Talk2Action Tries to Defend Itself (Part 1)

Talk2Action has finally responded to my original post on their original piece on the Left Behind video game. They follow a rather tortured and selective path in their attempt to justify their inaccurate report and to discredit me. So let us get down to the response.

The Charge Against Me

I supposedly have "organized a campaign against Talk to Action and its series." Not hardly. The "campaign" is just me, one Christian blogger, spending more time than I would have preferred to respond to the more outrageous lies about a game that I had no intention of ever playing. As I have said previously, I do not share the theology of the Left Behind series and have not read the books though I have seen two of the movies. No one else is involved in my "campaign." Additionally, I was not responding to a "series," I was responding to Talk2Action's original piece, "The Purpose Driven Life Takers."

Here is how Talk2Action characterizes my reaction to their piece:

Layman stakes his core claim that Talk to Action purposely misled readers by reporting that Left Behind: Eternal Forces sends children on a virtual mission to convert or kill New Yorkers.

Partly true. Here is the part of the initial post that I considered, and still consider, to be the lies spread about the game:

Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City. You are on a mission - both a religious mission and a military mission -- to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state - especially moderate, mainstream Christians. Your mission is "to conduct physical and spiritual warfare"; all who resist must be taken out with extreme prejudice.

In the many repeated comments about the game based on the Talk2Action article, there were several people who claimed your mission was to kill anyone who "resists" becoming a Christian. This most likely originated from that last line about taking out anyone who resists with "extreme prejudice."

Keep the eye on this ball as we discuss the game. I do not endorse or promote the game, but nothing I have seen justifies the above description of its contents. It is to the above description that I respond, not to other more justified concerns about the game.

Talk2Action's Misreprsentations and Hysteria Continue

Next is this comment:

Layman repeatedly states on Wikipedia that his core concern is Talk to Action's report that the Christian militia - called the Tribulation Force in the Left Behind novels, graphic novels, and video game -- uses the power of prayer and modern military weapons to conduct physical and spiritual warfare, which means converting or killing New Yorkers.

There are a couple of problems with this characterization.

First, I do not complain about reports that the game involves prayer, modern military weapons, spiritual warfare, and physical warfare. I have noted that the game does involve armed conflict between the army of the anti-Christ and the Tribulation Force. I note that there is killing in the game and I have stated my discomfort with the notion of mixing religion with warfare like this in a video game.

Second, what I have complained about is the notion that this means that the goal of the game is to "convert or kill New Yorkers." By this I take to mean that if you do not convert after a player tries to convert you then that player kills you. That is not the "mission" of the game. Nor is it a logical extension of the fact that the game uses both spiritual warfare and physical warfare. As I explained before, you are engaged in physical warfare with the army of the anti-Christ. But even so the game encourages you to convert the enemy over killing them. However, as I have admitted, there is war between the two and you do kill members of the opposing force, though this costs you and the game encourages you to still try and convert them.

More to the point, there is a third group of characters in the game who are not part of the Tribulation Force or the army of the anti-Christ. The goal of the game is to convert these "undecideds" to your side. There is no mission to kill them if they do not convert to your side. That is the "whopper" of which I have complained. Talk2Action basically rests its defense on the notion that because the undecided may later join the forces of the anti-Christ and you may kill them in the war later, than he is justified in saying that the "mission is to convert or kill" Jews, Catholics, etc. Obviously, Talk2Action is making an illogical leap here and leaving out the crucial factor that you only would face such people in combat if they make their own decision to worship the anti-Christ and join his army.

It is not the case that you tell a Jewish character about Jesus and if he does not convert you pull out your gun and blow him away. You do not stake out Synagogues and pick off Rabbis. If the character does not convert at the time then you can keep trying and try again later. From what I understand of the game, failure to convert after an attempt does not automatically make him a servant of the anti-Christ. The character is not, therefore, "fair game" because he did not convert.

On the other hand, you may try and convert an undecided and fail. That undecided may later encounter a servant of the anti-Christ and be convinced to worship the anti-Christ and join his army. Then, yes, you may end up killing that character. But not because he is a Jew or because he failed to convert. But because he joined the army of the anti-Christ who is bent on global domination and the genocide of Christians and against which you are engaged in armed conflict.

Reviews from "Credible People"?

Next, Talk2Action points to two "reviews" by "credible people" who have played the game.

