Christian video game stokes controversy


DALLAS - A Christian video game has become the latest battleground in America's "culture" wars, with its maker claiming it promotes prayer while critics charge it carries a message of violent religious intolerance.

"Left Behind: Eternal Forces," is a teen-rated PC strategy game based on the wildly popular "Left Behind" Christian book series created by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

The game is set in New York City after millions of Christians have been transported to heaven.

Players are charged with recruiting, and converting, an army that will engage in physical and spiritual warfare with the antichrist and his evil followers.

An advocacy group "Campaign to Defend the Constitution" -- which monitors right-wing religious activities -- says the game is violently pro-Christian and has petitioned retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to pull it from its shelves.

The critics describe it as "a violent video game in which born-again Christians aim to convert or kill those who don't adhere to their extreme ideology."

"After you kill somebody you need to recharge your soul points and to do that you need to bend down in prayer. ... I think the message is extremely clear," said Clark Stevens, co-director of Campaign to Defend the Constitution.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the company was selling it in stores where it expected demand.

The game's maker dismissed criticism.

"The reality is that our game perpetuates prayer and worship and that there is no killing in the name of God.

"There is killing of course, it is a video game. But the basis of the game is spiritual welfare," said Troy Lyndon, CEO of Left Behind Games Inc.

"The antichrist is the main bad guy and so you are dealing with his henchmen. Both sides are trying to win the hearts and the minds of people who are not on either side," Lyndon, who describes himself as a "follower of Christ," told Reuters.

He added that sales of the game have been brisk. It was launched in stores last month.

America has some 60 million evangelical Christians by some estimates and church attendance rates are much higher here than in other parts of the developed world -- so there is a huge market for consumer goods with Christian themes.

This also means America's "culture wars" often have religious undertones.

Many mainstream Christians and secular groups accuse some conservative evangelicals of displaying intolerance toward other faiths and beliefs -- in this case through video games.

"We are trying to tell families that this game is faith-based violence and is not suitable for families," said Rev. Timothy F. Simpson, a Presbyterian minister and the interim president of the Christian Alliance for Progress.