Apocalypse, Now a Lawsuit (Part 5)
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Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 03:10:11 AM EST

The Christian supremacist video game Left Behind: Eternal Forces has drawn the wrath of conservative Christian attorney Jack Thompson. He has denounced and cut ties with Tyndale House, publisher of the Left Behind novels that inspired the video game, and he is now threatening a lawsuit over its licensing of the game. Talk to Action has obtained a letter from Mr. Thompson in which he has urged Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Ph.D., to join him in repudiating Tyndale House.

Mr. Thompson has charged that in licensing the game, Tyndale House, publisher of his own book against video game violence as well as the Living Word Bible and several of Mr. Dobson's titles on child-rearing, "has now become one of the mental molesters of minors for money."

The game immerses children in a post-Apocalyptic New York City setting evocative of 9/11. It simulates armed conflict between conservative Evangelical Christians and all New Yorkers who refuse to convert to their brand of Christianity. All "neutral" New Yorkers must ultimately convert or be killed. "They cannot remain neutral," states the game's creator, Left Behind Games. Bodies of slain New Yorkers litter the streets as the game builds to a final battle between the forces of absolute good and absolute evil. Christian militia fighters include a member of the Elite Forces, who is depicted lighting the fuse on a bundle of dynamite. The game's Christian supremacist theme and eliminationist rhetoric (militia members wielding modern military weapons shout "Praise the Lord!" as they blow infidels away) have elicited sharp criticism from many Christians, such as Paul Procter of the Christian Worldview Network; other people of faith; and people who believe in the separation of church and state. Greg Bauman played the game and reviewed it for WarCry Network. Bauman concluded: "The only way to accomplish anything positive in the game is to 'convert' nonbelievers into faithful believers, and the only alternative to this is outright killing them." Talk to Action has called not for censorship or prior restraint, but for protests and boycotts. Mr. Thompson is the first and only critic to threaten legal action.

"My words cannot fully describe what a betrayal this has been by Tyndale," Mr. Thompson wrote in a letter dated June 9, 2006, that he faxed to Mr. Dobson, "not just to me but to all of the Christian families out there who are trying to protect our kids from the corrosive, violent effects of violent media. A Christian organization has now become one of the mental molesters of minors for money."

"What is more," Mr. Thompson continued, "we as a nation are involved in a war on terror, and this game gives radical Islamists two arguments: that we indeed do export pop culture sewage to the rest of the world, and we Christians entertain ourselves with the notion of killing infidels, now in a `Christian game'."

Mr. Thompson wrote Out of Harm's Way, a Tyndale House title detailing his efforts to curb the marketing of violent video games to minors. Tyndale House also publishes Mr. Dobson's Bringing Up Boys and The Complete Marriage and Home Family Reference Guide. Mr. Thompson asked that Mr. Dobson sever all ties to Tyndale House. He directed Mr. Dobson to the URL of "Purpose Driven Life Takers," the first essay in Talk to Action's series on Left Behind: Eternal Forces. Talk to Action has repudiated Tyndale House and the game's creators, Left Behind Games, for indoctrinating children in Christian supremacy, and has called for a boycott of any mega-churches or chain stores that plan to distribute the game. Left Behind Games has announced its plan to distribute 1 million sample discs to mega-churches nationwide.

Mr. Thompson has stated that he is investigating a possible lawsuit against Tyndale House, although he did not specify on what ground:

You can read all about this incredible knuckleheaded move by Tyndale House, your publisher and mine, at http://www.talk2action.org/story/2006/5/29/195855/959.  What you will read there will break your heart.

I am thus respectfully calling upon you, Dr. Dobson, to do what you can to get Tyndale House to pull the plug on this blasphemy, and failing that, I respectfully urge you to sever all ties with Tyndale House. All ties.

This is the worst example I have ever seen of how pop culture has conformed the Church to its image, rather than the Body of Christ serving as light and salt in the world.

The people at Tyndale House should be ashamed of themselves, but they are not.  Anyone can make a mistake. Tyndale House, now staring the mistake right in the face, refuse to do anything about it. This is outrageous. This is tortious conduct. I intend to take legal action if I can.

I know this all will break your heart. It broke mine. Tyndale House must now be broken.

On June 9 -- the same day that he faxed the letter to Mr. Dobson -- Mr. Thompson e-mailed a copy of it to Talk to Action. That same afternoon, Talk to Action forwarded to Mr. Thompson a Washington Times article dated June 7, 2006, in which Southern Baptist Convention leaders and Focus on the Family declined to issue any statement on Left Behind: Eternal Forces because that they were not familiar with it. Mr. Thompson dashed off this reply: "Not familiar? How about they get familiar. Ridiculous."

