Sunday, June 11, 2006

Ricochet


OK, now talk of the Left Behind game
is bouncing around the Internet like a quarter in a dryer. It's absolutely great how videogames get the most attention once people can complain about them politically or socially (snark intended).

There is a whole series on Talk 2 Action that must be read. There are good points and bad points.

Consider this quote: "One thing many gamers will likely find disturbing about Left Behind, though, is the black-and-white polarization of good and evil portrayed. The faithful are good, and the undecided are (decidedly) bad or evil. The only way to accomplish anything positive in the game is to 'convert' nonbelievers into faithful believers, and the only alternative to this is outright killing them."

This kind of statement is, no way around it, blindingly stupid.

Ok, maybe I don't know gamers, but the black-and-white polarization of good and evil is bread-and-fucking-butter to videogame developers. Did anyone playing Command and Conquer ever doubt, for a second, that Nod was an eeeevil terrorist organization, even when controlling them against other players?

Videogames, like comicbooks, are heavy-handed about their morality. Even in a game like Manhunt, your actions are no less reprehensible simply because, for the game's sake, they are billed as necessary to survival (and if I were put into a Manhunt situation, I can guarantee I would not be a bodhisattva - regrettably).

We're lucky if we get a videogame with even a slight bit of grey area. Even subtler fare like KOTOR has the two extremes.

Good and evil presented in a stark manner within a videogame? Yawn.

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And here's where I end up . . . partly agreeing with Right On Games. Noooooo!!

A quote: "And did you notice how the writer slyly uses the characterization "children's game"? This is precisely the kind of smear that gets the majority of videogame players -- who are mostly in their 20s and 30s -- so angry. If I started calling Grand Theft Auto a "children's game", the GamePolitics people would be all over me for failing to note the M or AO ratings that the Grand Theft Auto games have earned."

That's fair, and absolutely correct. There is no way the Left Behind game should get anything less than an M.

But then Right On takes note that the Left Behind game is going for a T or an E rating. E for Everyone? See, Right On trusts that the Dominionist authoritarians behind a violent millenial series of superstitious fiction wouldn't "put blatant violence, even if it is against sinners, directly in the hands of a six year old."

Sure they wouldn't. I'm gonna call bullshit on that. The makers of the game are there to make money. Witness the huge market for their world-ending cream dream. It's Armageddon porn, sequel after sequel churned out to make money. They even doubled up and released the Left Behind: The Kids novels, aimed directly at children.

Right On attempts to defend the game by way of moral equivalence. You see, a game that depicts what a certain sect encourages as proper behavior (I would say in case of Rapture, but who knows whether they'll wait?) as being completely equal to every other violent game regardless of context. Rockstar is no different from a church, you see? Rockstar obviously wants you to commit violence (despite not advocating it in any manner), which makes Christians preaching violence okay.

In other words, there is no difference whatsoever between direct advocacy of a position and presenting a narrative without advocacy.

Not even saying "praise the lord" as you blow away unbelievers causes Right On to bat an eyelash. That's just "how those who love the Lord Jesus will behave after the Rapture." I remember not too long ago, when the same author derided Gun's use of the Lord's Prayer in an ad (as if the Wild West weren't full of Christians justifying their horrid actions in any way possible).

And that's where your brain should short-circuit.

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Now to offer some mild defense of Left Behind the game.

I know this will be cold comfort, but from a game design standpoint, the inclusion of the 'convert' action gives more choice than most videogames, especially RTSes. Sure, Starcraft, et. al., often have a special move that allows you to bribe/mind-control enemy troops, but that's hardly the same thing.

It's also interesting that they allow players to take control of the other side. An odd choice. I can only hope that Jack Chick will hear of it and draw a laughably insane comic where a child plays the side of the Antichrist in Left Behind and is brainwashed and becomes a baby-eating atheist and is damned for all eternity to the most stereotypical Hell ever.

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Reading the talkleft piece, I was going 'yes. mm-hmm. yes.' Until going 'no. uh-uh. nope.'

The videogame Left Behind isn't telling people anything -- it's the people behind it who are maintaining the mighty propaganda machine spinning this claptrap.

The game is only a transmitter - and it isn't going to make your child likely to act on its messages, not unless they fit into the way your child is raised. The only way these kinds of messages indoctrinate anybody is if they're not challenged and rejected.

Try reading slacktivist's take on the first Left Behind book (an ongoing series) for the perfect way to answer stupid propaganda.

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The game's bigoted. So what? So is much of Christian thought.

In other words, the real story in this isn't the videogame. The real story is the people behind it and what they are doing, the actual, real-world ways in which they are attempting to make their eliminationist fantasy, reflected in the game (and comics, and books, and movies), come true.

And the talkleft piece does a good job of delving into that side of things. For that, I salute them.

But it's still a bit difficult to read a piece about videogames coming from a group which gets so much about them wrong. That, and the obvious deference religion gets in our society which prevents so much direct criticism. They spend an inordinate amount of time trying to show how the Left Behind game runs contrary to Christianity, by playing the "no true Christian" game.

You see, no true Christian could be violent, even if a self-identified Christian advocates or practices violence. Rubbish.

The Bible is violent. There are things in there that would make Phantasmagoria look tame. Religion is great at providing internal justifications of violence. So why is it so surprising to see a Christian game which revels in violence against unbelievers?

Any answers?

3 comments:

Chris said...

The Old Testament is violent; the New Testament is peaceful. Christians are supposed to follow the latter in preference to the former, but sadly some modern Christians get very confused trying to bridge the gap between the old covenant and the new convenant.

Religion is no better than any other belief system at justifying violence, in my experience (consider, for comparison, Marxism): it is people who are skilled in creating justifications for their behaviours.

I don't know much about this 'Left Behind' brand, but I know it does not represent a global Christian viewpoint. It represents a peculiarly US echatonic schizophrenia. I hope Christians will cluck their tongues in disapproval at this commercial diservice to their religion.

Patrick Dugan said...

If you read the "Newer" testament, the history of Christianity, you get more violence than the Old Testament and maybe a Rambo film put together.

Christ could never be violent, or at least what "Christ" is supposed to purport. Christians? Hell yeah, they can be violent. Why I remember my father would lash my back with a pleated belt for every mistake I made in reciting the apostle's creed...

Chris said...

It's tricky, isn't it, seperating religions from people.