The first is Joel Stein, a columnist for the LA Times. I do not know how credible he is, but I do know that he is a liberal, recently gaining some notoriety by coming out and saying that he does not support the U.S. troops in Iraq because he opposes the war. So, Mr. Stein is not a disinterested reviewer. Nor is he a gamer. To support my point, I cited to several reviews by professional gamers who had no interest in the politics of the game. Mr. Stein does not qualify as such.

In any event, Stein obviously gets some facts wrong. According to the game's narrative, there is no United Nations. The UN has been supplanted by the anti-Christ's Global Community by which the anti-Christ is exerting dictatorial control over the world. And, more specifically, the anti-Christ is using the Global Community to suppress and kill Christians across the world (post-rapture Christians are those Christians who converted after the rapture).

Stein does mention that some of "his" nurses were taken out. It is not clear if these are medical units working with combat forces, but Stein is clear that they were part of the army of the anti-Christ (which side he was playing) and that they were part of a military unit that was traveling in military vehicles. Calling this a "peacekeeping" mission is an example of the manipulation of terminology upon which Talk2Action seeks to justify its lies. In the game's narrative, the Global Community is intent on conquest and genocide, not keeping the peace. So it inaccurate to say that the game here has the Tribulation Force murdering innocent UN nurses on a peacekeeping mission.

Additionally, it cannot be claimed that this supports the notion that the game puts you on a mission to kill those who do not convert ("convert or kill"). Stein admits that those killed were part of the army of the anti-Christ. They were not the undecideds, nor where they "gays, Jews, Catholics, Buddhists" or "moderate, mainstream Christians." Does this justify violating the rules of war? Not in the least, but it does not support the lies Talk2Action spread to which I was responding.

Furthermore, Talk2Action leaves out an important part of the article. When Stein was talking to the Left Behind rep, it became clear that the rep thought he was playing the anti-Christ, not the Christians: "'I thought I was playing the devil,' he said with a confused look." So whatever actions he took he thought were in line with the anti-Christ's actions, not those of Christians.

In another bit of clever omission, Talk2Action leaves out a comment by Stein which appears to contradict the notion that part of the game involves hunting down and murdering Jews: "[The rep] assured me that things would actually be good for the Jews in the final days. "In the book series, three Jews are the most prominent evangelists. The Jews more than anyone believe in the messiah," he said."

Finally, Talk2Action says this:

New Yorkers cannot remain neutral, and they cannot even serve God as practicing Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims, or Hindus? No, the game's designers declare: ultimately, there is no such thing as a neutral ground. One is with the Tribulation Force or against it. The refusal to actively support it means ultimately, in the designer's terms, that one opposes it, and is therefore fair game.

This was not part of Stein's "review" of the game. Nothing in the review or the game says that practicing Jews and Catholics cannot serve God. Just the opposite about Jews in the view of the game's designer is noted by Stein. As for Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus, I have not yet seen anything to indicate that people in the game are identified as such. Nor have I seen any evidence that people who "resist" being converted are then killed. Such undecideds are not "fair game," they are only fought if they join the army of the anti-Christ.

Next is a review by Greg Bauman of Warcry.

In the review Bauman says that the "undecided" are "(decidedly) bad or evil." This contradicts an earlier statement where Bauman wrote, "Recruiters are the key to your game—they can sway neutral humans (which are found scattered throughout any and all levels you find yourself in) to be either good or evil." This acknowledges what I have been saying. There are undecided, neutral humans who have not chosen to take a side. Your "mission" is to convert them to be good while the anti-Christ tries to "convert" them to be evil. It is not to kill them if they resist becoming a Christian.

So Bauman contradicts himself. Either he misspoke or misunderstood this aspect of the game.

Do the Left Behind People Admit They Are Advocating Genocide?

Next, Talk2Action quotes from a Q & A from the Left Behind website itself.

Are guns used by Christians against non-Christians? Why or why not?

The storyline in the game begins just after the Rapture has occurred - when all adult Christians, all infants, and many children were instantly swept home to Heaven and off the Earth by God. The remaining population - those who were left behind - are then poised to make a decision at some point. They cannot remain neutral. Their choice is to either join the AntiChrist - which is an imposturous one world government seeking peace for all of mankind, or they may join the Tribulation Force - which seeks to expose the truth and defend themselves against the forces of the AntiChrist."

