Christian video game creates a stir
'Left Behind,' a virtual battle for the souls of unbelievers, draws criticism for its 'us vs. them' view of the world.
"In one cataclysmic moment, millions around the world disappear." Not a bad intro for a dramatic video game. It turns out those millions have been "raptured" into heaven by Jesus. The player's job is to battle to save the ones left behind on earth from the global forces of evil, which are controlled by the Antichrist.Skip to next paragraph
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The hitch, though, in this new game aimed at teens, is who constitutes those "forces of evil": activists, secularists, non-Christian rock musicians, and others who resist "recruitment" into the "forces of good" – the believers in a particular kind of Christianity.
Based on the popular Left Behind series of apocalyptic novels, "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" is being marketed for Christmas giving through churches and big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart.
But it has created a stir among Christian, Jewish, and activist groups who disagree with the fundamentalist theology the game presents. They say it will teach children religious intolerance and an "us vs. them" view of the world that is both dangerous for the country and contrary to basic Christian teachings. The game's producers disagree.
The real-time strategy (RTS) game takes place in New York City. "You are sent on a spiritual and military mission to convert people, and nobody is allowed to remain neutral," says Eric Elnes, copresident of Crosswalk America, a progressive Christian group, who says he's explored the game extensively. "You lose spirit points if you kill somebody, but you can hit the prayer button to restore the points."
Mr. Elnes's organization has joined with other Christian groups to petition the game's producers to withdraw it from the market. At the same time, two groups that seek to counter the religious right – the Campaign to Defend the Constitution and Christian Alliance for Progress – have written to Wal-Mart requesting that the PC-based game be taken off the shelves.
"The premillennial theology says there will be religious warfare in our lifetime, and people will be targeting fellow Americans," says Frederick Clarkson, of Talk2Action.org. He worries gamers could come to accept that script for the future.
The game's producers see it very differently. At a time when young people seem less inclined toward Christianity, they say they're trying to reach Christian teens with an alternative to darker video games like "Grand Theft Auto," and hopefully draw other gamers to the faith.
"About 92 percent of kids today are playing games," says Jeffrey Frichner, president of Left Behind Games. "We had the vision to create a game with a positive moral message based on biblical values that parents could embrace and discuss with their kids." He says the game promotes prayer and worship, and deals with "questions of eternal importance."
Producers have spoken with their Crosswalk critics, and Frichner says they'll provide a patch to address one concern.
A review on a website of the conservative group, Focus on the Family, endorses "Eternal Forces" as "the kind of game Mom and Dad can actually play with Junior." Other reviews speak of fairly good production values, but say the game is unwieldy to play and tend to pan it.
The controversy arises largely because the game follows the Left Behind novels, Mr. Frichner says. The 14-book series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins has sold more than 63 million copies, including 13 million of The Kids series, a spinoff for children 10 and older. "So we felt we had a bulls-eye market there for the game," he adds.
Dr. LaHaye, one of the most influential leaders in fundamentalist Christianity, conceived the novels as a way to spread a theology called premillennial dispensationalism. First promoted by 19th-century Englishman John Nelson Darby, the theology interprets portions of the Bible as predicting a two-stage return of Jesus.