August 30, 2006
Praise the Lord, Pass the Ammo: A new video game uses violence and murder to spread the love of Christ
One of the reoccurring debates on this blog has been whether cultural forms used in ministry are neutral, or do forms possess inherent value that may or may not be compatible with God's kingdom. For example, Andy Stanley shared his conviction that all leadership principles are created by God, and are therefore available for use in the church. I disagreed, arguing that some popular leadership models contradict biblical values. And Shane Hipps has written about the way technology and video preaching impacts the message we are seeking to convey.
Invariably, when the debate over the neutrality of cultural forms arises many people quote 1 Corinthians 9:22 ("I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some"). Well, a video game producer is poised to test your utilitarian philosophy of ministry.
The game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces, is set for release in October, and its already coming under fire from both conservative and liberal Christians. Set in present-day New York City, the game pits the army of the Antichrist against born again Christians. Players are rewarded for winning converts or killing those who ally with the Antichrist.
Players may also switch sides and fight for the Antichrist with an army of cloven-hoofed demons that feast on the faithful. One of the game's creators finds the "prayer button" particularly nifty. Before going into holy war, a Christian may pray to boost their "Spirit Points." Honestly, I'm not making this up - I wish I was.
Tim LaHaye, author of the Left Behind books, says the video game was created to reach a new population with the gospel. "We hope teenagers like the game," he said. "Our real goal is to have no one left behind." So far Christian video games have been unsuccessful at breaking into the very lucrative youth gaming market, but Eternal Forces' co-creator Jeffery S. Frichner is hopeful. "It's got all the Christian stuff, and it's still got all the cool stuff."
Troy Lyndon, the CEO of Left Behind Games, who licensed the trademark from Tyndale House Publishers, says the game will probably appeal to the same audience that was undisturbed by the violence and gore in "The Passion of the Christ." Lyndon says he anticipates those on the liberal left will criticize Left Behind: Eternal Forces, "but megachurches are very likely to embrace this game." And they will be the main marketing outlets for the product.
Another spokesperson from Left Behind Games, Greg Bauman, says the company's goal is to "become the world's leading independent developer and publisher of quality interactive entertainment products that appeal to mainstream gamers and perpetuate Christian values" [empasis added].
Mark Taylor, president on Tyndale House, publisher of the Left Behind books, says: "We are careful to guard the content of our own products, and we are working with LBG to ensure that the content of their game is appropriate. For example, there is no blood and gore in Left Behind: Eternal Forces. There is a certain level of violence inherent in the story, just as there is a certain level of violence in the Left Behind books.... The game is designed to be a classic battle between good and evil, but it does not gratuitously depict violence or death."
Although the game's violence is not gory Jack Thompson, a Miami attorney and critic of video game violence, is quoted in a Washington Post article. He says the game "breaks my heart." He continues, "The game is about killing people for their lack of faith in Jesus. The Gospel is not about killing people in the name of the Lord, and Jesus made that very clear."
The same article quotes Heath Summerlin, a Christian gamer who believes Eternal Forces "could reach a broad spectrum of people who wouldn't necessarily be exposed to the [Left Behind] books or go to church." Yes, but reach them with what message? Convert or we'll kill you? The message is more al Qaeda than agape; more Bin Laden than Bible. It makes me wonder if anyone who developed the game has ever actually read the New Testament.
The popular notion that forms are neutral, that the medium can change as long as the message is the same, that we can and should use any means necessary to spread the gospel - has finally reached the level of absurdity. Did anyone stop and consider that maybe packaging the gospel of love in the form of a murderous video game is poor brand management? Or was the game produced simply with profitability and nothing else in mind?
Perhaps this is the wake-up call the church in America has needed. The ends don't justify the means. The medium does impact the message. And proof texting 1 Corinthians 9:22 is a sad excuse for a philosophy of ministry.