One need not agree with Mr. Thompson's legal strategy in this case, whatever it may turn out to be, to agree that he raises valid points about hypocrisy and lack of leadership from the mega-church marketers and Bible-publishing backers of this Christian supremacist game. It is no good for conservative Christian leaders to preach against video game violence on a Sunday, and invest in it on Monday - and then distribute 1 million sample discs through the pews of mega-churches. Nor does it serve Christian leaders well to stay conspicuously silent about a video game that indoctrinates and rehearses children in the mass killing of New Yorkers. Mr. Thompson should be given credit for his moral consistency in severing ties with his publisher, Tyndale House, and for calling them to account for their hypocrisy in publishing Mr. Thompson's book against video game violence while at the same time licensing Left Behind: Eternal Forces, which is not only violent, but Christian supremacist.

As Jesus taught, the Lord's house is not a marketplace. Here's Jesus, literally whipping up some public protest over money men who used the Lord's house to set up business:

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" (Gospel According to John, 2:13-16)
That passage is from the Living Bible, published by Tyndale House. Maybe they should read less of their best selling fiction series - the Left Behind novels - and read more from their own Bible.

The Purpose Driven Life Takers (Part 1)

Violent Video Marketed Through Mega-Churches (Part 2)

Revelation and Resignation (Part 3)

Christian Cadre's Layman: 'A Whopper of Being Wrong' (Part 4)

Apocalypse, Now a Lawsuit (Part 5)

Who's Watching the Boys? (Part 6)

Conservative Christian Culture Warriors Cut and Run (Part 7)

and other such video game titles are irrelevant to this discussion. It is not the level of violence that is at issue, but the Christian supremacy. This game immerses children in an environment that copies present-day New York, and indoctrinates and rehearses children in the mass killing of New Yorkers. This is religious indoctrination that forms children's identities and teaches that they must be prepared to do a deadly deed to defend their creed. That message is unAmerican and unChristian; patriots and Christians alike should oppose this game.

by jhutson on Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 03:51:39 AM EST

This is one of those instances where I'm really torn.

On the one hand, it's good to see someone in the "Conservative Christian" community go after the makers of the "Left Behind" game.

On the other hand, Jack Thomson is by no means any angel himself--if anything, he's probably best known in the gaming community as someone who's launched full-out jihads against most games.  He originally started his career in an obscenity lawsuit against 2 Live Crew in regards to their parody version of "Pretty Woman".

He's also made quite the career of claiming games as disparate as Grand Theft Auto (a crime sim), Doom (a first-person shooter),  Mech Warrior (a mecha simulation game based loosely on FASA's (later WizKids') miniatures game of the same name), Nightmare Creatures (a horror sim, in roughly the same vein as the Resident Evil games) and Final Fantasy 7 (no, I'm not making this up--a traditional videogame RPG) have caused kids to go on killing sprees and shoot up half their schools.  (These claims were all in relation to a kid in Paducah who shot up a Bible club at his school in what may be an act of violence resulting from religiously motivated bullying; evidence in trial showed he was being harassed, among others, by the aforementioned Bible club which was linked with the football team as well as by many other students, and may have been specifically driven over the edge by claims in a school newspaper he was gay.  Court testimony by Michael Carneal himself states he was hoping that the "Bible club" he shot at would "leave him alone" as he was being targeted by them for harassment as well.)  

This included, in several cases, attempts to file RICO lawsuits.

Some of his claims re the ill effects of games are a bit bizarre, including the claim that the Playstation 2 DualShock controller gives a "pleasurable buzz" to reinforce play.  (Can't speak for him, but last time I checked, AO rated games are pretty much only available in Japan or in adult bookstores :3)

In addition, Thompson has worked with known dominionist Oliver North in past; during this time, he literally attempted to have Ice-T investigated for sedition and incitement to riot for the song "Cop Killer".  He's also attempted to get the US Armed Forces to pull advertising from MTV--not because of the "recruiting kids to violence" angle, but because they might see Madonna in undress.

Most of his lawsuits, unsurprisingly, have been on behalf of dominionist groups.

