Hindu Group Wants Religious Fighting Game Pulled From QuakeCon

QuakeCon 2012 is coming up in just a few days. It's a huge LAN party, featuring well-known speakers and panelists, and sprawling over Dallas. The roster of games, of course, features Quake tournaments but other games make a showing as well. This year, the online battle arena game Smite is one of a handful of competitive titles slated to be playable.

Rajan Zed, of the Universal Society of Hinduism, has put out a statement asking the organisers of QuakeCon to consider withdrawing Smite from the competition line-up. The statement asserts, in part:

Reimagining Hindu scriptures and deities for commercial or other agenda was not OK as it hurt the devotees. Controlling and manipulating goddess Kali and other Hindu deities with a joystick/ button/keyboard/mouse was denigration. Goddess Kali and other Hindu deities were meant to be worshipped in temples and home shrines and not meant to be reduced to just a "character" in a video game to be used in combat in the virtual battleground.

This isn't the first time Zed and the Universal Society of Hinduism have expressed dismay over the way Hindu deities, particularly the goddess Kali, are portrayed in Smite. A handful of other religious leaders have backed Zed's statements, and there are essays out there explaining how the use of existing deities in Smite is an uncomfortable kind of cultural appropriation.

Hi-Rez Studios have no plans to remove Hindu deities from the game. They have also explained in the past why they deliberately avoided featuring any figures from the Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam). The reasoning? "The key Abrahamic figures -- Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, are not that interesting in character design or gameplay."

One might argue that the ability to part the Red Sea is, in fact, the sort of thing that would make interesting gameplay. One might further do the maths and realise that while there are approximately three million practicing Hindus in the United States, there are something on the order of 200 million Christians -- it's an audience segment most developers will want to avoid making angry.

QuakeCon may not be the biggest convention in gaming, but it's far from tiny. Past years have seen over 8500 attendees show up for the free weekend, competing for prizes as high as $US16,000. This year's con starts on Thursday, August 2. Id and Bethesda are both sponsors of the event, as is Hi-Rez, the studio behind Smite and Tribes: Ascend (also playable at the con). Major hardware companies, including Intel, also sponsor the event.

The Universal Society of Hinduism, meanwhile, appears to be sadly non-universal. While the goals of the organisation are laudable, their website appears to be mostly under construction and has not been updated in some time. However, Zed and the Society are not alone in their criticism.

The Hindu American Foundation has also been in discussion with Hi-Rez Studios about the inclusion and portrayal of Kali and other Hindu figures. Kotaku asked the Foundation for comment. Sheetal Shah, speaking on behalf of the Foundation, indicated that they have played the beta test of the game, and continue to "strongly oppose" the way Smite features Hindu figures. "Hinduism is the only living and active tradition" of the five featured in the game, Shah added, and, "testing the game did not change our position that the Hindi deities should be removed."

However, Shah confirmed, Hi-Rez is working with the HAF to ensure that the information about Hinduism as spread by Smite is, at least, accurate:

In particular, we felt Kali's imagery, victory dance, and death scene were disrespectful. Despite our request, Hi-Rez choose to keep them in. But we do credit Todd's [Harris, COO of Hi-Rez] genuine effort to work with us and to incorporate our suggestions to ensure the representation of the three deities (and Bakasura) are accurate. We also provided a number of online Hinduism resources that Hi-Rez has agreed to post on their user forum to help disseminate accurate information about Hinduism. As per my last conversation with Todd, I believe Kali's current victory and death scenes will be altered to be more respectful of a Goddess that is worshiped by millions of Hindus.

In summary, we are still distressed that the Hindu deities are included - while noting, that no deities of any other major faith are included - but we do acknowledge that Hi-Rez has actively worked with us to disseminate accurate information on Hinduism.

Shah also indicated that the Hindu American Foundation plans to issue a press release detailing the organization's position on Smite later this week.

Previous criticisms of Smite have in the past kicked up mild controversies over the concept of free expression in gaming. While Hi-Rez is of course free to make any game they wish, and to encourage as many players as possible to make purchases (the base game is free-to-play), it is worth taking the time to look at the way that mainstream American culture treats unfamiliar faiths. Ancient Greek, Roman, and Norse pantheons have become playgrounds for storytellers, in large part because there are no second-century pagan Romans around to lodge strong objections. But as Zed and Shah both point out, there are roughly a billion practicing Hindus in the world today. Surely it is worth Hi-Rez's time at least to hear them out.

But meanwhile, QuakeCon starts Thursday, and Smite, in its current form, will almost certainly still be on deck for participants to play during the festivities.


    Geez, I have completely forgotten about QuakeCon, I have my fingers crossed for a Doom 4 reveal but with the re release of Doom 3 I doubt that will happen this year.

    I don't see a problem with this. It's no different than having a Batman/Spiderman crossover game. They've just got more fanboys.

    Clearly these guys missed the Shin Megami series...

      So true. I wonder what would happen if any religious group were to discover the SMT series...

    “The key Abrahamic figures — Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, are not that interesting in character design or gameplay.”
    Well, Jesus could shoot bread and fish from his hands. Adam was naked, so that'll probably appeal to certain people... Noah had an army of animals. Moses had plagues and frogs and stuff. I don't know anything about Mohammed though.

      This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

      He would be too busy molesting 9 year old girls to partake in a fight instead having an angry mob fight his battles for him

    I'm surprised they haven't also condemned the game for the hyper-sexualised appearance of Kali, as they have envisioned her with a figure that even a surgically enhanced porn star would look on in envy.

    Why do deities need rights groups to speak for them? If they were all-powerful, wouldnt they just do something themselves? Or maybe...

    I can see how people are being all cool with their atheist point of views(which I too share), though at the end of the day they(Universal Society of Hinduism) find this ridiculing their belief. Whether right or wrong Hi-Rez is taking their idea and twisting in a way as perceived by them insulting.

    I like their "Tribe:A" game and it is really quite fun but people who don't respect other people(It doesn't matter whether it's religion or not) aren't people I respect. They would have known without a single doubt in their mind that this would cause unrest but they have purposely pushed ahead.

    They could have suicide bombing Muhammad zerg and cartwheeling Jesus on a cross-wheel to make interesting avatars, but I guess they're too chicken to do that & thinks that the Hindu community are pushovers.

    Not being religious, I guess I can never properly understand how offensive this could be to someone.
    It would be nice if they did remove the content, or at the very least added more religious dudes just for equality's sake.

    I can see their point. Hinduism is the only religion portrayed in the game that is still practised; the same furore would've been kicked up had they included Jehovah or Allah, only with quite a bit more ferocity due to the larger population of religious followers in the game's target demographic. But as to whether the possibility of giving offence to people outside your core demographic should be able to affect your game... That's a very grey area.

    This is the equivalent of me protesting about my football team being in an upcoming game because they're shit and I don't want their shitness immortalised.

    No one cares that I find it offensive and no one should care that the Hindu League find this offensive.

    Im not a religious person but i can sympathise with these people here
    I grew up worshipping Bruce Lee and when I saw what they did to him Game Of Death I was outraged
    the horrible stand-ins with his face superimposed on, a scene of his actual funeral with an open casket
    Hinduism is thousands of years old, I can imagine seeing your holy idols reduced to digital puppets would being far worse

    Ppl are fucked, a week or so ago there was a gay marriage thread anyone who didn't agree was labeled a monster. Now all the comments trying to shit on other peoples rights to worship and have a form of religion.

      Its the internet dude and Kotaku is no different.
      The mob always rules.

    They can ask nicely, but there's no reason why anyone should oblige them except out of some kind of unearned respect.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now