Video games: a good place for myth

It’s a rare pleasure when I can tag a post as both “gaming” and “faith.”  w00t!

In SMITE, a forthcoming game from Hi-Rez, players can control a number of gods from various religions/mythology.  This has ruffled some feathers in the Hindu community.

…the Universal Society for Hinduism has caught wind of the fact that SMITE players can control Hindu deities such as Kali and Agni, and the organization’s president, Rajan Zed, is not pleased. Zed claims that “controlling and manipulating goddess Kali and other HIndu deities… is denigration as these deities are meant to be worshiped,” not “reduced to just a character in a video game.” As such, Zed called for the immediate removal of all Hindu deities from the title.

It seems to me that being a character in a good video game is about as worshiped as a fictional character can get.

Hi-Rez’s COO, Todd Harris, issued this response.

SMITE includes deities inspired from a diverse and ever expanding set of pantheons including Greek, Chinese, Egyptian, and Norse. Hinduism, being one of the world’s oldest, largest and most diverse traditions, also provides inspiration toward deities in our game. In fact, given Hinduism’s concept of a single truth with multiple physical manifestations one could validly interpret ALL the gods within SMITE to be Hindu. And all gods outside of SMITE as well. Ponder that for a minute. Anyway, going forward SMITE will include even more deities, not fewer.”

Translation: your sacred cows are not ours, and you don’t get to demand we revere your gods/faith in the a particular way.

And he’s spot on.  If they include Jesus, I’ll be really impressed and will likely purchase the game, if only to beat Jesus into a bloody, non-existent pulp.

  • karmakin

    I play a Norse Frost Giant type God in it (forget the name). It’s not a bad game, although it suffers from typical MOBA community issues. (Which is probably to be expected)

    • Mr.Kosta

      You mean Thryrm?

      Surtur is way cooler, pal. Fire giants FTW.

  • http://faehnri.ch/ eric

    Good on them. I would get this game just because they’re standing up to these ridiculous demands.

    They wouldn’t put Jesus in the game. He’s too lame of a character. Who would want to play as him?

    • Drakk

      Cyborg Pirate Ninja Jesus is a different matter entirely

      • http://faehnri.ch/ eric

        I agree. And I hear the Cyborg Pirate Ninja Christians are totally cool with having their rad savior in a game.

        • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

          +17,000 internets

    • justsomeguy

      I’m guessing he’d be a healer-type class, but with the hit points of a warrior. Whatever else you may get from the bible, it’s pretty clear that Jesus can absorb a TON of damage. Too bad he’d probably be a clothie.

      • kagekiri

        Eh, he’s not that buff; didn’t he get killed as quickly as other humans when crucified? His powers are more like magic tricks, along with a supposed self-resurrection spell.

        He’s like a regenerating zombie/spirit who can walk through walls.

        Also, considering he never actually smites anyone in the Bible…what’s he gonna do? Smack them with a scaled-down-cross? Stick the nails back in his hands and feet and crown of thorns on his head and use them to stab people when he punches, kicks, and headbutts? I guess he’s supposed to have magical angel minions to do stuff for him?

        • IslandBrewer

          Yeah, he’ll do that annoying resurrection trick, just like shamans in WoW. The exploding loaf and razor ninja fish are good for novelty value, but the cooldown is way too long.

  • RhubarbTheBear

    You wouldn’t want to play as Jesus? You’re no fun…

  • http://www.facebook.com/Caller.Rutee ruteekatreya

    Entirely not comfortable with the white dude explaining to the hindus what a valid interpretation of hinduism is.

    There’s probably no problem in using hindu gods though.

    • Drakk

      I don’t get this. Why should he be limited from applying a logical analysis on the set of propositions that comprise Hinduism, just because of race? All he’s done is point out that A logically implies B.

      We don’t hold back on the criticism of Islam (or we shouldn’t, anyway) when it puts forth ridiculous propositions.

  • anteprepro

    “SMITE includes deities inspired from a diverse and ever expanding set of pantheons including Greek, Chinese, Egyptian, and Norse. Hinduism, being one of the world’s oldest, largest and most diverse traditions, also provides inspiration toward deities in our game.

    Sorry, but this doesn’t help their point. It is even clearer that they are singling Hinduism out. It is the only “pantheon” on that list that is still a modern day religion. They need to admit that it is implying that their gods are myths or come up with a much better argument for why it doesn’t.

    I would vastly prefer it if they tossed in other modern day religions into the mix in response, rather than making these transparent arguments. That is the ideal here if they don’t want to be accused of picking on Hinduism, but still want to keep Hindu deities in the game: become an equal opportunity “offender”.

