Everything I Know About Religion, I Learned From Videogames

January 19, 2012

The moral framework of the Ultima series was the first real understanding I had that there are rules in place in the real world.  I could choose to follow those just as I had the pseudo-Buddhist rules in my quest to become an “Avatar”.

At their most basic moral frameworks are the foundations of religion.  Forget the deities and heroes; religion acts as a control mechanism in an increasingly chaotic world.  As I write this people are being shot at, beaten, kidnapped and abused, all around the world.  Not just in warzones initiated by our governments but in the lands of those we call our neighbours.

Hell, it’s even in our backyards.

With things so desperate on the socio- and geo-political fronts, it could be said that it’s a bit late to introduce a real-time strategy game concerning the battle between good and evil in a contemporary setting that is heavily based on the events described in the Tribulation (Book of Revelation).  Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind series of books has been a worldwide success and has spawned the LEFT BEHIND: Eternal Forces real-time strategy game.

You may well wonder “does the world need a Christian RTS”?  Surely gamers want sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, car theft, killing sprees, re-enactments of key victories of World War 2 or the opportunity to (virtually) dress in spandex and display a range of super powers? You might be right, but you would also be a little slow on the update – LEFT BEHIND: Eternal Forces has been around for a few years now. It was launched in 2006 to a curious audience but it seemed that despite going gold, few hung around. By 2008 1 million copies were given away free

The answer is of course that following the GTA “Hot Coffee” scandal, the moral crusaders have had a strongly-focussed eye on video games.   It was once thought that LEFT BEHIND: Eternal Forces would be accepted into the homes of video gaming Christians across the world and feature what the creators consider to be “positive game content”. Sadly for the developers, things didn’t quite work out this way.

To be fair the developers can’t be blamed too much. They avoided creating a game of mawkish reverence, the aim being to defeat the forces of the antichrist, the wonderfully named Nicolae Carpathian.  With this, the makers hope to finally engage with the generation of disenfranchised youths currently buying games and introduce a concept of morality.  The problem is that the young men and women of today’s society already have a set of morals; they’re just different to the longer-established ones the majority of us adhere to.  There is an issue of choice here, a basic freedom; the Romans had a moral code quite alien to our own – who is to say we are right? We’re certainly not that much more civilized.

It seems that freedom of choice is not an issue when religious groups demand that games are taken off shelves, copies burned, and so forth for representing a mirror image of the world in which we live – as all good art should.  With the control mechanisms of church failing, there is a feeling that we live in desperate times, and that a connection needs to be made between God (the “rules”) and fans of GTA and 25 to Life (the “lost sheep”).

Video gamers are at the hands of self-appointed moral guardians who assume to think and make choices for the rest of society.  The suggestion that balanced individuals would murder prostitutes in real life following a similar event in a video game is absurd. Just as there have been no cases of young men wandering the countryside healing people without a bye-or-leave.

So why did LEFT BEHIND: Eternal Forces fail? Was it too close to the truth?

For some, it seems that not only do we live in a world of rape, war, greed, deceit and spandex, we also inhabit a world of fear, a world wondering whether it is dancing to the tune of a self-fulfilling prophesy, a world where one minute video games are idle distractions not worthy of serious attention and the next they are the spawn of the devil.

Or was it just crap?

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