What Modern Gaming Can Learn From Left Behind: Eternal Forces
Recently the trailer (Above) for the film adaptation of the Christian apocalyptic novel Left Behind was released. If you're somehow ignorant of one of the most famous bits of religious propaganda of the 20th century then know it's about how people who miss the Rapture will have to deal with an evil global force led by the Antichrist. All that really matters is that the movie is insane and stars Nicholas Cage, and that's something no one should miss.
It got me thinking about the Left Behind empire, and in doing so I picked up a copy of Left Behind: Eternal Forces for PC from Amazon for about $5 with shipping. Sure, it's from 2006, but so is my laptop so it fit like a glove.
In doing so, I found out that there's actually a lot modern gaming could learn from the game.
Oh don't get me wrong. It's terrible title that isn't very much fun to play. It's a real time strategy game, but your units have the artificial intelligence of, well, brain-dead cult members, actually. The in-game tutorial is most unhelpful and actually misleading at times. The graphics are bad even for 2006, and there are just basic design problems with the approach.
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Also, it's a bigoted bit of slash porn for the ultra-religious that delivers its message with all the grace of a drunken courier, but that's Left Behind. No sense complaining that a box that says "cigarettes" contains cigarettes.
What I did like about the game, though, was its basic gameplay premise. You are the soldiers of God looking to fight the last war. However, you fight this war in a way that is, well, kind of like how real wars are often won long term.
For instance, your soldiers can fight, and fight well and bloody if needed, sure, but every death you cause makes your spirit level decrease, which makes winning the fight that much harder. Kind of like how drone strikes often create more terrorists. That's no way to achieve final victory.
Instead, you either avoid enemy units, or you pray with them to convert. These converts can be sent to training centers to become doctors, nurses, builders, musicians, soldiers, whatever. In doing so you slowly reclaim territory in New York, and you do it not on the backs of the slain but through humanitarian aid and even Contemporary Christian music.
Don't laugh. One of the ways the United States won the Cold War was through government sponsored modern art.
Now, I know that sounds really boring, and in the hands of a substandard product like Eternal Forces it kind of is. However, it got me thinking about Bioshock Infinite. On of the things that made Bioshock Infinite a slightly disappointing title was the fact that it pretended at a realism and consequence it did not ultimately deliver.
For instance, you are presented with a choice to stone an interracial couple early on, and that choice has no significant gameplay value no matter your actions. If you choose to spare Cornelius Slate rather than kill him it affects nothing.
Indeed, it's a game that turns every interaction into a gun fight no matter what your intentions may be. I noticed the same thing in a recent replay of The Last of Us. There never seems to a way through that doesn't involve murdering a person. At best, you can use stealth to kill them quickly, but I can't recall any game in recent memory that gave a damn about players who would like to get by without killing at all.
It begs the question, are we only playing the highly immersion art works as an excuse to murder thousands of people with no affect on our heroes? Interactive media has reached a point where it feels like magic, but the solution to every problem in that media is kill kill kill.
How would Infinite have been if you could sway the populace enough to smuggle you past Columbia's forces without a shot, or take the plight of the Handymen to heart and woo them to your side. How might Last of Us have changed if you could have negotiated with various bandits instead, trading hard won supplies scavenged from the infected for safe passage?
There was a World of Warcraft player in 2011 who reached Level 85 without killing a single thing in the game. It was hard, but not impossible, and it's exactly that sort of flexibility that keeps World of Warcraft relevant.
It's no surprise that a Left Behind video game is terrible, but it was also a surprising look at playing a game where killing was an option, and sometimes it's the only option, but it's rarely the best option. I wouldn't want every game to be like that. I prefer Kratos as an avatar of bloody death, but it might be nice if a few more games at least tried to allow us the sort of moral high ground Eternal Forces awkwardly fumbles with.
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