Grand Theft Armageddon: The Streets of Nazareth
When faith-based organizations discuss the topic of videogames, it is typically a critique of the level of violence, not a discussion of how to use violent games as a tool to further their cause. Check that assumption at the door and prepare yourself for the October 16th release of the multimedia adaptation of ordained Evangelical Minister Tim LaHaye’s ‘Left Behind’ series of books. The game, ‘Left Behind: Eternal Forces’, is based on a fictional narrative taking place during the Earth’s gradual destruction; as imagined through a particular interpretation (known as the Dispensationalist interpretation) of the Bible’s last and most disputed chapter, Revelations. Essentially the game pits a series of militant born-again Christian characters against all the non-believers who have been left to fend for themselves after God recalled all the devout Christians to Heaven. New York City is the backdrop where a vengeful God unleashes a series of plagues and other natural disasters to stimulate chaos amongst the remaining infidels, and our heroes are armed with a vast selection of real-life American military weaponry.
Having played the demo version of the game, I would describe it as appalling. The game action consists of a slaughter extraordinarily comparable to the scenes of violence that motivated countless interest groups to condemn the ‘Grant Theft Auto’ series. Except in ‘Grand Theft Auto’ you get points regardless of the religious affiliation of your victim; whereas in ‘Eternal Forces’ it is only the killing of non-Christians that scores you points for the afterlife. Although, Left Behind Games Inc. CEO Troy Lyndon points out on the game’s website that in fact there is no actual blood on the screen. He is right of course, the game allows you to unload a bazooka round into the chest of your victim, but does not allow you to observe the crimson-colored reality of human destruction. So why leave out the blood? My guess is that it would be too much for the game’s creators to acknowledge human traits in their non-Christian antagonists, even at an anatomical level.
So, is this video game strictly another Benny Hinn-style money grab in the name of literal Bible translation? Is there another motive for its release? The answers are yes and yes. The mission statement of the game developer explicitly states their goal as being to create “products that perpetuate positive values and appeal to mainstream and faith-based audiences, while remaining committed to increasing shareholder value.” It cites the recent boom in gospel music sales and the box office success of The Passion of the Christ as proof of the demand for what the Wall Street Journal referred to as “God Games”. Given the attempt to entice investor dollars, there is no questioning the existence of a profit motive. Throw in the inclusion of FOX-TV and AOL Time-Warner (CNN’s parent company) executives on your advisory board and one also detects the stench of a political agenda.
What is the agenda? Well it appears to be an attempt to associate all small ‘l’ liberal ideals with evil. Dispensationalists like LaHaye believe that the Antichrist referred to by John of Patmos in Revelations will take the form of a peace-seeking politician. In short, the game tells of a world where a Romanian politician named Nicolae Carpathia rises to Secretary-General of the UN on a platform of liberal ideals such as multilateral problem solving and freedom of choice. He then organizes an authoritarian world government backed by a strong army that he engages in a violent campaign against the Christian world. Nicolae transforms from a champion of liberal rights to a global tyrant. This is a poorly veiled attempt to warn the gamer of the devastation that ideas like multilateralism and cooperation lead to; but the vehicle for the claim has a major weakness. It relies on the gamer’s acceptance of one particularly radical interpretation of the English translation of one man’s dream experienced roughly two-thousand years ago; and their denial of the real-life devastation that realist ideas like unilateralism and competition are causing every day. However, this weakness will most likely go unnoticed given that video games are clearly a medium that is aimed at children, the most susceptible demographic. Therefore the creators can skip logical reasoning and win hearts and minds simply by illustrating in 3-D link between the application of liberal concepts and the Earth’s destruction. The right to free expression has been repealed in the past when it has been used to incite hatred. Not only does this game clearly incite hatred, but violence is suggested as the inevitable means for solving an imagined problem. We should not ask a child to infer the political bias of those writing the game’s storyline and discern its inherent ideology; but with no sign of a hindrance to the release of the game, it appears it is the kids that will be left behind.