Controversial videogames are nothing new; the disgusting “Ethnic Cleansing” would have your skinhead or Klansman on-screen persona kill as many black and Jewish people as possible. “Manhunt”, banned in New Zealand, Australia and Germany and classified 18+ in many other countries, features extreme violence, as does “Phantasmagoria”, also banned in Australia and Germany, which adds violent rape to the mix. There are many others.
To this list I would add one more: “Left Behind: Eternal Forces” which is based on the bewilderingly successful “Left Behind” series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B Jenkins, (reputed to have sold over 63 million copies world wide). “Left Behind: Eternal Forces” is a game with a message and its message, as perverse in its own way as that of “Ethnic Cleansing”, is equally disturbing.
Set in a near-future New York shortly after the Rapture and before the second coming of Christ, “Left Behind: Eternal Forces” lets you command the Christian “Tribulation Force”, a paramilitary organisation. Your enemies – grey, faceless and dehumanised – are the “Global Community” forces of the anti-Christ, a barely disguised UN. Your mission is simple: convert or kill. There is no middle ground, neutrality is not an option, you are either with us or against us.
Although the game literature declines to address the issue of exactly who is “left behind”, logic decrees that if only good Christians get the call, those “left behind” are sinners and unbelievers. Those who come to this game following the books, however, will be in no doubt whatsoever that this means Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Unitarians, gays … you get the point.
That this game is set in New York, one of the most racially and culturally diverse places on earth, is hardly coincidental. Instead, it can only be seen as a blatant, insensitive and cynical attempt to evoke the memory of September 11, 2001 – screenshots from the game show ambulances with “911” emblazoned on their roofs; the majority of real NYC ambulances have either the Red Cross or the six pointed paramedic star – and promote fear and the Dominionist world view.
Again, its message is simple: we are living through the End of Days, and sinners and unbelievers are those you should fear and be prepared to kill if they refuse to come round to your point of view. A point of view delivered at gunpoint.
Supporters of this game will no doubt claim that killing is merely incidental and any “unnecessary” killing is penalised, thereby showing you the consequences of your actions. This is true but the remedy is simple: kill, pray, convert, and you are free to kill again.
This nasty piece of fundamentalist propaganda, aiming for a 13+ Teen rating, will immerse often-impressionable children in a world where prejudice and bigotry are rewarded by spiritual salvation. Ironically, it also exposes some of the hypocrisies of the Christian fundamentalist right, who are often the most vocal in their condemnation of other violent video games.
These criticisms contend, amongst other things, that children, may become obsessed or addicted, that they are encouraged to “act out”, or become emotionally hardened to violence or isolated and antisocial. Whether we agree with these accusations or not they cannot have it both ways.
Jonathan Hutson asks “If violence, coarseness, and materialism are serious social problems, then what purpose is served by exploiting a global pastoral network to mass market a game about mass killing, whether in the name of Christ or the Antichrist?” It’s a good question, and one which the Christian right is struggling to answer. Guardian Unlimited