Auto-Proselytizing Mode: Activate!

Recently, Left Behind Games released its controversial Christian-themed real-time strategy (RTS) game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces. Having been a one-time video game addict turned web geek, I decided to download the demo version (available here) and see what it was all about.

For those not familiar with what "real-time strategy" means, it's not very different from a game of checkers or chess, but all the pieces can move at the same time, restricted only by the speed and accuracy of the player and unit availability. Those more familiar with gaming will recognize similarities to other RTS games like "Age of Empires."

Unfortunately, the demo version isn't complete enough to give a full review of its potential theological components. However, even the demo version provides enough insight to give this game a firm "thumbs down" in that department.

The unit types (people) available in the demo include:

  • Friends - Untrained individuals.

  • Builders - Can renovate buildings.

  • Advanced Builders - Can upgrade previously renovated buildings.

  • Soldiers - Self-explanatory.

  • Medics - Self-explanatory.

  • Singer/Musician - Can raise the spirit of nearby units, possibly turning enemy units into neutral units ready for conversion.

  • Disciples - Recruits neutral units into the Tribulation Force (and Christianity).

Christians, Agnostics, and Atheists, Oh My!

Units are divided into three groups, Tribulation Forces, Global Peacekeepers, and Neutrals. Which team a unit is on depends on how many "spirit points" that unit has. The point spread is as follows: Tribulation Forces - 60 to 100 pts; Neutrals - 36 to 59 pts; Global Peacekeepers - 0 to 35 pts.

Spirit points are raised through prayer and the special abilities of some friendly units (such as the Singer/Musician). They are lowered by combat and very slowly over time. If a Tribulation Force member unit falls below 60 points, it becomes Neutral and loses all training, though it may be recruited again and retrained.

Conversion takes place through the actions of the Disciple. Once conversion is successful (as it always is, of course), the unit then takes on the appearance of an untrained friend ready for training. Neutrals are easy to recruit, though it is also possible to recruit a member of the Global Peacekeepers. The latter simply requires more time, and the unit transitions from evil-doer to Neutral first.

One option available to each trained unit that has a special ability (such as Disciples, Singers, Medics, and Soldiers) is that its use of that ability can be set to automatic. This has some amusing applications. I didn't check to see if the function worked for each of the above units, but I did try it with the Disciples, hoping to see some auto-proselytizing going on. Unfortunately, nothing happened. Perhaps, as the author of this Gamespot review quipped, the "artificial intelligence isn't as committed to Christ as you might expect."

Kill 'em All, Let God Sort 'em Out - Sort of...

In fairness to LB Games it does appear that there is no gore or gratuitous violence. Of the few missions available in the demo version, only one is overtly violent, and even that one is defensive in character. The full version may be different, but it appears that the designers intended this game to be played as a defensive struggle. Playing time appears to be mostly spent converting people and buildings to the Tribulation Force.

During one of the tutorials that involved soldier creation, I had my soldiers commit a murder. That is, I had them shoot a Neutral unit. The consequence was a loss of 30 spirit points and immediate mission failure. Prior to the attack, I had spent some time raising the spirit points of the unit through extensive prayer. When the attack commenced, the spirit points stood at a solid 100. Had I not been in the midst of completing a mission, is it possible that the only consequence would have been the loss of spirit points easily regained?

There did appear to be some inconsistencies with consequences, however. For a control measure, I had one of my untrained units physically assault a Neutral unit. Though the digitized little character in sweater and slacks flailed away, punching and kicking the seemingly unaffected female (!), there were no consequences at all.

Here we can also see obfuscation on the part of the CEO of LB Games when he says, "...never does a player click a key or press a button to actuate a first-person violent act" (his statement is linked to below). The distinction is, of course, "first-person."

Come Get Your Stereotypes!

In any game, some homogeny is to be expected. Video games like this are usually predictated on the notion of easy identification of friendly units and types. Therefore, the appearance of the characters (males wearing slacks, females wearing skirts) is nothing but minutia and can be forgiven. However, gender stereotypes are definitely present.

The game makes the clear distinction between male and female units in a couple ways. First, male Friend units are just labeled "Friend," whereas female units are labeled "Friend Woman." This distinction carries over once the unit is trained. With the appearance factor, it seems redundant to do so unless the designers intended the distinction to be important. Second, females are limited to which training is available. Female units can become Singer/Musicians, Medics, or Disciples. They are not permitted to be Soldiers, Builders, Priests, or Doctors (the latter are only available in the full game).

During the third tutorial, the game instructed me to have a male unit enter a church to become a Disciple. Why it asked for a male I don't know, because when I had a female unit enter the training was still available. My guess is that the designers wanted to reinforce the idea of men being in a leadership role.

Perhaps due to limitations in the design engine there is no racial diversity whatsoever; everyone is Caucasian. However, there may be some stereotypes here as well. According to the review linked to above, many of the enemy characters have Arabic or African names. Also, it may be noted that the only "person of color" to appear in the opening video (same as the trailer located to the right of the review linked to above) shows up as the narrator describes those who have rejected God.

Get A Clue!

With the successful completion of a mission, the player is given the option to continue, play again, or "Get Found Clue." These clues are probably the most egregious example of Christian propaganda in the game. Though I only saw three of these so-called clues (there are more missions and maybe more clues, but the game has a tendency to lock up - bugs), each was an annoying list of Christian talking points with a backing track by a popular contemporary Christian artist.

One of these clues described the human eye as the most intricate device ever conceived (or something to that effect), and could not have come about without a designer - God. Another attacked Evolution more directly, reinforcing the false dichotomy between Creationism and Evolution and making the non-existent distinction between micro- and macro-evolution. The last one I saw talked about how archaeology continues to validate the Bible. Any other clues are probably much the same.

These clues are probably what the CEO was talking about when he said "...the players' objective is to find ‘tribulation clues', which include Bible mysteries, codes and fascinating and eternally relevant information." In other words, the job of the game is to proselytize and/or reinforce existing faith.

Other Annoyances

Every single unit in the game has been provided with a background story, which is a unique feature in a video game. However, after reading about two dozen of these, I noticed a subtle difference; the stories attached to Tribulation Force units were slightly more upbeat than their Neutral counterparts. It appears that the Christian perception that believers are happier than their non-theist counterparts is projected into the game this way. Also, it might be significant that none of the Neutral units I checked included a secular individual, though there were several of these on the Global Peacekeeper side. All of the Neutral units are simply undecided with regard to faith.

Some of the dialogue is contrived, and little sayings by friendly units as they are directed to move or do something are a constant annoyance. Disciples (male) are given to saying things like, "Praise the Lord," and "With all speed." Singers (male) say things like "C'mon, Make a Joyful Noise," and "I got a gig, man."

Finally, the Global Peacekeepers seems to be a not-so-subtle allusion to the UN, though the UN had been replaced by the time the storyline starts.

Final Notes

In his statement defending the game (also quoted above), the CEO of LB Games indicates that "Left Behind is not the Bible, it is a fictional story..." Setting aside the implication that the Bible is not fiction, I can't help but wonder why he bothers unless it's to put off detractors long enough to sell the game.

The designers attempted to put together a game that would influence young minds in the real world, but honestly I don't think it'll work. The game's theological aspects wind up being expressed in a way that makes it into a parody, as the writer of the Gamespot review wrote. Those in its intended audience who already believe will gain nothing from it, and those who don't are too smart to fall for it.

All in all, this game is just like all the others - a waste of time.

What do you think?

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