July 15, 2006

And we're back

Sorry about that dead air, folks. For the past couple of weeks I've had just enough Internet access to check my e-mail and maybe the news. Sure I could've recruited a guest blogger to fill in for me, but here's the thing: this is my hobby. I'm thrilled that so many of you keep coming back and I appreciate you and everything, but I'm not -- and never will be -- one of those bloggers who feels obliged to post ten times a day, every day, or even every week. I do it because, most of the time, I easily can, and because it's fun. Frankly if I ever started worrying about posting regularly, the quality would probably suffer. I know it seems unlikely that some of the stuff here could be even more lame, but trust me, it could.

Anyway, I'm just back from back-to-back research trips for my book. First to a massive Christian music festival in Illinois and then to the International Christian Retail Show in Denver. I'm going to stick with my practice of not revealing much about the book in advance, but I will make note of a couple of things that you'll be hearing about anyway long before my 2008 pub date.

First, the Left Behind computer game is really effing cool. I'm not sure how many video games there are based on books, but I suspect this will be the first one that's easily better than its source material. In fact, my fear is that it will lead more people to actually read the books, which would be a tragedy for everyone. Anyway, LB: the game is the first urban real-time strategy game, and it's set in a beautifully rendered and accurate (though not 100% open) Manhattan. I'm not a huge fan of the genre, so it's hard for me to fairly evaluate gameplay (especially after only five minutes) but it seems pretty smooth and fun, if you're a fan of all that building armies stuff. The question is whether gamers will be able to overcome their queasiness about the evangelistic nature of the game. Truthfully, there's no reason they shouldn't. After all, videogames are already rife with the battling of demons, evoking of supernatural powers, and wielding of mystic energies -- and having all that in a modern New York is much cooler than having it in some dungeon somewhere. You just have to not care that the game designers (seasoned professionals) happen to think this is all fact, rather than fantasy, and because they're courting the secular market, they try not to hit you over the head with that (scripture quotes and Christian rock on load screens can be blocked with a touch of the space bar). The initial reaction from the gaming community will almost certainly be shock at the competitive quality, something never remotely approached in the meager history of Christian videogames. Once that fades, the game will be evaluated on its own terms, and I'm very curious to see how that pans out. (The controversy among Christians about the fact that in multiplayer, gamers can play the Antichrist forces is a red herring; the segment of the evangelical market that cares about such things isn't the one that would be playing videogames anyway).

On a shorter note, the Passioning of Hollywood continues apace. Look for The Nativity Story from New Line to be the "sleeper" hit of Christmas with more to come in 2007.

And now back to our regularly scheduled blogging.

Update: Thanks Wikipedia! It looks like there are very, very few videogames based on books (not counting games based on movies that were books first): a few Lord of the Rings games that preceeded the films, a couple of Pern and Ringworld games, and Infocom's brilliant Hitchhiker's Guide (which is arguably at least as good as its source material, and had a considerably higher bar than Left Behind). Oh, If any game moguls are out there, give me a call. I have a great idea for an RPG based on a bestselling book that has been optioned for the movies but that I'm guessing, because of its literary quality and adult audience, has so far been overlooked for adaptation as a game. Trust me, it'll make us all rich.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Welcome back Daniel.

Here is a link to

Mark Morford's review of video game "Left Behind" .

See, I have to wonder if Morford even played the game or just imagined what a game based on the (as awful as he says) books would be like. The portions of the game that I saw share none of the political fanaticism of the books. Has he never played a game where there are good guys and bad guys? If this were a Star Wars game and the goal were to win people over to the light side of the Force, I don't think he'd be getting all outraged about Jedi dominionism.

It's also funny to see gamers all of a sudden outraged about violence -- guns even! -- in videogames. No matter what Tim LaHaye thinks, this is just a game, and frankly I think the "just a game" mentality will help mitigate the effectiveness of it as a witnessing tool. Anyway, there's plenty of research to suggest that media is a terrible way to win converts. So let see if anyone in the secular press has the guts to review LB as a game. And if reviewers are going to attack the politics and theology of the game, they'll be far more credible if they don't try to lump Rick Warren in with the dispensationalist crowd.

the new issue of z magazine also has a review that is completely useless. I can't get to it on-line, but it is nevertheless inane. You can tell th reviewer (john zavesky) has never playd a video game in his life by his assessment of GTA, "GTA is a major seller not because of its storyline, but because it has plenty of graphic violence, celebrates the criminal, and also tosses in animated sex for good measure." Uh, actually people bought the game because it was, how do you say, fun? My impresion is the guy never actually played the game, but just saw the preview video from e3. As a gamer who hates the left behind franchise, I do admit to being intrigued by something other than another boring fps where you just kill zombies/nazis/aliens. "saving" people sounds like something new at least (though I'd rather play the satanists (can we call them pagens?))

>I'd rather play the satanists

In multiplayer, you can, which if nothing else shows that the designers value gameplay over ideological strictness. There are different methods by which you can save people (they don't call it that; I forget what the term is). For instance, your musicians can gang up and sing hymns at them. Really. It's the kind of goofy touch that makes games fun, though I suspect in this case it wasn't intended to be goofy.

Also, while you will need to resort to physical violence quite a bit, you lose points for doing so, and you can't win with guns alone.

And you can pray for a power-up, which let's face it is no less realistic than catching a giant floating star.

In other words, what I think I'm trying to say is that if this game really is as good as it looked for five minutes, I think non-Christians can enjoy it in the same way we enjoy the Narnia books, and indeed that it will have the same unintended effect of undermining its own evangelizing because by placing the story in a world that is very familiar as a fantasy, it makes it harder to say, oh, but this fantasy happens to be true.

Secular game structure is already well established:
generic structure

"Game Matters" cites "James Frey".
That's "James N. Frey" and not
"James Christopher Frey".
"James Christopher Frey"
wrote the discredited best-selling memoir,
"A Million Little Pieces".

I looked at those screenshots. Why is the Tower Bridge (and possibly the HMS Belfast) in New York?

TG: The cut scenes show what's happening elsewhere in the world.

Is it "The Devil Wears Prada"?

Is it 'A Million Little Pieces of the Blue Crystal Skull Key to the Pharmacist's Lair'?

This is of overlapping relevance, but my father when I was young forbid Christmas (Santa Claus) and ghost stories; his rationale was that it's hard to teach a child a dozen fantasy stories and also read the old testament and new testament and then say "oh, but these two sources are real and the rest are false, even though they sound surprisingly similar."

I appreciate his honest approach although as an adult I see all stories, OT, NT, Lord of the Rings, Gilgamesh, Superman, whatever, as longing for a common spiritual goal through different means.

My dad would be horrified to see me type this. His approach might only have worked if we had lived in strict cultural isolation.

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