This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spiritualiy Forum on September 25, 2006. It also headlined the religion section on UPI’s main page that day.
In Southern California, the marketing empire that has arisen to promote Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ wildly successful Left Behind books has found a way to earn money by packaging religious bloodshed as entertainment in the form of a video game due out in November, just in time to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.
Over the weekend I played a demo version of the forthcoming game. It was, in a word, cheesy.
Not that I’m in a position to judge. I haven’t been anything like a serious consumer of video games since the days when I was dropping quarters into the bowels of Tron while my mother shopped at the supermarket, but I played Left Behind: Eternal Forces with a friend who makes a living in the gaming industry, and his assessment of the game was no better than mine: boring, but at least the graphics were lame.
Based on the Left Behind books, the game is set in New York City, after the rapture has taken most of the world’s Christians to heaven in advance of the great Tribulation. A remnant of Christians remains, however, and the job of the person playing the game is to convert and/or kill as many non-Christians as possible.
Although it is not particularly gory, the game is violent, and as much as any one of us might decry the idea of killing in the name of the Lord, most of us would agree that, in the context of a video game, a little religious warfare is a lot more fun than, say, witnessing on the streets of post-apocalyptic Manhattan, which is the game’s other option for interaction with the unredeemed.
Sometimes warfare and witness go hand in hand. At one point in the game we found ourselves defending a church building by singing praises to God while the Forces of Evil attacked with machine guns. And, glory be, it worked. After enduring that kind of silliness, who is not going to want to pick up an electronic Glock and start popping caps into heathen backsides? All in the love of Jesus, of course.
Journeying deeper into the Left Behind: Eternal Forces’ surreal gamescape, my friend and I lost several games when our character joined the forces of darkness after coming under the influence of “screaming guitars” and the rhythms of rap. Interestingly, a similar fate awaited our man after he shot an unoffending civilian. That in the game’s twisted paradigm secular music and cold-blooded murder seem to have the same effect upon the soul is shocking.
Startling too, is the role assigned to women in Left Behind: Eternal Forces. As the game progresses, players must train converts in strategically useful occupations. These include “disciples,” who evangelize, “soldiers,” who fight, “musicians,” whose hymn singing is better than firearms in combat, “builders,” who remodel buildings so that they serve the needs of the Lord’s army, and “medics,” who keep everyone healthy. It is only in this latter capacity that the sisters may serve, and when they convert their appearance changes such that they lose all sex appeal.
Regardless of production value and theological content, Left Behind: Eternal Forcces will sell a lot of copies. Left Behind authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have sold some sixty-two million books, and the strength of the Left Behind brand means that the game will makes its way into a significant number of American households. Oddly, the game’s market is comprised primarily of American Evangelical Christians, a group of folks who are quick to speak of Islam as a violent and misogynistic religion. This irony doubtless will be lost on most of the game’s consumers, and that is a shame.
Violence against unbelievers and the subjugation of women are not evils particular to any one religion. They are human problems that are made manifest in religion with tragic regularity, and no religious tradition is exempt. The glorification of religious warfare played out in Left Behind: Eternal Forces is a painful reminder that Christianity has much within itself that must be purged before it can claim to manifest the Biblical vision of God’s peaceable Kingdom.
After some time being alternately bored and offended by Left Behind’s demo game, we quit the application on my friend’s PC, but before the program would let us go we were shown a split screen depicting images of two armies, the forces of good and the forces of evil. We were asked to make a choice between the two. After playing the game, I’m not sure which is which.
P.S. For a haiku review of Left Behind: Eternal Forces click here.