Note that nothing here says that it is the mission of Christians to kill Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, or moderate Christians. It does suggest that the undecided will eventually choose to follow either Christianity or the anti-Christ. In either case, they will no longer be Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, or moderate Christians. They will worship Christ or the anti-Christ. Even so, you do not kill them if they do not convert. They may convert later to Christianity. They may be killed by the anti-Christ while undecided. They may join the anti-Christ's army. If they do the latter, then yes you may have to fight them, though conversion is still the preferred option.
Here is how Talk2Action interprets the above:

Here you have it. The game's creators say, in its web-based marketing material, that the New Yorkers who populate their game "cannot remain neutral." They must choose either Christ or the AntiChrist. That is, they must choose Christ (give up their Judaism, Catholicism, liberalism, Hinduism, et cetera, and be converted to a particular brand of conservative Evangelical Christianity, as narrowly described in the Left Behind novels and depicted in the Left Behind graphic novels) or... die. Be killed. Be taken out on the streets of New York with extreme prejudice.

That is not what the game says at all. It says that eventually the undecided in the game will choose to worship Christ or choose to worship the anti-Christ. In either case I would say they have given up their Judaism, Catholicism, Hinduism, etc. In the latter case they have joined an army bent on world domination and the genocide of Christians. So yes, if they choose to join the anti-Christ's army you may have to fight and kill them, at a personal toll to yourself. But that is not the same thing as saying they are killed for resisting conversion to Christianity. And it is by far not the same thing as saying that the mission of the game is to hunt down Jews, Catholics, moderate Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc. to try and convert them and then killing them if they resist.

More Talk2Action interpretation of the above:

The common sense of it says that if you are a Jew, like the Los Angeles Times reporter Joel Stein, then you must convert into a messianic Jew, like Left Behind Games co-founder Jeffrey Frichner, or the "Christian" Tribulation Force will regard you as a servant of the AntiChrist.

Talk2Action engages in more manipulation and omission here. The game does not say that a Jew who does not convert will be regarded as a servant of the anti-Christ. I do not know if Jews are mentioned in the game at all (and we must both admit that we haven't played the game for ourselvse). But I am sure that it does not say that Jews are to be regarded as servants of the anti-Christ if they do not convert. What it does maintain within its narrative, apparently, is that eventually everyone will choose to serve one side or the other. Thus, admittedly, many Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, etc. will convert to Christianity and many convert to the worship of the anti-Christ. This is not the "convert or kill" mission or establishment of theocracy that Talk2Action has stated is the goal of the game.

If in the End Times, a practicing Jew, Catholic, Buddhist, moderate, mainstream Christian, gay man or lesbian, secularist, or pagan, refuses to join the "Christian" Tribulation Force, then by the game's logic, your refusal to convert means that you have necessarily chosen to serve the AntiChrist.

Like I said above, I have seen nothing to indicate that you kill characters identified "Jews, Christians, Buddhists, moderate, mainstream Christian, gay man or lesbian, secularist or pagan." Moreover, it is not a "refusal to convert" that renders you a servant of the anti-Christ. It is a choice made by characters in the game to be something else -- for better or worse. Is a "secularist" going to worship the anti-Christ? I doubt it. Once he does, he is no longer a "secularist." Is a moderate or mainstream Christian by default a servant of Satan worthy of death? Not in anything I have seen about the game. If they did worship the anti-Christ, they are no longer "moderate or mainstream" anything, much less Christians. Are Muslims going to worship the anti-Christ? Not any of which I know, unless they become something different. The point here is that you do not "convert or kill" these people. That's a manipulative, inaccurate simplification expounded by Talk2Action. Rather, you may have to fight (and kill) members of the anti-Christ who converted to his service from beind undecided. That is a far fry from the "mission" to hunt down and "convert or kill" Jews, Buddhists, Catholics, etc. that Talk2Action articulated in their original article.

Next come a list of features of the game that also do not support Talk2Action's original article:

If you happen to blow away a neutral party - and collateral damage is inevitable in the End of Days - then you will lose "Spirit Points". But you can power back up with merely a brief timeout for prayer, or by converting one of New York's terror-stricken citizens.

That the LA Times refers to the death of neutral parties as "collateral damage" makes it clear that they are 1) not being targeted for killing as Talk2Action originally stated, or 2) not the bad and evil enemy. What the LA Times article actually says is that "soldiers lose some of their spirituality every time they kill an opponent and must be bolstered through prayer." So Christian players suffer even when they kill members of the anti-Christ's army. Again, would the game be less scary if it depicted warfare without spiritual consequence as all other games do? In Battlefield 1942 you can frag your fellow soldiers without consequence. This is not endorsed by the game or the purpose of the game. But it certainly does treat death and killing in a dismissive way. Obviously, the deaths of the enemy are treated in an even more dismissive way. Left Behind tries to add a component to the game that indicatse the cost of fighting in even a justified war. Yet Talk2Action twists this to try and make it sound like killing and death is endorsed or dismissed as in othe games. Just the opposite is true.

