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Slayin' and prayin'

Apocalyptic Left Behind video game puts Christian warriors to the test

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When the rapture comes in Left Behind: Eternal - Forces, mayhem ensues  and the game-player - looks to God - and guns to stop it. - SCREEN CAPTURES COURTESY OF LEFT BEHIND GAMES
  • Screen captures courtesy of Left Behind Games
  • When the rapture comes in Left Behind: Eternal Forces, mayhem ensues and the game-player looks to God and guns to stop it.

In a flash, millions of people around the world disappear, leaving piles of clothing and shoes.

The rapture has come, the antichrist is on the way and, as a sinner, you are left behind.

It's time to start praying.

So you press the "pray" button as you evangelize the nonbelievers. If you press another button, you and your army of Christian warriors, tanks and helicopters can blast those you cannot convert into the hereafter.

Welcome to the virtual apocalypse of Left Behind: Eternal Forces, a computer game based on the insanely popular Left Behind novels and warmly welcomed by Focus on the Family, a ministry otherwise known for its stands against violence in video games.

Other Christian groups are hoping to keep the game from becoming a Christmas gift. They've launched a so-far fruitless shame war to convince mainstream sellers like Wal-Mart, Target, Amazon.com and Family Christian Stores to pull the item.

"This game is unprecedented," says Tim Simpson, president of the Jackson, Fla.-based, left-leaning Christian Alliance for Progress. "It's the first game to be marketed as an instructional video in carrying out religious violence. Jesus told us to love our enemies. In this game, you kill them."

Good and evil

But Jerry Jenkins, the half-time Black Forest resident who co-authored the Left Behind series with Tim LaHaye, hopes the game will do to its users what its users must do to win convert people to Christianity. The game comes packaged with the first novel in the Left Behind series, he notes.

"Our forces in the game are not going out looking for people to kill," says Jenkins. "They're looking for people to win and persuade. They're defending themselves against the evil forces of the antichrist."

The Independent bought a copy of the game for $42.92, including tax, on the "Best Sellers" rack at the Wal-Mart at 707 S. Eighth St.

Immersed in New York City, amid smoldering skyscrapers, you aim to evangelize nonbelievers and convince them to join "the good guys," your Tribulation Forces.

The "bad guys" are the Global Community Peacekeepers, a United Nations-like group whose commandos are bent on keeping Christians from assembling.

Your mission is to house and feed pastors, builders, musicians, medical workers and soldiers as you amass money and real estate for your evangelical empire. Eventually, the global peacekeepers attack. You may return fire with various troops, including aggressive special-forces soldiers.

When enemies die, sometimes in massive death zones, your spirit meter drops. If your spirit level falls too much, you lose. But you can replenish your spirit level by praying.

"That's what's so insidious about this," says Simpson, a Presbyterian minister. "You go out and whack somebody, and then you pray and you're good to go. That is not a message that Christian families want to teach their children."

"Play with junior'

Conservative Jack Thompson, a Florida lawyer who wrote Out of Harm's Way, a book highlighting the problems of obscenity and brutality in video games, talk radio and television programs, severed his ties with his evangelical publisher, Tyndale House, because of the game.

Tyndale, which prints the 63-million-selling Left Behind series, should have stepped in to dissuade LaHaye and Jenkins from selling the video game rights, he says. Those investors created a publicly traded company called Left Behind Games.

Thompson contacted Focus on the Family patriarch James Dobson, his "hero" and fellow Tyndale author, looking for support in his crusade. He was stunned when Focus instead endorsed the game.

"The problem is that the Gospel is not about killing people," Thompson says. "To put kids into an interactive entertainment setting where that's the message is beyond stupid. It's harmful. I didn't come to Christ 30 years ago on the notion that somehow Christians have justification for killing people on a lack of their belief."

He adds that the game will probably only deepen cultural wounds between Muslims and Christians at a time when the nation is at war on Muslim turf.

Focus on the Family's Plugged In, a media magazine, claimed that Eternal Forces "is the kind of game that mom and dad can actually play with junior and use to raise some interesting questions along the way."

Bob Waliszewski, Focus' media and culture director, acknowledged Thompson as an important voice against violence in video games, but said Thompson has misplaced his concern in this case.

"The game allows people to use gun play in a defensive mode if they are being attacked," Waliszewski says. "But you can win without killing."

That amounts to a chance to teach children about right and wrong, he adds.

"It's really quite a passive game," Jenkins adds. "Instead of seeing flying body parts or blood or anything, there's a puff of smoke and a guy falls over."

To which Simpson says, "I guess the family that prays together, slays together."

Simpson's group wants the ubiquitous Wal-Mart to take the game off its shelves. Yet Wal-Mart will continue to sell the game at "select" stores, spokeswoman Jami Arms said in a prepared statement.

"As always, the decision on what merchandise we offer in our stores is based on what we think our customers want the opportunity to buy," Arms stated.

deyoanna@csindy.com

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