From Manic Miners to End Times Video Game Bonanza

Talk to Action has been running a remarkable series of essays by Jonathan Hutson on the new Left Behind: Eternal Forces video game, in which members of the Christian “Tribulation Force” roam a chaotic New York trying to convert non-Christians, or, if that fails, apparently blowing them away. The subject has now had extensive media coverage, including a report in the Los Angeles Times in which a journalist took on the role of Satan in a game against Left Behind Games President Jeffrey Frichner:

The good thing was, however, that as Satan, I of course had the United Nations on my side. As my peacekeeping Hummer and some of my followers rolled down Sixth Avenue, the Christians outflanked me and started firing, immediately taking out several of my nurses.

The apocalypse, I was learning, was a good excuse for Christians to just go nuts and unload a lot of pent-up stuff.

Hutson noted particularly the presence of Mark Carver on the advisory board of Left Behind Games; Carver is the international director of Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven” ministry. Several days after Hutson’s first piece appeared, Carver resigned from his position at the company. A number of conservative Christians are among those angry with the game, and Christian attorney Jack Thompson is lobbying Christian Right leaders to repudiate Tyndale House, which publishes the Left Behind novels:

“My words cannot fully describe what a betrayal this has been by Tyndale,” Mr. Thompson wrote in a letter dated June 9, 2006, that he faxed to Mr. [James] Dobson, “not just to me but to all of the Christian families out there who are trying to protect our kids from the corrosive, violent effects of violent media. A Christian organization has now become one of the mental molesters of minors for money.”

“What is more,” Mr. Thompson continued, “we as a nation are involved in a war on terror, and this game gives radical Islamists two arguments: that we indeed do export pop culture sewage to the rest of the world, and we Christians entertain ourselves with the notion of killing infidels, now in a ‘Christian game’.”

One wonders, though, why Thompson is quite so surprised: the final Left Behind novel, Glorious Appearing, ends in a bloodbath, in which even the horses used by the anti-Christ’s armies get massacred by a wrathful Jesus (as I blogged at the time):

Men and women soldiers and horses seemed to explode where they stood…It was as if the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin…Even as they struggled, their own flesh dissolved, their eyes melted and their tongues disintegrated.

Left Behind Games was founded in 2001 “for the purpose of developing games based upon the popular Left Behind Series”. Earlier this year it was acquired by Bonanza Gold, Inc., which has now changed its name to that of its subsidiary. Talk to Action links to a SEC document with further details:

On February 7, 2006, Bonanza Gold, Inc. (sometimes the “Registrant” or “Bonanza”), acquired Left Behind Games Inc. as a subsidiary pursuant to a Share Exchange Agreement dated as of January 26, 2005. Left Behind Games Inc. now accounts for all of our operations. Also, pursuant to the Share Exchange Agreement, Troy A. Lyndon, Jeffrey S. Frichner, Thomas H. Axelson, respectively the chief executive officer, president & secretary and chief financial officer of our new subsidiary Left Behind Games Inc., were appointed to our board of directors and named as our chief executive officer, president & secretary and chief financial officer, respectively. Concurrently with Messrs. Lyndon’s, Frichner’s, and Axelson’s appointment as all of our officers, Mr. Robert E. Kistler resigned as our president and treasurer, and Hobart Teneff resigned as our vice president. In addition, Messrs. Kistler, Teneff and Terrence Dunne resigned as our directors.

The new board is profiled on the Left Behind Games website, while a list of shareholders as of Feb 2006 can be seen here. The North County Times dug into Bonanza a bit more back in January:

Founded as a mining company, Bonanza exists on paper but has been inactive since 1996, according to SEC filings. It’s registered at the home of its chief executive, Robert Kistler, who couldn’t be reached for comment this week…Since the merger was announced, shares of Bonanza Gold have quadrupled in over-the-counter trading, rising to $1.10 from 28 cents on Thursday. That price values the company at about $8.1 million.

Further background was provided by Business Wire:

Bonanza Gold, Inc. incorporated under the laws of the State of Washington on April 3, 1961 as Vermillion Gold, Inc. Bonanza was organized primarily for the purpose of exploring for, acquiring and developing mineral properties with a potential for production. Bonanza had been involved in the acquisition and exploration of various mining properties, located in the states of Alaska, Montana and Idaho. Exploration efforts were unsuccessful and none of these mining properties produced any commercial ore. Bonanza abandoned its remaining mining claims and the related development costs in 1996. Consequently, since 1996, Bonanza has been inactive.

That information appears to have come from this somewhat dull 2004 SEC document. One of the directors who resigned from Bonanza, VP Hobart Teneff, is a controversial figure, for reasons explained in an undated story from the Pacific Northwest Inlander:

The president and CEO for Sterling [Mining] is Frank Duval, and Hobart Teneff is a director. They co-founded Pegasus Gold Corp. in 1974, the company that owned and operated the Zortman-Landusky Gold Mines in north-central Montana until its bankruptcy in 1998, a move that left state taxpayers with millions of dollars in cleanup and reclamation costs.

In 1988, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Duval and Teneff with violations of SEC laws during their tenure with Pegasus. The two men consented to an U.S. Court injunction permanently enjoining them from future violations. The Zortman-Landusky mines are the poster children, says [activist Cesar] Hernandez, for failed federal and state regulatory and enforcement efforts to protect both the environment and local communities from irresponsible mining.

But this is a digression…Yet another SEC document explains the current structure of what is now Left Behind Games:

Our ability to develop and market our video game products depends entirely upon our license from the publisher of the Left Behind series. On October 11, 2002, White Beacon secured the license from the publisher of the Left Behind series to use the copyrights and trademarks relating to the Left Behind series to develop video game products. This license has been sublicensed to Left Behind Games in entirety. The license requires Left Behind Games to pay royalties and other fees on an ongoing basis to the publisher of the Left Behind series and to meet certain product development, manufacturing and distribution milestones.

This paragraph is part of a whole list of “Risks Relating to the Video Game Industry”, which include possible future government regulations and an economic slump should there be terrorist attacks in the USA. For some reason, however, “Loss of personnel and market due to Rapture” is not listed as one of the possible business risks.

As for White Beacon:

White Beacon is owned by Troy A. Lyndon, our chief executive officer and Jeffrey S. Frichner, our president.

Also:

Operations expanded beyond our facilities in Ukraine to include three additional offices, in the short term, in Romania.

Romania! Home to Nicolae Carpathia, the anti-Christ of the Left Behind series! Seriously, though, this is a reference to LB Games Ukraine, LLC, a management company in which Lyndon is a majority shareholder (Lyndon also outsources to various other countries)

However, Left Behind Games are now rejecting claims of gratuitous violence and bad taste. Back to the NC Times:

“There’s lots of killing in the Bible,” President Jeffrey Frichner said. “The differentiator between our game and some of the games that focus on killing in the (mainstream gaming) market is that our game doesn’t focus on gratuitous killing.”

Left Behind Games’ spokesperson is Derek Asato, who offered a similar defence to the Washington Times:

“The Bible says you do not have to stand there and let someone kill you,”

This foray into Biblical hermeneutics is a new departure for Asato, who undertakes PR work for a number of software firms (as well as NASA) at the Bohle Company. Lyndon himself ventures that

“Jesus did not say you have to let yourself be a punching bag or murder victim”