In any event, nothing here says that the goal of the game is to establish a theocracy or kill those who resist becoming Christians.

Winning Battles by Only Retreating?

Next, Talk2Action quotes this paragraph from the LA Times article:

The game is set in New York City, where the Tribulation Force clashes with the Antichrist's Global Community Peacekeepers in a tale that makes the United Nations a tool for Satan. Each side attempts to recruit lost souls in the battle for the city. "Eternal Forces" is a so-called real-time strategy game -- players act as battlefield generals for their virtual armies, deciding where to place units and when to order attacks or retreats.

Talk2Action makes a big deal about the Christian side being able to launch "attacks." This is hardly surprising since the game includes much armed conflict between the armies of the anti-Christ and the Tribulation Force. Of course, according to the narrative of the game, the anti-Christ and his army are the bad guys bent on global conquest and the extermination of Christians (even moderate ones I would presume). I have read a bit of military history and have yet to read about a general who won a war or a battle only be retreating. For example, we recently commemorated the D-Day invasion of France. Was that justified? Was it evil? Was it un-Christian? Afterall, the allied forces were "attacking" on that day. Does this mean that the Nazis were the good guys and the AllieS the bad guys? The Allies basically attacked all through Europe while the Nazi's retreated. Yet I happen to think they were the good guys.

And if the Christian militia attacks and kills unarmed nurses on a UN peacekeeping mission, slaughtering them on 6th Avenue without giving them a chance to convert, then so be it. That's how the game was designed; that's how the game's creator plays it.

As discussed above, the player who did this thought he was playing the anti-Christ. I have already said that I do not like the feature of the game that allows you to command the army of the anti-Christ. In Battlefield 1942 I cannot bring myself to play the Germans or Japanese fighting the U.S. or British. But it cannot seriously be argued that such a feature encourages Christians to worship satan and murder Christians (though I have seen many sites who referred back to Talk2Action relishing the thought buying the game so they could kill evangelcals); just as it would be silly to claim that Battlefield 1942 encourages Nazism or Japanese Imperialism. And as a reminder, it is not the UN, but the Global Community that supplanted it, and they are not really on a peacekeeping mission but trying to take over the world and kill those who resist.

Real Reviews by Real Gamers Without Agendas

Talk2Action has apparently ignored the reviews by professional gamers who reviewed the game before there was any agendas or controversy. None of them expressed any of the concerns he has nor did they describe the game in any way that fits his agenda. In fact, they contradict it on just the points I was complaining about. Check them out yourself. For now, just some comments from this description of the game from Gamespy:

Left Behind: Eternal Forces takes place completely within New York City in an unspecified but very near future. A mysterious event causes 1/3 of the world's population to vanish. The United Nations, now re-named the Global Community and led by a charismatic Eastern European politician named Nicolae Carpathia, begins forming a world government, its edicts enforced by its military arm, the Global Community Peacekeepers. It's only the Tribulation Force that realizes that Carpathia is the Antichrist, and they form a resistance movement that tries to show the world who they're truly following and save as many souls as possible before the prophesied seven years are up.

Read anything about establishing a theocracy? Nope, it is all about opposing the anti-Christ. No theocracy is possible, the goal is to resist the global government of the anti-Christ and try and convert as many people as possible. You only have seven years and no chance of taking over America or the world in order to establish a theocracy. The goal is to convert as many as possible in the face of a global dictatorship bent on killing you before the clock runs out. Pre-Millenialism, especially Pre-Tribulation Pre-millenialism, does not lend itself on the establishment of a theocracy.

Are the undecideds bad or evil because they have not converted? No, they are neutral and the goal of the game for both sides is to conver them. From the review:

Rather, the major resource in the game is actually the "neutrals" -- people who haven't yet chosen their side in the great war.

And the emphasis on the game is on conversion, not killing:

It's this wrestling back and forth for the souls of the people that makes the gameplay dynamic so interesting. Players aren't competing to kill the enemy army -- rather, they're trying to save them, and each person killed represents a failure rather than a success.

This is true not of the neutral undecideds, but the armies of the anti-Christ:

They'll need spiritual units to both keep the faith and hopefully recruit, rather than kill, enemy armies.

The other revies are similar and lend no support to Talk2Action's contested representations about the game.

