Left Behind: Eternal Forces (the RTS video game)

I once looked at The Sims with the The Sims: Makin' Magic expansion pack.

The game is a simulation of the day-to-day activities of one or more virtual people (dubbed "Sims") in a suburban household. First released on February 4, 2000, the base game has sold more than 6.3 million copies, making it the best-selling PC game in history

I was saddened that the enemy was teaching people about himself and we Christians continue to bicker amongst ourselves if the church is necessary or if we should all go back into our homes and abandon mega-churches. While we bicker, he remakes the world into his image (where only the strongest survive and the weak ones are abandoned). To date 58 MILLION copies of the Sims software (all included) have been sold. I often wonder if this is how modern people are learning how to find a job and clean their house and learn basic hygein. I'm not kidding.

Because I'm concerned about this, I've played with many different ideas in my head of how to reach people where they are… in their homes, on their TVs etc. I thought up some ideas:

A board game where you don't have a goal of winning the most money, nor of donating the most to charity – in fact there's no real goal, just the satisfaction of learning about Jesus (gifts, biblical verses) and doing good to others (love, charity, orphanages) and so on. A bit like snakes and ladders in that life throws you a curve ball and you could slide backwards unless you call on God with a prayer and get a card – you might get a grace card. If not, perhaps you could appeal to the other players – someone else could use a prayer card on behalf of you or someone could use "love" (giving up their turn in the game) for you. If you help someone in need, they will be emotionally inclined to do the same for you later in the game. The scenarios will teach the meaning behind the various bible truths and parable. It'll certainly be different. It might be fun.

There are so many movies about the spirit realm, but they are all seen from the enemy's perspective and are all totally inacurate. We have some Christian books that try and fictionalize how the world really works so that people can understand what we're really faced with. But what would an accurate movie which is written from a Christian and biblical perspective look like? What impact could it have on us? The Passion of Christ was shocking to everyone in the way it brought the truth right into our lives and as a result 12% of Americans said they changed their daily habits as a result (pray more, read the bible). 12% is a lot!!! What an achievement! I think a movie that shows the true interplay between the world and the spirit realm (including angels and the Holy Spirit) would certainly wake people up. Another 12% of people changing their behaviour would be excellent!

What about this idea. An opensource bible online to which everyone can contribute their commentaries. We (sort of) have something a little bit like that in the Blue Letter Bible and their institute. That's a great start, but I'd like to make a wiki and pre-load the bible in there and then watch people make new and interesting connections between the parts of the bible. I'd like to let people build "pathways" or tours or tutorials through the bible that show their experience of the bible – how it speaks to them. We'd have teachins that highlight all kinds of things. It would be the ULTIMATE social site.

I also wondered about the various god games where people make worlds and populate them and evolve them and so on. What if we made a game where you managed the world according to the rules as laid out in the bible? What if the game didn't evolve according to the enemy's "fittest will survive" law, where only those with more guns, more anger, more money and more technology survive. What if the tools to evolve this world work according to God's laws and His grace? What if we kept His command to love and then we become stronger by His grace and in His power. What would a game like that look like?

Which brings us to a new and very high profile game for Christians: Left Behind: Eternal Forces?

You've probably read the book (I haven't) and soon you can play the game. Here is a comment from the makers of Left Behind:

Based upon the bestselling Left Behind® novels, the period in which the game is set is a chaotic and dangerous time where the Tribulation Force is recruiting new members and defending itself against the Antichrist's Global Community Forces. The game is designed to be a classic battle between good and evil, but does not gratuitously depict violence or death. – Left Behind Video Game

Reviewers have noted that you don't have to play the Christians, you can play the enemy if you want. Here is a review on the game itself by a gaming magazine:

As in any RTS, you need to collect resources to play the game. I didn't get the full rundown of resource accumulation and management but money will be collected by gaining control of certain buildings. Spirit is another resource, but seems to be an individual value per unit. To raise your unit's spirit, you allow them to pray. This essentially makes them inactive and raises your spirit total. A high spirit may allow certain special abilities for certain unit types, but a low spirit will allow your unit to be converted by the enemy.

… snip …

It's obvious to me that Left Behind Games set out to make one of the best RTS's on the market, and worried about that first. If they have "ulterior motives," they didn't jump out at me during the time I was there despite my initial skepticism. If you're a fan of the RTS genre, you should probably plan to check this game out regardless of your religious views. I will be. – E3 Preview: Left Behind: Eternal Forces

Here is a less-than-happy review of the game and of the approach that Rick Warren (Purpose Driven Life, Saddleback Church) and the makers of the Left Behind series have embarked on. The BBC also did a write up on the game. I am interested in this quote:

"When you say it's a Christian movie, novel or video game you expect it to be really schlocky and cheesy," said Pastor Mark Brewer of the Bel Air Presbyterian Church. It'd be great one day for people to say 'this is Christian' and know that there's going to be quality to it. But that takes discipline, it takes money, and it takes a craft and the dedication to do it." – Spiritual challenge for gamers  

Update:  A blog reader posted this quote from someone who has played the game.

Like many real-time strategy games, Eternal Forces features a variety of resources that you need to accumulate to build units. One of these resources is your spiritual rating, which measures how good or evil you are. If your troops kill civilians and innocents, your spiritual rating drops, and if it drops too much, you may see your units defect (each unit has his or her own spiritual rating), and if drops too far, demons will show up.

"We hope teenagers like the game," Mr. LaHaye told the Los Angeles Times. "Our real goal is to have no one left behind."

Cool. Should be interesting to play. 

So there are lots of ideas and lots of things happening and in the end it will be hard for people to say that they didn't hear about Jesus in a way that was culturally relevant to them.

But let me explain something that happened to me last year.

I've been in technology for so long and I want to leave it and focus on what Jesus called us to do: to love people. I've got some cool ideas and I've just blogged about these ultra-modern evangelistic tools which appear to be "culturally relevant" to our modern western society… and I think to myself that what really matters is that we love the people around us.

Nothing will reach our modern culture better than asking the Holy Spirit to remake our lives so we have Christ formed in us, so we can love the people around us and walk in truth and show the power of God in our lives.

My little children, for whom I am again suffering birth pangs until Christ is completely and permanently formed (molded) within you, – Galatians 4:19

I always think to myself that if just a few of us could walk down to the lake and stand on the water as it gently laps on the sand and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ… everyone would listen. They would have to admit that there is something to this Jesus person and that His Kingdom is truly in control of this world. They'd listen. They'd consider. And many many Christians would be encouraged to believe and they too would grow up into Him and do the stuff. We all should do the stuff.

I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, if anyone steadfastly believes in Me, he will himself be able to do the things that I do; and he will do even greater things than these, because I go to the Father. – John 14:12

May Christ be formed in us… soon.

Please note: I'm not invalidating what God is doing in anyone's life in order to reach people. I'm not judging the value or approach of other people's efforts.

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