John Walsh: Tales of the City

'Can someone tell the Christian Right that Halo 3 is really an anti-religious text? Maybe the name misled them'
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The Independent Online

You have to hand it to the Christian Right in America. They will do absolutely anything to pull the lazy, grunting, spiritually incoherent, morally disaffected adolescent masses into their flock, no matter how ridiculous the means or farcical the pretext. Their latest whizzy idea is to use the massive success of the Xbox video game Halo 3 to encourage Young Folks back into church.

Across the nation, enterprising Christians have been holding Halo Nights in church youth centres and, in some cases, actual church premises. And in the few seconds when they can attract the players' attention between shootings, they've tried explaining that the game is just like Christianity in being concerned with "saving the world".

Perhaps the name misled them. Perhaps they thought it was a three-step programme that could turn you into a saint, with a halo hovering above your head. Maybe they saw it as a representation of the Church Militant, newly equipped with laser cannons.

Now, I'm no expert on computer games, but I know that Halo 3 is set in a far-off galaxy, where large humanoid soldiers, bristling with armaments, strive to fight off a nasty invading force of aliens called The Covenant. This is surely dismaying news for Christians trying to use the black arts of biblical exegesis to impress young converts. For the only Covenant in the Bible is the one in Deuteronomy – the deal struck between God and his people that he wouldn't strike them down for being sinners and they might find themselves in Heaven if they played their cards right and took care of the Ark.

So, if the aliens in Halo 3 are on the side of the Covenant, that makes the indigenous humans in Halo World the bad guys. It's not the most promising basis on which to sell the game as a metaphor for religious striving, is it? When all the plasma grenades, fire bombs and Morla guns have fallen silent, it's a fundamentally antireligious text.

But the Evangelicals needn't give up. There are plenty of games on which to perform interpretative feats. What is Tomb Raider but a search through abandoned catacombs for the Eternal Truth and the Resurrection of a supposedly dead person, something that Christians rehearse every Easter? Could anyone play Grand Theft Auto – San Andreas for half an hour without spotting that the nasty figure running through the streets, shooting people in the head and stealing their cars, is obviously an avatar of John the Public, striving to alert the ungodly to the imminent arrival of the Son of God and punishing those who won't listen? And yes, I know the one called Kill All Humans! may sound a little negative, but its message is in fact one of transcendence, urging us to abandon our earthly attachments and the superficial trappings of humanity and embrace the higher reality of paradise. Simple, isn't it? As for Crash Bandicoot...

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President Hu Jintao of China is a shadowy figure – keen on censoring TV news and the internet, sensitive about his government's human-rights record, dictatorial about the "honours and disgraces" his subjects should adopt or abandon in their daily lives – but he has one thing in his favour. He has a cute hobby. It seems the Paramount Leader likes cutting up sheets of paper into little pictures. It's a traditional art enjoyed for centuries by Chinese peasants, because it gave them something to do in the evenings and, although the Chinese invented paper, most of them couldn't read books or write letters.

President Hu is showing his best stuff in a must-see exhibition, called Returning to Mother's House, in Wuhan next month. This will surely lead to a frenzy of emulative paper-cutting among Communist Party top brass, as they strive to curry favour with the leader ("Look, Mr President – 36 dancing dolls, holding hands! It took me all weekend!")

Paper-cutting, as a harmless pastime, isn't confined to the Orient. George I of England had two mistresses, a plump one called "The Elephant" with whom he had sex, and a thin one called "The Maypole" with whom he liked to sit on his bedroom floor, cutting up paper into animal shapes. I've always felt this an endearing detail. Why don't more leaders acquire endearing hobbies? Would President Sarkozy seem less bumptious if we knew he stayed in nights perfecting his macramé technique? Would we find Vladimir Putin less intimidating if we knew he collected conkers? And wouldn't many of Gordon Brown's PR troubles melt away if we discovered he secretly loves building Airfix models of Elizabethan ships with teensy sailors?

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The world porridge-making championship in Strathspey has announced the winner of its Golden Spurtle award – a Ms Maria Soep of Argyll, for her special "pinhead oats" from Oban, which she soaks overnight and cooks with salt and water. You can imagine the muttering and backbiting from Ms Soep's rivals: that she disnae use the right recipe, that her family haven't lived in these parts enough centuries, that she has an insufficiently Scots surname.

The winner of the speciality porridge award revealed that his dish involves chocolate, stewed apple, cinnamon, raisins and cream. You can almost hear the collective eyebrows of the Scots being raised to heaven to learn about this travesty. Celtic people are very possessive about porridge. I remember my Uncle John – Irish but relocated to Scotland – recoiling with disgust when my mother made his porridge with a pinch of sugar rather than salt. He thought it a grotesque modern mistake, like trouser-suits on women. Only last week, I heard Ian Paisley attribute his long life to eating porridge and honey every morning. It's one of those things that mustn't be mucked about with. I foresee a franchise of organic porridge bars taking the country by storm. What'll it be called? Why, Oat Cuisine, obviously.

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