So I'm torn.  In this case, I kind of look at this as a case of dominionists feeding on their own.

by dogemperor on Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 08:26:49 AM EST

he raises several issues which are not present in other video games that he has gone after. For example:

(1) Hypocrisy: Mega-churches and pastors -- and a prominent child psychologist, James Dobson, Ph.D., have condemned violent video games in the past; now Left Behind Games plans to distribute 1 million sample copies of its game through pastoral networks and mega-churches;

(2) Lack of leadership: Christian leaders, such as mega-church pastor Rick Warren and the Southern Baptist Convention leadership, are now conspicuously silent about a video game that indoctrinates and rehearses children in the mass killing of New Yorkers in the name of Christian supremacy;

(3) A Bible publisher's financial stake: Mr. Thompson should be given credit for severing ties with his publisher, Tyndale House, and for calling them to account for their hypocrisy in publishing Mr. Thompson's book against video game violence while at the same time licensing Left Behind: Eternal Forces, which is not only violent, but Christian supremacist. In so doing, Mr. Thompson showed that he is at least acting consistently with his beliefs, and speaking out boldly where he could have chosen to remain silent.

Ultimately, the case against Left Behind: Eternal Forces does not depend on whether one agrees with Mr. Thompson's legal strategies in the past against other video games that are simply not comparable. Mr. Thompson is not the issue, and the level of violence in this game is not the issue. The issue is Christian supremacy: indoctrinating children in a worldview that says look around, we're living in the End Times, children, the End Times looks very much like New York on 9/11, and you may soon have to go out and kill New Yorkers who resist conversion to your brand of Christianity.

I fully expect that this post will generate all kinds of invective against Mr. Thompson -- not that you have done so, dogemperor; you have merely stated some information and given your opinion about it, and your contribution is welcome. However, let's be vigilant about helping gamers and others who may disagree with Mr. Thompson's political views keep a proper focus on the discussion of this Christian supremacist game, and its mega-church marketers and Bible-publishing backers.

by jhutson on Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 08:50:32 AM EST

And frankly, that's kind of why I'm torn here--the scary thing is, for once, he has brought up good points--but at the same time, it's sort of choosing between two evils.

What has honestly surprised me on this is that Thompson actually stood up against the "spiritual warfare" dominionists--it's a very rare case of "what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander" (something which happens all too rarely, I should note).  So that, in itself, is encouraging.

I personally think that--rather than going on the violence aspect--we need to stay focused on what this is; a game to essentially recruit kids into "spiritual warfare" theology (much like how racist groups have misused games increasingly, as well as put out "white power" music, to do so).

If I accidentially cause a flamewar on here, my deepest apologies--my main point is that none of the parties are angels, and yet someone who I would normally disagree with is being one of the few persons in the community that dominionists listen to that is willing to take them to task for it.  (I also expect him to be thoroughly raked over the coals for it--by the dominionists as much as anti-censorship advocates.)  

Hence I'm having a wee bit of a moral dilemma..."okay, here's a guy who claimed Final Fantasy VII caused a kid (who was being harassed by dominionists over his supposed homosexuality) to shoot up his school.  Yet he's just about the only one who dominionists listen to who is taking the intestinal fortitude to say 'this is a Bad Thing, even couched in Christianity'". :P

Showing how this is being used to promote essentially a very toxic faith is going to be the most helpful, IMHO, in regards to showing the potential for harm here.  Just my two pence.

(Then again, I am a gamer and also remember lines about how RPGs in general--not just Dungeons and Dragons but also Final Fantasy and such--were condemned as evil, evil things.  This probably colours much of my viewpoint, so do bear with me on that)

by dogemperor on Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 10:30:03 AM EST

As far as I can tell the bulk of the evidence suggests that media violence does indeed increase violent behavior. Some may overstate that case, especially with "first person shooter" games, but I've been having a hard time locating peer reviewed work that disproves the hypothesis, whereas there seems to be a substantial body of studies supporting the link.

But, Jonathan's key point is not about a video game violence / violent behavior link : it's  that "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" indoctrinates those playing the game with an ideology of religious warfare :

I think we can rightly separate the issue indoctrination from the question of whether the game ( and violent videogames in general ) predisposes those who play it to violent behavior :  one can hypothesize a population indoctrinated to accept the validity of religious war that is perfectly well behaved but which would nonetheless have an increased potential - from playing such a game as "Left Behind: Eternal Hostility" - for engaging in violent religious war and that could be brought out under certain conditions.

