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The Pray Button April 13, 2006

Posted by joshg in Christianity, prayer.

Associated Press’ ASAP has more coverage here on the upcoming Left Behind: Eternal Forces game. It discusses some apparent controversy on the game’s violence levels, which are interesting but not really my biggest concern. Sadly, they quote Jack Thompson about the issue, which has roughly the same effect on the debate as Godwin’s Law has on Usenet threads. So let’s just skip that part and continue near the end of the article.

However, enticing believers with movies, books or video games is only half the picture. Great sales or high numbers could mean people just like a good game.

“Whether it helps them actually live out their faith is a different question,” said Lynn Schofield Clark, an assistant research professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who wrote an upcoming book called “Religion, Media, and the Marketplace.”

Lyndon, the Left Behind Games CEO, said parents who have seen the game are thrilled. They say it will instill good Christian values in their children — and they’re especially excited about the “pray” button.

The “pray” button, part of the spiritual warfare aspect which I had been curious about earlier, is apparently used “to strengthen your troops in combat”. From the sounds of things, I guess this means I’ll be disappointed. It sounds roughly equivalent to the traditional CRPG “prayer of blessing” mechanic that’s been done in the past. Prayer becomes a generic bonus to skill rolls that gives you increased luck in doing whatever it is you happen to be doing, with no sign of actual communication and no chance that God might disapprove and withhold that +1 to attack.

Now, as much as I dislike the Rapture Wars theme, I’m not denying that prayer and combat come together in the Bible, or the stories where God would bless Israel’s forces to win. But nothing about the usual “blessing” mechanic captures, for me, the active role that God played in the Biblical stories. God didn’t just bless whatever David (and other notable O.T. warriors) felt like doing in battle – David waited until the Lord guided him, and David obeyed those plans even when they were counter-intuitive. (Who waits for a sound in the trees before charging into battle?) And in those times when Israel went to battle against God’s wishes, no amount of “Bless Troops” would help them.

This is still partial information, so who knows, maybe there’s more to it than it sounds. But I have my doubts that “pressing the ‘pray’ button makes young people feel closer to God,” as much as it could if it were given more meaning.

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1. .mwj - April 28, 2006

I agree that it is difficult to capture all that is meant by the concepts of prayer and praying with a single button. However, I think that the difficulty of representing something as spiritually significant as prayer in a (relatively) simple way must be appreciated.

It may hearken back to the old ludology vs narratology debate: would you rather have a) some generic die roll added to your skills, or b) be railroaded into moving your troops in front of the trees, after which you’d be shown a cut scene of the army as they “hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees” (2 Samuel 5:24), and then suddenly have a bunch of extra troops appear, or the battle instantly won?

I guess the deeper question is how to balance the need for simple game mechanics against the desire to imbue those mechanics with a sense of deeper spiritual meaning. Not an easy task.

2. joshg - April 29, 2006

I suppose the title of this post is a bit misleading, as well. It’s not really that I think it’s patently wrong to represent the act of prayer with a single button. I’m more concerned about the effect it has on the game, and what that communicates about prayer. Ideally it would reflect that prayer is a conversation, somehow, but obviously that’s hard. But ultimately what gets under my skin is when “prayer” becomes a tool that you can control. Even making it something of a gamble would do more to reflect that prayer isn’t just about getting what you want.

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