So this story’s been gnawing at me over the past couple days, so I wanted to put down a few words about it.
Basically, Hi-Rez is coming out with its deity-themed League of Legends clone which it’s calling SMITE. I didn’t give it two thoughts, because I’m not that interested in that style of gameplay, and because it looked like your standard mining-mythology-for-colorful-characters setup.
Except that out of the lineup, Hi-Rez is throwing deities that are being actively worshiped by modern people (versus way back when folks). Hindus caught wind of their gods being treated as video game characters in a degrading way, and had a word with the company about it. Hi-Rez’s response was basically, “We’re doing nothing wrong, and instead of stopping this, we’re going to include even MORE gods!”
Fast-forward though a whole bunch of insensitive comments and internet angry faith hour stuff, and we’re left with an interesting conundrum. Is Hi-Rez bordering on extreme insensitivity here, or is this complaint groundless?
I’m going to actually post the full quote, because I have several issues with what the CEO says here:
“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.”
Issue one: There’s a difference between portraying deities that haven’t been actively worshiped in a long, long time and those at the centerpoint of a faith today. He lumps all of them together like it ain’t no thing, but obviously it is a thing to a group of people.
Issue two: His response not only fails to convey any sympathy toward those who would rather not see their gods being treated like Super Mario Bros, but he also tries to preach at them using their own faith. It comes across as extremely condescending, to say the least.
Issue three: The last sentence is a big screw-you to not only the Hindus, but anyone who has a problem with this.
Hey Mr. Harris? I’ve got a problem with this. I’ve got a problem with your attitude. I’m not bristling because I’m a Christian and I feel I have to rush to the defense of those religiously inclined, but because you’re missing the point here. These people have a real concern over you profiting from throwing their gods into a game. Maybe you should listen to them. Maybe there are plenty of ancient, long-gone cults and religions you could tap for “inspiration” instead. And maybe your attitude worries people of other faiths who do have issues with seeing those who don’t hold their objects of worship as sacred effectively making them into toys that kill and are killed. Or if you’re truly blase about it, why not throw Mohammed, Jesus, Buddha, or any other contemporary religious figure into the mix and see if those faiths are cool with it too?
But no. As my fellow Massively co-worker Bree notes, it’s “too risque” to consider. Chew on that for a minute.
Again, it’s a hard issue to know exactly what offense level it should draw (one? Six?). For all I know, the offended group represented an extreme minority and most Hindus would be okay with this. But it just doesn’t seem that hard to avoid potentially offending people by thinking these issues through, and I really don’t get why Harris is being antagonistic in his reply instead of showing a modicum of sympathy. You know, PR and all.
I think it’s important to note that this group doesn’t have a problem with Hinduism being in video games, but how it’s portrayed (a statement which would be shared by any creed, religion, race, gender, etc.). They’re saying, “How you’re doing this is wrong, it makes our god into a sex symbol and the front of a greedy cash-grab, and that offends us.” Personally, I think it’s legitimate.
It just reminds me of that wacky Bible MMO that got headlines a year or so ago. People just aren’t keen on studios using their faith as an IP to be mined for a game, particularly when the studio shows ignorance about that religion in particular. Very rarely is religion handled with any sensitivity in games when it does appear, so if you’re going to do it, do it right and not like a clumsy giant stepping on people’s beliefs.