The narrative frame of "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" demonizes the "unfaithful" and demonization of societal groups is recognized as part of a progression that can lead to mass political violence.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 10:52:40 AM EST

We're all in cognitive dissonance territory here. For my part - maybe Jonathan's too although he obviously can speak for himself - I still can't quite believe that the "Left Behind Games" company thought it could get away with marketing this game without any significant controversy. It's mind-bowing, jaw-dropping territory.

I keep citing the book, but I can't recommend James Waller's book enough on the issue of how average humans can become socialized and habituated to commit acts of horrendous violence. Demonization is part of the process.

What I'm curious about from the promotional stills is the fact that none, or few,  of the women depicted have visible faces. I find that rather disturbing.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 11:52:11 AM EST

Talk to Action exists as a forum for people, such as yourself, who want to get beyond knee-jerk reactions, straw man arguments, and ad hominem attacks, and dialogue seriously about how to respond to Christian nationalism and other aspects of the religious right. As you say, it is a sign of progress that at least some conservative Christian leaders are listening.

by jhutson on Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 10:54:38 AM EST

for those who may be unaware. James Dobson is not a prominent child psychologist although he may market himself as such. Actually, he got his degree in "child development" which is not a clinical field. He soon thereafter came out with his book on child-rearing and the rest is history.

He doesn't have credibility in the psychological community - in part due to his twisted notions of discipline which include corporal punishment. This is the guy who beat the crap out of his dachshund, (Ziggy ?) - because the poor dog didn't go to his bed when the master ordered him to do so - and then bragged about it. His methods of child rearing are likely to produce either submissive, depressed kids or angry, violent kids.

His criticism of violent videos is extraordinarily hypercritical. Although he may appear avuncular on TV, he encapsulates the anger and hatred that marks the religious right.

by Psyche on Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 04:27:30 PM EST

James Dobson belt whipped that 12 pound miniature Dachshund to drive it from its warm perch, in the bathroom, on a fuzzy toilet seat cover.
He wrote up the incident in one of his books and rendered the incident as a titannic strugle between man and beast. Dobson has an authoritarian sensibility some might say.

I don't believe he's done any work in professional psychology since the 1970's.

I've read that strict corporal punishment of the sort Dobson espouses has been linked to the development of toiletting fetishes. Moving right along....

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 05:53:36 PM EST

First, let's look at it from a historical perspective. Christianity may have started out as a peaceful religion, but that's because it had no political power. Ever since it tasted power around the year 300, a majority of Christians have believed in using the power of the state, (including violence), to convert or eliminate non-Christians. This is true, to one degree or another, of most religions, but Christianity has the unfortunate distinction of being the most violent religion in world history. More people have been killed in the name of Jesus than any other deity. Perhaps it shouldn't be this way, but it undeniably is. It is certainly not true of all Christians, but it's true of the religion as a whole. We must fight it of course, but we must not think this game, (more importantly the attitudes behind it) are unique or unusual. Sadly, they are quite typical. So it does bother me when people call this kind of thing unchristian. They either don't know, or are purposely ignoring history.
Second, as stupid and reprehensible as this game is, I should point out that video games don't hurt people. Conservatives have been forever claiming that music, TV, movies, video games, anything that might be fun is dangerous. They have yet to produce any convincing proof of this. That's why they keep losing cases, like their idiotic lawsuit against Ozzy Osborne for supposedly releasing music that cause kids to commit suicide. I can say definitively that music doesn't cause suicide. I know. I've heard Britney Spears, Yoko Ono, and even John Ashcroft singing "Let The Eagle Soar". That's why I have no respect for this Thompson guy. He apparently has no problem with the equally violent and hate-filled Left Behind books, but now that it's a video game it's bad? However, I like the idea that the game is dividing these guys. I always remind Catholic dominionists that they're not going to be raptured, and Protestant dominionists that they belong to false churches. The more I can get these guys to hate each other the less time and energy they'll have to hate me.
Finally, when are Jon Stuart and Steven Colbert going to get on this?

by Dave on Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 05:35:52 PM EST
But, that's not Jonathan's point - if you read my comment upthread the issue here is of indoctrination, not video game violence.