    That said, the Hindu group has no right to demand that the video game portray Hindu deities as the group dictates. Or demand that the video game designers censor themselves.

    • http://faehnri.ch/ eric

      This is a commercial game, they would want their characters to be appealing to play. I don’t think they’re picking on a group. The Hindu gods are rad, they’d be fun to play. Jesus would be boring.

      But playing Moses could be cool. Crash a sea on people, plagues, beat people with stone tablets…

    • Gregory in Seattle

      Asatru, a revival/reconstruction of the Norse gods, is a very religion to many modern people. So are Greek, Roman and Egyptian Reconstructionism. So are the traditional beliefs of many indigenous people.

      If you were to exclude “modern day religions” then you would have to exclude pretty much every religion, as well as a number of relatively recent creations such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, Discordia and Bob.

      At what point does a religion become “dead” enough to include?

      • anteprepro

        So…not seeing a bit of a difference between “revivals”/ “reconstructions” of old religions and old religions? Religions are “dead enough” when we have a long period of time when we can all, uncontroversially and via consensus, refer to their beliefs as myths. The Egyptian, Norse, and Greek pantheons were religions, were gone for millennia, and were labeled “myths” during that time. Just because some loons sincerely believe in it now doesn’t change that. And that makes it noticeably different from the comparably old and ridiculous Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

    • kagekiri

      I think a decent number of Chinese gods are still worshiped; they’re burning incense to SOMEONE at those various altars, though it might just be their ancestors.

      • anteprepro

        Hah. I missed that one. Good catch.

  • baal

    Were I the Hindu group, I’d work with the game maker to ‘increase the authenticity” of the Hindu gods roles and backstory. I’d also then pay them to make the Hindu gods, in particular, totally OP. Imagine the legion of fanbois, “Dude! Hindu’s rock!” Tada, instant foot in the door for new converts!

  • baal

    OT god with burning bushes, genocidal floods and a special weakness against iron chariots would rock!

  • Drew

    The big difference between Hinduism and most current religions is that Hinduism is the only one that still thinks there are lots of gods, and thus is the only one that really qualifies for inclusion in SMITE.

    Also Jesus would be OP. I mean his ultimate move would be to turn into God AND the hole ghost! Of course, if you manage to kill him it does take 3 days to respawn…

  • http://www.sexyheathen.com Joshua

    You can give Jesus the ability to fly, regenerate friendly fallen minions, teleport, confuse enemy minions, manipulate weather, and possibly even start various plagues. For his normal attack I suggest either giving him a staff weapon or having him shoot lasers from his eyes.

    • cag

      And here I was, thinking that jesus* only had the power to spread the ordure of male bovines.

      * An imaginary being that makes frequent appearances in damaged brains.

  • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

    Doesn’t make them “just a character in a video game” actually make them more real than they previously were?

  • sqlrob

    I thought they already said that they weren’t going to include any of the Abrahamic. I’ll have to see if I can dig that one up.

  • IslandBrewer

    Totally would want to see a Ganesh/Kali tagteam! Or a cross pantheon Thor/Kali.

  • Chad

    My 3 yr. old stepson was watching me play Skyrim and when he saw one of the bearded Nord characters, he said, “that’s Jesus.”. (wife is Christian and takes him to church)

    My older son assured him it wasn’t, because, “Jesus doesn’t carry an axe.”

    I contend that if Jesus had carried an axe at least he would have been kind of cool.

    “By the powe of Me! I have the Power!”. Jeeeee-sus! Cue 1980′s He-Man music.

  • Andy

    This post is disappointing. Obviously Hinduism can and should be mocked. But even more obviously the people making this game are racist idiots, because of the religions they choose to include. It’s the equivalent of making every hollywood movie villain muslim. Just because Islam is terrible doesn’t make it not racist. The problem with this game isn’t that they are disrespecting some religions, it’s that they are respecting others and it’s pretty obvious why.

  • H.H.

    I agree that IF Yahweh was included, then it would be a defensible artistic statement. However, as it stands, it appears more to be a bunch of gods from dead religions plus some brown people’s “crazy” gods. It’s xenophobic in the extreme.

  • Stevarious

    Translation: your sacred cows are not ours, and you don’t get to demand we revere your gods/faith in the a particular way.

    Also, cows are delicious.

