US-based Rajan Zed is the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism. At this moment, he’s taken exception to a skin that Blizzard introduced for Overwatch’s Symmetra. The skin transforms Symmetra into something not unlike the Hindu Goddess Kali by giving her blue skin, vaguely Indian attire and a set of poses that vaguely resemble traditional depictions of Hindu Goddesses. The skin itself is titled Devi.
Overwatch is a game where players take control of ‘heroes’ and slug it out in an arena with an assortment of weapons and special abilities. This is also not the first time that Zed has gone after a game for its depiction of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. In 2012, he launched a lengthy campaign against Hi-Rez Studios, the creators of Smite, for their depiction of, again, the Goddess Kali and for the fact that one could play as said Gods and Goddesses.
In the case of Smite, Hi-Rez studios took feedback from the community and based on that, simply decided to drop all artwork related to Kali on their promotional material, but kept the character in the game.
Zed’s objections are understandable, and sensitive as the subject is, I think they’re mostly without merit. Gods and Goddesses have been depicted in stories and TV series before. At times, we’ve also enacted them in school. Pretending to be a God or a Goddess is nothing new in our culture (Ramlila, anyone?).
Nothing in Hinduism forbids this. As a child, I remember spending every Dussehra with friends and relatives dressed as Bheem or Krishna and various other Gods and demons, taking a swing at each other with Bheem’s mace, wishing that the cardboard Sudarshana Chakra was more effective, and so much more.
Play-acting has been part of our lives and it was part of the joy of growing up. These stories, whether in the form of books, TV or play-acting, taught us more about Indian history and mythos than any lecture by a droning granduncle.
Books, TV and play-acting were the only outlets to our imagination that were available at the time. Today, that outlet includes gaming. Kids are already watching shows like Chhota Bheem and playing games like Bal Ganesh or Ganesha Run on their mobiles and online.
How is Overwatch any different?
Zed’s objection to the Devi skin is that “controlling and manipulating Devi with a joystick/ button/keyboard/mouse is denigration”. Given the above, that notion is silly.
However, his primary objection that the depiction of Devi trivialises Indian Goddesses, I believe, is justified. Blizzard has a history of overtly sexualising characters in every game they’ve ever created. They’ve received a great deal of criticism for the attitude depicted towards women and only recently, had to modify the depiction of one of their characters owing to severe community backlash.
It may seem a bit prudish to say this, especially as Hindu Gods and Goddesses are traditionally portrayed in the nude or with minimal clothing, but portraying them as such in a game just feels wrong. More so when you realise that Blizzard, just like most other game companies, targets adolescent gamers.
Blizzard, or any western game company for that matter, will tread lightly when it comes to the Christian faith, and they’d rather not venture near the Muslim faith for fear of retribution.
Why should other religions be treated with less respect? If anything, I think it’s rather cool that we can get to play as characters from Indian mythos. Why should Poseidon and Raa have all the fun?
At the same time, expecting these characters to be portrayed with a bit more mindfulness and respect, I think, perfectly reasonable.
Publish date: July 18, 2016 1:47 pm| Modified date: July 18, 2016 3:10 pm