There are much more violence games - more gory that is. But, there's a rather vicious ideological violence ( if you will ) that the game will impart that has nothing to do with behavioral violence but concerns the conditioning of children to accept eliminationist religious warfare.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 06:02:06 PM EST

I know folks here have other reasons for opposing the game. But Thompson's sole complaint against the game is its violent content. And pretend violence causing real violence is about on the same level as Sponge Bob causing homosexuality. And why the contradiction of supporting the book and not the game?

by Dave on Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 07:29:52 PM EST
After conservative Christian attorney Jack Thompson forwarded to Talk to Action his letter to Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Talk to Action interviewed him about why he forwarded the letter to this blog, and why he objects to the video game Left Behind: Eternal Forces. That interview will be posted soon, with updates. For now, it should be noted that Mr. Thompson's objections are not limited to the game's violent content. As Mr. Thompson indicates in the letter referenced above, he objects to the hypocrisy of a Christian publisher -- the one who published his own book against video game violence -- licensing a violent video game. He also calls attention to the fact that our nation is now engaged in a "war on terror," and that this game's content provides propagandistic talking points to, in his words, "radical Islamists." A third objection from Mr. Thompson is that this game is an example of "how pop culture has conformed the Church to its image." Those are significant distinctions that separate this game from other games, such as Doom or Grand Theft Auto.

by jhutson on Wed Jun 14, 2006 at 10:19:32 AM EST
Thanks for the further info--in this case it does sound like his objections are, in part, to the rampant spiritual-warfare theology promoted (which IMHO is actually a bit more reassuring).

Will be looking forward to hearing more on this.

by dogemperor on Wed Jun 14, 2006 at 05:21:50 PM EST

and he has told Talk to Action that he does not agree with Tim LaHaye's End Times theology as expressed in the Left Behind novels. So there is no contradiction.

by jhutson on Wed Jun 14, 2006 at 10:22:55 AM EST
This was actually just what I was waiting to hear from Mr. Thompson--that a big part of his objection was the whole "spiritual warfare" and dominion-theology stuff rife throughout the books and the game.  (The comparison of "spiritual warfare" promotion in dominionist circles to Taleban training-schools and Al Quaida's training camps is also a nice touch--seeing as most experts in spiritual abuse now consider Al Quaida the prototypical example of a "Koran-based coercive religious group" in precisely the same manner as, say, the Army of God would be considered a "terrorist Bible-based coercive religious group".)

I may still think him a bastard on some issues (sorry, the pro-free-speech side of me still isn't happy with some of his past efforts) but in this case he's at least being a principled bastard (I don't have to agree with folks even most of the time! :3).  

I don't think it's going to sway the Assemblies groups who will probably buy this game like hotcakes (then again, they've been steeped in "spiritual warfare" theology and LaHaye-esque premillenial dispensationalism since practically their origins 100 years ago), but maybe some of the more moderate dominionists who don't buy so much into the premillenial stuff--what Fredrick Carlson has termed "soft dominionists"--might think better of this, hearing a conservative Christian talking on how this is a Bad Thing All Around.

by dogemperor on Wed Jun 14, 2006 at 05:20:23 PM EST

... what the reaction would be if some militant Islamic group put out something like this. But this does rather give the lie to the propaganda that "their fundamentalists are different in kind from our fundamentalists."

Any chance of publishing this man's letter in full? I'd like to forward it to a few fundies I know who were quite exercised by sexy easter eggs in GTA, etc.

by TK on Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 01:02:02 PM EST

from the Talk to Action essay above.

by jhutson on Wed Jun 14, 2006 at 10:24:23 AM EST

In looking at the graphic at top, it says "Quick attacks are there strength."  

It's weird that they used bad grammar in a promo picture.  (For those of you in Rio Lindo, it should have said, "their strength.")

They've got the technology, but they're still pretty dumb - which makes this whole thing even scarier!

by Boeble on Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 04:52:50 PM EST

Theocratic parents who buy the game for their kids and are then appalled by the bad grammar.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 05:55:23 PM EST

Yeah, but it says Pre-Alpha version in the screenshot.  It's sort of like a rough cut in film/video.  There bound to be mistakes and things that need to be fixed in them  When the release vesrion is finished, I'd expect that the spelling mistake should be fixed.  

by JonathanChance on Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 07:26:37 PM EST
By now we can be sure that it will !   ;)

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 12:27:39 AM EST

Interesting depiction of that "Elite Force" combatant  with live dynomite in the bottom half of the Left Behind game screenshot.

There's just something about warring against my neighbor with explosives that brings me closer to Jesus' teachings.

by Tenoch on Mon Jun 12, 2006 at 09:19:57 PM EST

Didn't look especially like an  "elite" tactic to me. Yet, it also seemed rather vicious... Maybe the graphic evokes for me depictions of bomb-throwing anarchists of another era ?

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 12:31:54 AM EST

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