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Online Game Features Crucifixions, Offends Catholic Group

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) For nearly 2,000 years, Christians have marked the days leading up to Easter with dramatic reenactments of Jesus’ suffering, culminating with his crucifixion on Good Friday. This year, in a 21st century twist, players in a new online game who break the rules can undergo “virtual” crucifixions as punishment, […]

c. 2006 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) For nearly 2,000 years, Christians have marked the days leading up to Easter with dramatic reenactments of Jesus’ suffering, culminating with his crucifixion on Good Friday.

This year, in a 21st century twist, players in a new online game who break the rules can undergo “virtual” crucifixions as punishment, subjecting them to the taunts and jeers of other players while they hang on the cross.

Call it cyber crucifixion.

A 27-year-old electrical engineer from Burton, Mich., _ whose online persona is a hot-tempered barbarian named Cynewulf _ was the first player to be crucified in the game Roma Victor (http://www.roma-victor.com), which is set in Roman-occupied Britain, circa 180 A.D.

His crime? Preying on unsuspecting Romans and violating the spirit of the game. Roma Victor went public last year, ahead of a formal launch scheduled for this summer. The timing of the crucifixion during Lent, officials say, was purely coincidental

The New York-based Catholic League, which keeps a close eye on anything that seems to mock the Christian faith, says the online crucifixions cheapen Jesus’ death by making them routine.

“I know this stuff is pretty commonplace with these video games _ the violence, the sex _ but this part, the use of crucifixion, is obnoxious and I would have to say it’s willfully obnoxious,” said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League.

Not so, says Kerry Fraser-Robinson, the CEO of RedBedlam, the company that developed the game in Brighton, England. Fraser-Robinson said the company took pains not to offend Christians or exploit Jesus’ crucifixion.

“I can’t see how you’re a terribly good Christian if you’re offended by that,” said Kerry Fraser-Robinson, a 20-year industry veteran. “We’re certainly not insensitive to their wishes or views.”

Roma Victor counts thousands of players around the world as members, all leading virtual lives as Romans, Gauls, Celts or any other 2nd century character. In attempting to make the game as realistic as possible, gamers can rape, pillage and plunder at will.

Cynewulf _ whose real identity remains hidden _ has been playing about five hours a day for 10 months. He likened killing other players to popping bubble wrap, which he said becomes “strangely addictive somehow.”

“The satisfaction of stabbing an enemy until he falls, and then giving him the final deathblow while he lies helplessly at your feet, is pretty rewarding in itself,” he said in response to e-mailed questions.

But when Cynewulf hid in waiting for other players returning from a sojourn to the afterlife, and then killed them with no warning, Fraser-Robinson decided that his American barbarian had gone too far.

Fraser-Robinson, as the game organizer, is the only one who can impose a crucifixion as a punishment for players that break the rules. The seven-day crucifixions are a type of penalty box in which players are removed from play.

The experience was “surprisingly agonizing,” Cynewulf said, but not because of any physical pain he endured.

“Being jeered at by the Romans while immobilized is not much fun, particularly since they are all weaklings who deserve to die by my sword,” Cynewulf said.

Fraser-Robinson said crucifixion is only reserved for the most egregious offenses, such as hacking into the system or exploiting loopholes, even if characters go around “killing people and being generally quite nasty.” Two more characters have since been crucified.

He said it helps maintain order among players, just as it instilled fear among Roman subjects. “They can see what he’s done and what that got him,” Fraser-Robinson said. “It’s very effective.”

Peter Blackman, director of the Churches’ Media Council in Britain, which acts as a media watchdog group for British churches, found the game less troubling, especially since crucifixion was relatively commonplace under the Romans.

“This could be said to be in the same vein as (Mel Gibson’s) `The Passion of the Christ,’ which attempted to show the reality of the world” during Jesus’ lifetime, Blackman said.

But two millenia later, Donohue said the game makes the death of Jesus _ or at least the way he died _ routine, almost ho-hum. “It’s basically another example of exploitation,” he said.

Fraser-Robinson said players could instead choose to be Christian martyrs who are persecuted for their faith, like one player is doing. “I think he’s quite enjoying it, actually,” he said.

Cynewulf agreed. He was taken down from the cross Friday (March 28), but noted that players wanting a more Christian experience could “be another (St.) Perpetua and face lions rather than renounce her faith” or play one of the early church fathers, parsing out what would eventually become Christian dogma.

“It is,” Cynewulf said, “just a game after all.”

MO/JL END ECKSTROM

_ Anne Pessala in Washington and Al Webb in London contributed to this report.

Editors: To obtain a photo of an online crucifixion from Roma Victor, go to the RNS Web site at https://religionnews.com. On the lower right, click on “photos,” then search by subject or slug.