networks and mega-church members. And he also brings the luster of the Mr. Warrens' Purpose Driven name brand - a business technique known as "endorsement by association."
The Left Behind Games web site - part and parcel of its marketing pitch - states:
"Mark Carver is the Executive Director for Purpose Driven, the leadership/church growth training arm of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, one of the largest churches in America with a weekly congregation in excess of 10,000."And if Mr. Carver is invoking the Purpose Driven Church name brand without Mr. Warren's permission to market this disreputable product, then what would Mr. Drucker say about that?
PyroMarketing, or What a Trend We Have in Jesus
Greg Stielstra, who directed the marketing campaign for The Purpose Driven Life, presented lessons learned from that project in a network marketing how-to book, PyroMarketing. Zondervan, an Evangelical Christian Bible publisher, had issued Mr. Warren's book and planned to publish Mr. Stielstra's. But before the release of PyroMarketing, Mr. Warren pressured Zondervan to censor all references to his book, because he was concerned that it would make people think his phenomenal success was driven primarily by network marketing techniques.
Mr. Warren later relented, and HarperBusiness published PyroMarketing in September 2005 after making certain changes. However, Mr. Warren emphasized, "The worldwide spread of the purpose-driven message had nothing to do with marketing or merchandising. Instead it was the result of God's supernatural and sovereign plan, which no one anticipated."
Mr. Stielstra has broken down this "supernatural and sovereign plan" into four easy steps that treat converts as customers and customers as evangelists.
PyroMarketing: The Four Step Strategy To Ignite Customer Evangelists and Keep Them for Life reveals the network marketing strategy that made The Purpose Driven Life one of the best selling hardcover books in American history by using a fire metaphor that involves four steps:
(1) Gather the driest tinder - people most willing to buy your product (for example, mega-church members);
(2) Touch it with a match - give people a free preview of your product (for example, Left Behind Games is distributing "presale" DVDs through pastoral networks);
(3) Fan the flames - for example, Mr. Warren sold the first 400,000 copies of The Purpose-Driven Life for $7 each to ministers and churchgoers. They formed study groups, which drove up sales of the hardbacks at some $20 a pop.
(4) Save the coals - keep a database of your customers, so you don't have to start again from scratch. For example, Left Behind Games told the Los Angeles Times that it plans to distribute 1 million copies of its violent video game through churches nationwide.
Will the video game produced by the corporation which Mr. Carver is advising wind up in the same distribution channels - global pastoral networks and mega-churches -- that he and Mr. Warren built, primed, and tracked in massive databases?
The 'Purpose-Driven Operating Chip'
On December 24, 2005, The Economist published "Churches as Businesses: Jesus, CEO," an indepth analysis of how mega-churches are borrowing management and marketing techniques from the corporate world. According to this special report, "Rick Warren has inserted his 'purpose-driven operating chip' into churches in 120 countries around the world." He does so, because Mr. Drucker taught him that the way to systematically transform whole societies is by forming strategic partnerships between churches, corporations, and governments. This systemic management and marketing approach has built Mr. Warren's global empire.
To assist in building that empire, he looks for opportunities to form strategic alliances and cross-promote his brand. For example, he's now got a quote from the Purpose Driven Life on Starbucks coffee cups. That did not just happen without his awareness and permission. In fact, he planned it: he submitted the quote to Starbucks and suggested that they run with it. Hey, nothing wrong with that: it's a win-win for the corporation and the church, in terms of "endorsement by association." (Technically, Starbucks notes that the quotes do not necessarily reflect their corporate viewpoints. However, each party to the transaction hopes that some of the goodwill and chocolately goodness of the other party will rub off on them.) Strategic business alliances are about more than quips on coffee cups. The Purpose Driven Church even created a web presence so that people reading the cups could get to know more online, and eventually maybe come into the fold. This is long-term strategic thinking, evincing an awareness of how to use popular culture in marketing an empire. It is multi-layered; each piece is carefully thought out, and honed to work with the other pieces of the strategy.
So now Mr. Warren is planting the seeds of a corporate-friendly Christianized state in Rwanda, whose president has vowed that his genocide-torn country will now become the world's first "purpose driven nation." Yet the same management systems and marketing practices could be put to use in any country or corporation where Mr. Warren's mega-church chooses to make inroads. The techniques of market manipulation are transferable, just like an Intel chip.
And what exactly does Mr. Warren mean by "purpose-driven operating chip"? The Economist reports:
Rick Warren likens his "purpose-driven formula" to an Intel operating chip that can be inserted into the motherboard of any church -- and points out that there are more than 30,000 "purpose-driven" churches. Mr Warren has also set up a website, pastors.com, that gives 100,000 pastors access to e-mail forums, prayer sites and pre-cooked sermons, including over 20-years-worth of Mr. Warren's own.For pastors who view themselves as entrepreneurs, and manage their flocks as growth opportunities, the Great Commission means great profits. There's nothing necessarily wrong with a corporation making profits, and there's nothing wrong with a prophet making a study of modern management and network marketing practices. But since Mr. Warren has built an empire by forming strategic partnerships between business and ministerial interests, he should take care who invokes the name brand of his Purpose Driven Church. Mr. Warren does not have to explicitly endorse or be involved in the production and marketing of Left Behind: Eternal Forces in order to be held accountable for allowing his name brand to be used in the selling of this antisocial product. He is Mr. Carver's pastor as well as his boss. So where's the accountability?
[Update: Mark Carver, a top aide to Mr. Warren, resigned as an adviser to Left Behind Games on June 5, 2006, and asked that the game developer remove the Purpose Driven Ministries name brand from its web site. These abrupt moves came in response to pressure from Talk to Action, as reported in the third essay in this series, "Revelation and Resignation (Part 3)". Here is a screen shot from the Left Behind Games site taken before June 5, showing Mr. Carver's name and invoking the name brand of Purpose Driven Church. -- JH]
Violent Video Game Marketed Through Mega-Churches (Part 2) | 33 comments (33 topical, 0 hidden)
Violent Video Game Marketed Through Mega-Churches (Part 2) | 33 comments (33 topical, 0 hidden)