    @Andy

    But even more obviously the people making this game are racist idiots

    Hindu isn’t a race, it’s a religion. You can’t be racist against Hindus any more than you can be racist towards Christians. You can be racist towards, say, Indian people, but that’s about three steps removed from what’s going on here. There’s nothing in this game to even imply a word about followers of Hindu – your comparison to “Muslim guy in movie = terrorist” is deeply flawed because the game contains no depictions of Hindu followers at all, bad or good.

    There is nothing racist about depiction fictional beings ‘inaccurately’ because there’s no way to depict a fictional being ‘accurately’ (because it’s fictional you see). I can depict Shiva as a cross-legged meditating man or a beautiful, scantily clad, ice-wielding magical woman (which, BTW, Square has been doing in video games since 1990…) and both depictions are equally valid because Shiva is not a real thing. No one has any obligation to respect anyone’s ‘deeply held beliefs’ no matter how deeply they are held or whose they are. You are free to get as upset about that as you like, but don’t pretend this is about racism.

    • Andy

      Stevarious,

      No, hinduism isn’t a race, but I’ve yet to see a racist who cares much about that distinction.

      My argument is not that religion should be afforded any kind of respect. I never meant to imply that. Religion is a choice, etc etc.

      My argument is that the people making this game have decided that certain religions should be respected, and others should not. It’s not the disrespect that’s the problem, it’s the uneven application of it. When somebody decides that christianity shouldn’t be mocked, but hinduism should, it’s really not a stretch at all to call that racist.

      H.H. above said it well: “as it stands, it appears more to be a bunch of gods from dead religions plus some brown people’s “crazy” gods”.

      My comparison to muslim villians in movies isn’t to illustrate anything about how characters should be depicted. It’s to illustrate that the “religion shouldn’t get a free pass” argument shouldn’t be used to give people the right to hate on specific religions for racist reasons. I can hate Islam and also call out those racist depictions at the same time.

      You say, “You can’t be racist against Hindus any more than you can be racist towards Christians”, but what do you call it if someone values christianity over hinduism because of who mostly practices those religions?

    • Andy

      Sorry to post twice, but I thought maybe I could put it more clearly and succinctly. Short version:

      I have no problem whatsoever with the depiction of hindu gods in a video game. I do have a problem with giving christianity a pass on the same treatment in a game that is supposed to be about different gods fighting each other, and I see no reason for this discrepency except for the question of who happens to practice these religions.

      • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

        The problem is, nobody is mocking anything. Have you seen the game? It’s one where gods fight one another. Christianity has no place in a game like this for two reasons

        1. Jesus is not a fighter character. He’s rarely depicted as a god that goes to war and never in the stories about his life. It makes no sense to add him to the game at all.

        2. Polytheistic religions are often possible because they depict their gods warring with one another. As a result, those gods are limited in significant ways and have strengths in various areas, making for an even fight and one that is both exciting for followers and explanatory of why the “good” gods don’t just make things perfect (i.e. other gods get in their way). However, the xtian godhead is all powerful, capable of doing anything by its will alone (which is possible when there’s only one of them). How do you design a game powerset around “can do anything it wants whenever as much as it wants with no limits”?

        They’re not affording Christianity a special place by not including it. They just realize it would be a stupid addition to this game and made a design choice. They are also not “mocking” anything. They’re depicting one possible portrayal of fictional beings that happens to disagree with some other people’s portrayal, and those people are claiming it’s offensive because they unfortunately happen to think those fictional beings are real.

        They also didn’t include Pikkiwoki, the Papua New Guinean mud god, likely because there’s no place in a fighting game for a mud god to hand out a pig and all the coconuts you can carry (shout out to John). Similarly, I don’t see Ahura Mazda nor Angra Mainyu, but I don’t think they’re unreasonably favoring Zoroastrianism. Now that I think about it, those two would make excellent additions to the game.

        If they were mocking another religion, I’d say you had a point, but in this case they’re picking religions that have gods with mythological power sets that best lend themselves to a game of this style and can’t be blamed because most of the awesome gods are no longer actively followed in any significant numbers.

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    I am going to wait for the expansion, so I can have God vs. Allah (with Jesus vs. Mohammed as the under-card) to determine which is the One True Religion.

    • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

      That would be kinda boring, actually. Three out of four of those are the exact same person. It would be like watching that one scene in Fight Club where Ed Norton beats himself up, which is a great scene I admit, over and over again.

      • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

        Fine. Can I least have Xenu vs. L. Ron Hubbard?

        • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

          That would be awesome. Both would fight primarily by summoning minions to overwhelm the other. It would be a giant battle.

          • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

            I assume it would be both a physical AND a legal battle!


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