Thoughts from the Left Behind: EF demo January 6, 2007Posted by joshg in Christianity, mainstream games, prayer.
I’m back from a nice Christmas spent with family, and I finally tried out the Left Behind: Eternal Forces demo. I guess it felt like an obligation at this point to at least try it, but the demo didn’t seem to pull any surprises on my point of view.
The prayer mechanic worked as I’d heard, and I have mixed feelings about it. It’s a simple model of both prayer and the effects of prayer, which manages to convey some interesting messages. Units need to pray regularly to keep from falling away into neutrality, which expresses how a Christian needs to keep in active contact with God to maintain their faith. (I like this.) On the other hand, prayer never actually does anything external to the unit in question – ie. no healing prayer, no asking for divine intervention. Admittedly, this is hard to map into game rules without turning prayer into a magic-like guaranteed divine action.
(A whole lot more below the break.)
Similarly, the ways you influence other units’ “spirit” value are sometimes good, sometimes weird. From an RTS game play perspective, I’ve always been a fan of having the ability to convert or steal enemy units. But having a small army of worship leaders standing outside of a church to neutralize attacking enemy soldiers is just, well, surreal. Is this because it’s an implausible portrayal, or am I simply unable to process the inclusion of peaceful resistance as an effective RTS game mechanic? Frankly, it’s hard for me to tell right now. Perhaps it feels like it fails to convey a plausible model of the world because of the lack of character emotion. Peaceful resistance turning away an attacking soldier feels like it should have an emotional impact, whereas these soldiers simply stop and drift away randomly.
The general model of having musicians exert spiritual influence is an interesting way to express how music and spirituality combine in the Christian faith. The use of music to align people in worship to God is both a tradition in modern churches and in the Bible. Musicians often led the way to battle, and were called on to prepare a prophet to inquire of God. So I appreciate music having a spiritual effect, but the degree to which it affects people just seems odd to me.
Converting units one at a time through one-on-one evangelism in the game is a bit more clearly mappable to real-life Christianity. Again, though, there’s a sense that this isn’t so much about encouraging people to make a choice so much as coercing them to your side. A neutral character who is being actively recruited will, as far as I’ve seen, never say no. What does this say about Christian evangelism? Is successful evangelism simply battering away at people with The Truth until they give in? It seems like more of the usual guilt / responsibility complex that evangelical Christianity has in general, where one is led to feel responsible when unbelievers reject the Gospel. (Doesn’t really fit Jesus’ advice to “shake the dust from your feet” afterwards, in my opinion.)
A common thread running through my mixed reactions seems to be the all-encompassing “spirit” stat. By taking all spiritual effects and reducing them to a single numbered stat, different concepts are being lumped into the same category which perhaps should have been kept distinct. The effects of musicians makes sense when you view “spirit” as an indicator of the character’s emotional or spiritual state – are they bogged down with anger, fear, etc expressed by the music of the bad guys, or are they being emotionally and spiritually lifted up by positive music that draws their focus on God? However, that same spirit meter is being modified by preaching, and is the deciding factor in whether or not a character believes your message. This conflates the usual definitions of “spirit” with one’s rational worldview, something that is affected by one’s spirit but is certainly not identical. I’m not sure what the answer to my concerns is. Splitting the Spirit stat into Spirit and Mind, maybe?
I think the best way to sum up the impression I get of “spiritual warfare” through these mechanics is, unfortunately, nothing more than psychological warfare. Prayer is an internal, psychological improvement without any external effect; singing and preaching can affect others, but these mechanics map just as easily onto a psychological explanation as a spiritual one. Why is a rampaging demon in bad-guy multiplayer the only sign of a distinctly spiritual reality in the game design? Why can’t you pray for people who aren’t within earshot? Where’s God in this game?
The violence aspect is weird-feeling as well, but I don’t feel I’ve played enough of the game to say a whole lot on it. Playing only a small subset of the overall single-player game makes it hard to tell if the game’s plot does a good job of justifying why this Tribulation Force should have soldiers on its side. The juxtaposition of worship leaders and trained soldiers feels weird and off, but that might just be a side effect of the game portraying an end-times fiction which I’ve always found to feel weird and off. Is this sort of “fight to defend the last remnant to keep the Truth alive” stuff just as present in the LB novels as it is in the game?