Christian video game draws anger
By Richard Allen Greene
BBC News, Washington
A new Christian video game has sparked calls for a boycott from groups who say it is "training for religious warfare".
Characters can be carried away by angels
The game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces, is based on a wildly successful series of novels about the struggles on earth after true believers ascend to heaven.
Players can command the army of good - the Tribulation Force - against the anti-Christ's Global Community.
The game's makers reject criticism, saying their detractors "have a clear hatred of Biblical Christianity".
An alliance of liberal groups including the Christian Alliance for Progress, the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, and Talk2Action, have urged the giant retailer Wal-Mart, among others, to stop stocking the game, which was released last month.
"It's about religious warfare. The way to win is to convert or kill. You have both the Inquisition and the Crusades," says Frederick Clarkson of Talk2Action.
"Anybody who is not a follower of Jesus is the enemy," he claims.
'Dehumanising the enemy'
Mr Clarkson is particularly concerned that the $39.95 (£20) game - which is rated for teenagers due to violence - is being marketed through churches.
"Pastors and youth leaders recommend the game to their parishioners," he says, giving its message the stamp of authority.
And that message is the "dehumanisation of the feared other - Catholics, Jews, Muslims, the wrong kind of Protestants, people deemed to be sinners", he says.
That dehumanisation, he warns, is a first step towards genocide.
Jeffrey S Frichner, a co-founder of Left Behind Games, utterly rejects that characterisation of his game.
None of the missions in the game has a "convert-or-die" objective, he insists. "It's the anti-Christ that desires you to convert or die, and you are defending yourself against that on the good side," he says.
"You will absolutely lose each level and never win the game if you choose physical warfare as a means."
'Evangelising - respectfully'
The word "convert" does not even appear in the game, he adds - and neither does the word "Christian".
"The game itself is just a great game. People of other faiths could play it and not know it's Christian," he says.
He freely admits the game aims to evangelise.
"But it is doing it in a way which is very respectful, not Bible-thumping."
When players successfully complete a level of the real-time strategy game, "you get a vignette that has some kind of Biblical truth and a find-out-more button", he says.
That leads players to a website where they can discuss issues, say a prayer and "become a believer", Mr Frichner says.
He thinks that will appeal to young people.
"People are drawn to things that provide answers. My personal position is that the Bible provides all those answers."
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