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Right Behind March 5, 2006

Posted by joshg in Christianity.
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Newsweek has a brief article on Left Behind Games‘ upcoming title, Left Behind: Eternal Forces.

Left Behind Games CEO Troy Lyndon, whose company went public in February, says the game’s Christian themes will grab the audience that didn’t mind gore in “The Passion of the Christ.” “We’ve thought through how the Christian right and the liberal left will slam us,” says Lyndon. “But megachurches are very likely to embrace this game.” Though it will be marketed directly to congregations, Forces will also have a secular ad campaign in gaming magazines.

I have a hard time being optimistic about this game, but I’ve never been a fan of the Left Behind phenomenon. It heavily promotes a particular interpretation of prophetic Scripture to a higher level of precision and detail than seems supported by the text. I have no problem with someone believing in a pre-trib rapture, but when a massive marketing machine forces that view to the public without even acknowledging that it’s debated amongst Christian scholars, it just makes me uncomfortable.

Plus, I’m a natural cynic when it comes to Christian commercialism. I love my local Christian bookstore as much as the next cheesy evangelical, but maybe that’s why it bothers me when I see a wall of sequels churned out from the Left Behind crew so quickly. I keep telling myself that maybe they’re just that sincere and passionate about what they write, and maybe that passion for their story is why they’re starting a games offshoot.

The problem is, Left Behind Games’ company website isn’t really helping me stay on the positive side. Here’s what the website has to say about their upcoming title’s gameplay:

LBG intends to develop games so as to include the same types of elements that have made interactive games popular for years and yet offer a less graphic experience to the sexual themes and gratuitous violence currently found in many games. We plan to make all games visually and kinetically appealing.

Not a whole lot to go on. However, the site does have marketing analysis on Left Behind brand awareness (on a page labelled “The Stories”, ironically), as well as a long list of facts about how much money is in the gaming industry. I’ll stop there before I start to sound really nitpicky, but let’s just say this isn’t helping my outlook here.

The screenshots and genre choice have me both curious and worried. Real-time strategy games can tell a good story, but the gameplay mechanics are (generally) focused on combat. I’m sure Eternal Forces will have an evangelizing message, but is the gameplay itself going to add to that message somehow, or will it be relegated to cutscenes and non-interactive sequences? Or worse, if the storyline doesn’t find time to justify paramilitary resistance as the morally correct line of action for a Christian remnant to take, will the gameplay actually end up detracting from the message?

Also, there’s a “Spirit” stat shown in the top status bar – is this something more ludologically creative (and theologically sound) than a mana bar for special powers? Trying to convey Christian spirituality through a game mechanic is a big question on my mind these days, so I’d like to see what approach the game takes. (Hopefully it doesn’t reduce spiritual warfare to just a thinly-veiled magic system.)

Criticism and doubts aside, it is interesting to see a big-budget, adult-oriented Christian game on the way. While I may not be the biggest fan, I’ll be on the lookout for a demo in the upcoming months.

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Comments

1. Nate - March 8, 2006

Brr, Left Behind. A classic example of completely Missing The Point theologically. The most bogglesome moment I have had so far in a Christian bookstore was seeing the, I kid you not, “Left Behind Worship CD”. An entire album of spiritual music inspired by a theological scenario in which the presence of the Holy Spirit has been withdrawn from the world. My irony meter shattered into a smoking wreck and I had to hide my giggles.

… but seriously, if dreaming of a world in which the presence of Christ is *gone* creates the slickest and most commercially successful product that “Christian” entertainment can come up with, then sheesh. There’s something very very very wrong there, in so many ways.

So far the most interesting thing I have seen, Christian gaming wise, has been Reiner Knizia’s cooperative “Lord of the Rings” boardgame.

2. joshg - March 10, 2006

Was the LotR board game created with Christianity in mind? Or do you just mean that as a derivative of Tolkien’s work, it ends up reflecting Christian values?

I haven’t tried it yet, but I read an essay by the game designer on the making of the game just yesterday. It sounded like a pretty fun and interesting game.

3. Nate - March 10, 2006

The LOTR game isn’t specifically Christian in a religious sense, no. I’m interested in it mainly because it has a game mechanic in which the players must work together for a common goal and against their own dark sides.

Tolkien is interestingly complex to me because he seems to be drawing on two very different mythic traditions – Christianity and a kind of Nordic/Saxon heroic battle mythology. There’s a tension that runs through the Rings trilogy between glorification of military conquest and rejection of military power. The Ring corrupts absolutely, but Aragorn must still wield the sword. I’m not convinced you can actually put those two ethics together coherently, and certainly most Rings (or any other fantasy) games seem to focus purely on tactical military engagements between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ imagined as equal and opposite, amoral, powers.

4. joshg - March 13, 2006

I’ll have to put that game on my must-buy list. I need more co-op play board games (and games in general), and this one sounds great.

I think there’s a deliberate balancing point between those two ethics in Tolkien’s work that forms a message of its own. One cannot relinquish all power, or you end up handing power over to those who would use it for evil. But you cannot lust after power, or your motives are impure and you become a tool of evil yourself. Aragorn shows his true nobility in this ethic by fearing the power he could lay claim to rather than lusting after it, but by not letting that fear overcome him when the time comes to put things right.

But I dunno, for some reason my mind is conditioned to look for moral truth at a balancing point between opposing evils, so it just seems to make good sense.


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