Recently, a viral marketing company hired by Electronic Arts staged a fake protest against EA’s new game, “Dante’s Inferno”. They hired some people to go out with poorly designed slogans and signs and protest the commodification of the idea of Hell. “HELL IS NOT A GAME”, they said. They also created a very badly designed website (because everybody knows most conservative fundamentalists have poor taste and limited computer skills) with those tacky moving gifs. All of this was meant to promote the game; EA most likely thinking that “all press is good press”.
However, they’ve drawn the ire of actual Christians who are protesting the protests! As well as protesting the paradigm of Christians as brainless fundamentalists. This whole thing is a silly issue, but so fascinatingly rich in social innuendos I’m excited to explore it with you.
First of all, the marketing campaign.
EA would have to assume already that people who like to play violent video games are probably not fundamental or conservative Christians. This is probably a good bet. They had to know enough about Christianity to put together a reasonable protest – and actually I think they did a good job. I’m more surprised that there aren’t more Christians joining this campaign, instead of arguing against it. If Hell is very real, and only fear of Hell leads to goodness and salvation in Jesus, then yes, making Hell into a spectacle for gamers risks convincing even more people that Hell is just an antiquated idea that can be used for commercial profit. This is a solid argument: it is a much stronger base for protest than the protest against Harry Potter, for example, (or at least just as good.)
I think they also did a great job on impersonating the fundamental Christians, and creating their website http://wearesavedgroup.org/ in the tacky style of nearly every super-conservative fundamentalist. They were careful not to use any clear pictures, to use moving gifs of crosses and King James Version Bibles crushing Satan – if anything the giveaway was that the arguments were sound and there were no spelling errors! They even had a rather clever slogan worked out:
Salvationists. Against. Virtual. and Eternal. Damnation.
“Let me ask you this – is a GAME really worth eternal damnation?”
It’s a good question. EA placed its bet on the fact that most people would answer “YES!” (at least facetiously… or in other words that they don’t really believe in the consequence of Hell). Even though we know it’s all a scam, actual protesters probably should have gotten around to it first anyway. Does it mean that those angry conservatives are just too lazy or too busy to find things to protest anymore? Are they softening up? Is Christianity losing it’s edge?
The Christian Response
Christians today seem more concerned with not appearing to be fundamentalists – thus the protest against the protest. They need to be taken seriously as normal, intelligent, and law-abiding, rather than fanatical and easily incensed… Inside Catholic for example, is more concerned about appearances than theology:
“It’s been clear for a while now that the entertainment industry views Christians on the whole as priggish, thin-skinned fun-killers. (That swipe about our Web design skills might be most hurtful of all.)
Christians are upset because they don’t like to be stereotyped as uptight naysayers. And many of them are not. (Something, incidentally, I rather don’t agree with. Modern day Christians who believe in Jesus but feel absolutely free to drink, smoke, sleep around, pleasure themselves with movies, bad food, videogames, and have absolutely no sense of self-control, moderation… this is a new species that I’m uncomfortable with. I’d rather have them quiet and feeling guilty.)
But at the same time they do believe in Hell and that you might be going there. Personally, I’d rather have a person who believes me to be going to Hell to be worried about me and try to save my soul. Sure, they’d be mistaken, but at least their heart was in the right place. What about these new, non-protesting Christians? They are basically saying, well, YES, we do believe in hell, and YES, you are going to burn and suffer there for eternity, but it wouldn’t be very polite to tell you so we’ll just let you make your own mistakes. I find this modern ambiguity as much more vile and disturbing than the almost cute attempts to ‘save’.
This whole issue made it to Yahoo’s homepage, but I have my doubts as to whether there is really any controversy at all. The Christian protests and website would probably have gone unnoticed, were the whole thing not turned into the more interesting and complicated debate that it now is… but actually the ‘Christian responses’ to the protest consist of two or three amateur blogs. It is a news worth idea, that a protest can cause a protest, but it in my book it’s all smoke and mirrors, with nobody who actually gives a damn.
Interestingly, it did lead me to the “Catholic Video Gamers” blog, which is pretty good. They use theology and a few historical quotes to defend playing video games, and to give a Catholic response to video games. Pretty smart place, and they conclude wisely, that people are going to keep playing games regardless of their beliefs, because they’re cool – and developers just need to keep making games that are fun to play, rather than focusing on ‘dogma’.
Dante’s Inferno – the original epic poem, was in its own time a spectacle, glorifying all the nasties of hell, describing in great detail the suffering and horridness of the place; that’s what made it a good read. The EA version of the game changes the plot a little bit – it will “follow the eponymous protagonist as he descends through the Nine Circles of Hell to save his love, Beatrice” (in the original, Beatrice goes to heaven). But can you imagine a video game set in heaven? All clouds and rainbows? The protagonist of Dante’s Inferno (or any story or video game) needs somewhere to get to, a reason to get there, and lots of opposition.
Commentators have already complained that Dante’s Inferno is a cheap knock-off of “God of War” – and it is, with a twist. In the EA version, the hero descends into hell, battles demons, and finally, destroys the king of Hell, Satan. In God of War, the hero climbs Mt. Olympus (goes into ‘heaven’) and defeats all the Gods!
Here’s what I would like to see – it’s actually the theme of the novel I hope to write but would make a brilliant video game:
God has decided to end the world and is sending his armies of angels down to defeat all of mankind (at the battle of Armageddon.) A hero rises (The anti-christ) dedicated to saving the human race. Bosses could include Jesus – who in the Koran and the Bible, comes down from heaven on a white horse with a sword (or double scimitar) slaughters sinners and pushes the Anti Christ into the pit of sulfur, or arch angels like Michael or Gabriel or the two guardians of the tree of life with the flaming swords, or the beasts that God unleashes from the pit to afflict mankind with poisonous stings (face like men, tails like scorpions), or the Four Horsemen (each one alone would be a devasting opponent). The hero would finally climb up through heaven somehow, find the King of Heaven in his big jewel covered chair, surround by his hordes of prostating companions (which would all rush at the hero, and he’d have to cut them down like grass), face the four great beasts with eyes all over their bodies that protect God – and finally defeat God himself!
This would be an awesome game – and would attract real protest from real Christians.