Getting it Right about Left Behind Games
A few years ago, Talk to Action
led the way in breaking
the news and extending the analysis of the video game based on Tim LaHaye's Left Behind
series of novels. Set in New York, members of a Christian militia called the Tribulation Force, comprising people who had been "left behind" after the Rapture, battle it out in the streets of New York City against the forces of the Anti-Christ, who, as in the novels, is the Secretary General of the United Nations.
The plan was to market the game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces, to and through evangelical churches during the 2006 Christmas shopping season. Then on Christmas morning, the glowing faces of children gathered 'round the tree would be handed a game to prepare them for a religious war. It was bad enough that the game taught children the ideology of end-times religious war, but for many the devil was in the gruesome details. Indeed, the game turned on a feature that was best described as "convert or be killed."
Now Left Behind Games apparently hopes to revive sales of the game. But first they have to revise history, and their first score was the the business magazine Quartz -- as well as the News Editor of Salon.com who quoted from the Quartz story:
Almost immediately, game reviewers, the media and various religiously-affiliated non profits declared that the game rewarded players for killing characters who did not convert to Christianity. While widely reported, this turned out to not be true.
In fact, it was not only true, but was a critical aspect of the game. It was reported by Talk to Action and others at the time, although Quartz found one gamer, writing three years later who disagreed. End of story?
Let's set the record straight.
The convert or be killed aspect of the game was obvious, as jhutson reported
in his blockbuster series.
Greg Bauman of WarCry Network also played the real-time strategy (RTS) game Left Behind: Eternal Forces (LB:EF) and reviewed it:
The heart and soul of any RTS game is the real-time combat system, and sure enough, LBG's experience pulls through to create a very compelling schema. Similar to other wartime RTS sims, LB:EF makes use of military units like apache helicopters, tanks, footmen and snipers.
One thing many gamers will likely find disturbing about Left Behind, though, is the black-and-white polarization of good and evil portrayed. The faithful are good, and the undecided are (decidedly) bad or evil. 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.
There you have it, from another game reviewer who played Left Behind: Eternal Forces and concluded that this game is about converting or killing New Yorkers.
He further explained in another post in the series:
Okay, let's go there right now. Let's go right to the official Left Behind Games site, straight to its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page, and get right to the key questions that it poses, and see how the game's creators answer:
Does anyone get killed in the game?
People do perish in our game just like some do in the book series. This is a real strategy game, so the gamer controls his forces just like you do in chess game [sic]."...
Are guns used by Christians against non-Christians? Why or why not?
The storyline in the game begins just after the Rapture has occurred - when all adult Christians, all infants, and many children were instantly swept home to Heaven and off the Earth by God. The remaining population - those who were left behind - are then poised to make a decision at some point. They cannot remain neutral. Their choice is to either join the AntiChrist - which is an imposturous one world government seeking peace for all of mankind, or they may join the Tribulation Force - which seeks to expose the truth and defend themselves against the forces of the AntiChrist."
Here you have it. The game's creators say, in its web-based marketing material, that the New Yorkers who populate their game "cannot remain neutral." They must choose either Christ or the AntiChrist. That is, they must choose Christ (give up their Judaism, Catholicism, liberalism, Hinduism, et cetera, and be converted to a particular brand of conservative Evangelical Christianity, as narrowly described in the Left Behind novels and depicted in the Left Behind graphic novels) or... die. Be killed. Be taken out on the streets of New York with extreme prejudice.
The aim of the game is to convert or eliminate all your opponents, according to the game's designers. That's how the game's designers describe the game, and that's how they play the game. To win, a player must convert or eliminate all opponents. And by the game's logic, those who refuse to convert are necessarily opponents -- there is no neutral ground, say the designers.
When Talk to Action posted The Purpose Driven Life Takers (Part 1) on Memorial Day 2006, the following description was included:
If you happen to blow away a neutral party - and collateral damage is inevitable in the End of Days - then you will lose "Spirit Points". But you can power back up with merely a brief timeout for prayer, or by converting one of New York's terror-stricken citizens.
That's accurate. The description is based on a Los Angeles Times article that is linked from Part 1 in this series. This is the same article that talks about demons feasting on Christians.
There was indeed, as Quartz reported world wide media coverage (although Quartz linked to only one story), and the game was denounced by Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups (although Quartz only links to a press release of the Council on Islamic Relations (CAIR).
I quoted from a study by the Anti Defamation League at the time:
The entire ADL analysis is worth a read, but I want to highlight one important point made very well. The game's manufacturer, and apologists in the gaming community, seek to treat the game as if it is isolated from the ideological context of the Left Behind series on which it is based, and the main market for the game, which is primarily people who are fans of the Left Behind books, or who share a similar theology.
... the inclusion of a "Left Behind" book in the package for "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" creates a direct link between the two. Together they promote the overall message of an exclusivist religious system that considers the proselytization of Jews to be an imperative. This theology portrays itself as the only path to salvation. And Jews, people of any other faith, or those of no faith who do not convert before it's too late, are destined to suffer horrible deaths.
The "Eternal Forces" game pits the "good guys" a Christian religious militia, battling the "bad guys," called the Global Community Peacekeepers - a United Nations-like world army led by the anti-Christ. LaHaye argues that the video game is "designed to be a classic battle between good and evil," adding that since there is no "gratuitous" blood and gore, its tale of the hellish demise of non-believers, will actually "perpetuate positive values."
The game, like the rest of the Left Behind franchise, mirrors another troubling aspect of the Christian Supremacist movement in the United States by portraying Christians who believe in their specific brand of theology as a put-upon minority who are being persecuted by larger and better equipped evil forces.
Unlike the ADL, Quartz left unmentioned the horrific context of the underlying ideology of the game and the novels. Fortunately, Chip Berlet authored an in depth series of posts at Talk to Action which he summarized in a post titled: "LaHaye and Jenkins: Why is the Criticism Left Behind?"
When White supremacists post websites demonizing Jews and gay people, they are condemned for the hatemongers they are.
When leaders of the armed citizens militias and their allies in the Patriot Movement in the 1990s urged their followers to form anti-government underground cells and battle global cooperation and the United Nations, they were condemned as dangerous guerrillas spreading divisive conspiracy theories.
When Timothy LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins write the Left Behind series of novels containing the same type of bigotry, they sell 70 million books and are interviewed by clueless journalists who use a double standard by not confronting LaHaye and Jenkins for spreading hate and conspiracism as well as promoting religious violence as a heroic duty.
The Talk to Action series about the original version of the Left Behind video game began in May of 2006 -- and resulted in worldwide outrage and concern. The company made some changes prior to the pre-Christmas release of the game that may have softened the convert or die aspect -- including the gratuitous "Praise the Lord" exclamation that sounded when someone on the anti-Christ side was felled. While there is reason to doubt the extent of the revisions, even if these issues were entirely cleaned up, they were never the only concerns, and many other disturbing problems remained that continued to generate well-justified opposition. These aspects are unlikely to ever change.