Many Have Recognized Talk2Action's Hysteria for What it Was

Several people have taken me up on my offer to read these reviews for themselves and have found that they were mislead by Talk2Action. I link to some of them in this post. For now, just a couple of examples:

This blogger determined that "The original article I wrote about to was hysterical and completely inaccurate in the way it described the game. The game is more about converting the Anti-Christ's forces, rather than killing them."

One of my favorites was this site (in German, but use babelfish to translate). After repeating the more outrageous claims of the Talk2Action piece, I posted my link in the comments section. Then Mr. Talk2Action left a comment asking the blogger to "Read both essays, check out the links for yourself, and then decide." The blogger did, retracting his description and directing readers to one of the reviews I linked to.

That is the reality. There is no establishing of a theocracy and you are not a mission to "convert or kill" Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Catholics, moderate Christians, etc. Presumably there are such people among the undecideds and you do try and convert them. But you do not try and kill undecided because they do not convert. You do, however, fight the army of the anti-Christ which contains -- just as the Tribulation Force does -- previously undecided types who have chosen to worship your leader and join his army. Talk2Action tries to claim this means that Jews, Catholics and co. are automatically servants of the anti-Christ. Hogwash. Characters in the game only become servants of the anti-Christ by choosing to convert to his religion and to serve with his forces

Closing Out Part 1

In closing Part 1, let me reiterate something I said in one of the comments to my original post:

I do not ascribe to Left Behind's eschatology and I also understand the concern about mixing a Christian game with violence on this kind of scale, but the attacks went way overboard and were being spread everywhere.

I am no advocate for this game. I had no intention of playing it, though I may buy it now to better inform myself as to its contents and effects. I do not endorse it suggest it or think it is a good idea. But I believe that the discussion of the merits of the game must take place in the context of what the game is really about. Trying to make the game out to be something that it is not -- as Talk2Action has done -- actually prevents an honest debate about the game from taking place.


A Good World said…
Thanks for posting a comment on my blog about this issue. Apoligies for the responses of some of my more agitated readers. I originally posted on the video game as a throwaway - it seemed somewhat hillarious quite frankly - you know the 'Prolife people murdering doctors' sort of hillarity. But you are pointing out a couple of worthy points.

Namely that this strikes me as much more of a tempest in a teapot. According to the press releases that you are linking to, the game is still under development, so any praise or criticism of it is somewhat akin to criticizing Dickins after he writes, "My father's family name being Pirrip,..." Still, you've got to expect flack from the easily excitable blogosphere when you post uncaptioned 'screenshots' of your game showing Manhattan burning and people lying dead in the streets.

I am curious as to why this hit a nerve with you. Inflamatory screen shots are posted by the 'Left Behind' folks, some organization makes some assumptions about it, and a crusade is begun. Seems a bit of an overreaction, but what the heck, I spend a lot of my time collecting vintage neckties from the 1940s, so who am I to criticize.

Anywho...thanks for enlightening me on this controversy.


Ian Kinman
Layman said…

Thanks for stopping by. I explained why I started respondig to the issue more here. One small exerpt: "I estimate that over 200 bloggers and discussion board participants repeated the original story uncritically. Most of them did so and used the lie to attack evangelicals in general. Seeing that, I wanted to set the record straight."

The original article spawned a myth, namely that the game was about murdering gays, Catholics, Jews, etc. , that lots of people were using to reinforce or spread negative stereotypes about Christians, not just about those behind the game.

The only other thing I would say in response is that I did not think that the screenshots at the Left Behind site were "inflammatory." They are pretty typical, even mild, for a game of this sort. I am not what I would call a "gamer" but I've seen much worse in much less controversial game.

Of course, those games were not supposed to be spreading a Christian message, which is a a fair question to raise about Left Behind. But fair questions about the game have been drowned out for many by anti-religious right misreprsentations and inaccuracies.
BK said…
It seems to me that the author of the Talk2Action piece, Jonathan, is attempting to justify his misinformation by coming up with after-the-fact justifications for his position.
Jeff Burton said…
Thanks for continuing to cover this. The important issue here is not the dumb game, but instead the attempt to smear Christians as plotters of violence and even genocide(!) The more I read this "five-part series", the more I am convinced that the authors are wild-eyed hysterics, spouting weird stories of "Dominionists" beating their children to toughen them up to become part of "Joel's Army," and other rubbish. Sometimes it defies belief.
Jeff Burton said…
Just noticed that the stuff about the child abuse was in a comment - want to be fair here.

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