Hindus play the Porn Card in SMITE Dispute
- By: CM Boots-Faubert
- Posted 16th Jul 2012
Over the course of the past two months a self-styled Nevada (USA) based Hindu activist named Rajan Zed -- speaking in his official role as the director of the Universal Society of Hinduism, a small Reno, Nevada based Hindu rights organization that is run by Zed and his son -- has issued a flurry of press releases aimed at protesting the inclusion of deities from world religions and particularly the Hindu Goddess Kali in the upcoming fighting-action game SMITE, from Hi-Rez Studios.
Smite is a free-to-play online action real-time strategy game in which gamers choose characters from a wide selection of mythical gods, and using their chosen god/goddess then join in session-based arena combat, using custom powers specific to their supernatural being to battle other player-controlled gods and non-player controlled minions. While the game is still listed as being under development it has reportedly entered beta test phase and is slated to be published in 2012.
In his most recent press release, issued on Saturday, July 14 and titled "Upcoming online video game with porno-star type image of goddess Kali dismays Hindus worldwide" the self-declared Hindu Statesman and Hindu rights activist blasts the game for its use of what he terms a pornographic portrayal of the Hindu goddess Kali, saying " the portrayal of goddess Kali, a highly revered deity of Hinduism, the appearance of a porno-star in an upcoming online action video game SMITE."
Consistently throughout the press release campaign Zed has declared that "in a video game set-up, the player would control and manipulate goddess Kali and other Hindu deities, which was highly inappropriate as in reality the devotees put the destinies of themselves in the hands of their deities," adding that "Reimagining Hindu scriptures and deities for commercial or other agenda was not okay as it hurt the devotees."
The concerns that Zed raises appear to be reasonable and compelling, but interviews with Hindu authorities, practitioners, and experts on the religion that dominates the country of India and enjoys wide popularity and following elsewhere in the world contradicts the claims he is making and the position that he has taken.
A headshot of Rajan Zed he thoughtfully provided with is latest press release. Zed is an active member of his local Hindu community and according to news reports has been honored by civic governments and groups for his interest in serving his community and his interest in causes.
"Really any platform that presents the goddess to non-believers is truly a good thing, as it will surely make them curious to learn more about the wonderful wisdom, peace, and enlightenment that they offer" says Krishna follower Aagney Harit. "Our faith is a tolerant faith, and does not concern itself with the use of our deities by those outside of the faith; I find this campaign you have told me about disturbing. Perhaps this Rajan Zed has lost the harmony of the way?"
"These allegations of dandaparusya that are directed towards the video game company feel a misguided gesture," says Maharishi Daksh. "Perhaps the important lessons of the parable of the crying calf was not fully understood in the embrace of learning as a brahmacharya?
"Please do not misunderstand, one should feel strongly about their faith, but one should always remember that the Dharmic path is ever one of peace and acceptance; he must be full of compassion and forgiveness even to those who mean him harm, so protest of this nature, in this manner, using these words, simply does not make sense."
The general reaction to the issue on an official basis is that what non-believers do with images if the Hindu deities does not greatly concern Hindus, though there is a school of thought that suggests that any use of these figures has the potential to bring enlightenment and new converts to the faith, even when they are used in a video game.
Read Gaming Update's previous coverage of the issue: Hindu Outrage Part of PR Campaign for SMITE?, SMITE causes Jews and Buddhists to get on board with Hindus, and Catholics back Hindus in Anti-SMITE PR Campaign?
A History of Gods and Goddesses in Combat
The use of deities in fighting games has long been a traditional element in the genre for Japanese game makers, whose take on the matter is far from religious, being more closely associated with giving the player the best experience that can be had either as a character or as the enemy that they battle. The idea behind the use of gods and goddesses is a simple one -- if you are going to play a fighting game wouldn't you rather battle omnipotent enemies with omnipotent characters? Why be mortal when you can be a god?
This philosophy is a well-established approach to the genre and save for a few rare instances has never drawn the sort of attention and ire that emanates from Rajan Zed and his Universal Society of Hinduism. In fact the simulated furor and persistence that Zed has shown for the issue is remarkably similar to the hyperbole and posture frequently encountered in the god-based video games themselves, making Zed the perfect model for a villain in one of the upcoming titles in the genre.
We don't mean to denigrate or insult the man or his organization -- it is entirely possible that he is perfectly sincere in his histrionics and anger -- but we do not think so. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that at worse, this entire PR campaign is little more than a staged reverse publicity scheme that is intended to increase awareness of SMITE and help to promote it prior to release, which would mean that Zed is a willing participant in the campaign, and at best that the folks in the PR department at Hi-Rez simply got lucky when Zed's ire was focused upon their title, because in simple terms most game companies cannot afford to spend the sort of money that they would have to spend to obtain the amount of exposure that the game has received as a result.
We have been trying since June to obtain an interview with Zed, a man who is usually eager to speak to the press about his causes, but with no success. He is simply not making himself available for comment and interview on this specific issue. The fact that the early press releases in the series he has issued read like advertisements for SMITE was the first tip-off that something was not kosher here, and his recruitment of small-stature local clerics from other religions in his region does not help the case, since none of them have actually joined the anti-SMITE campaign, but rather have simply made statements in support of the idea behind it.
A background check on Rajan Zed has revealed serious concerns about his claims and his status; while he claims to be a Hindu Statesman, checks with the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC and with religious authorities in India reveal that Zed has no official standing with either, and has never served in any capacity as an official or even honorary representative of India or the three major branches of the Hindu faith.
While he presents his official organization, the Universal Society of Hinduism, as a serious and influential entity, a cursory examination of its status reveals that it is little more than an envelope of papers and a Post Office Box, with its official headquarters as identified to the Nevada Secretary of State's office being Zed's own residential home in the suburb of Northgate. The official positions declared in the not-for-profit filing with the state have Zed listed as the president/director, with his college-aged son listed as filling all of the other positions, including Treasurer and Secretary.
In his press releases Zed states that "video game makers should be more sensitive while handling faith related subjects and no faith, larger or smaller, should be trampled." These are sentiments that are reasonable enough on their face, but the characterizations that Zed is making with respect to the use of the goddess Kali in SMITE as a porno star is simply off-base and wholly inaccurate, and we can only presume that it was done in order to increase the attention that is being paid to the campaign by using words and ideas that are calculated to upset or interest the readers.
Considering some of the stories that are associated with Hindu gods and goddesses involving particularly creative sexual activities as well as choices in partners that, were these gods and goddesses to be caught participating in those activities today, could easily see them serving sentences in jail, one is given pause to wonder just who is kidding who? When you factor in the scanty dress and outright nudity of many of these gods and goddesses, unless the folks over at Hi-Rez have added overtly sexual moves to the characters we are again placed in a position of having to wonder just what the point of that claim is?
The Hindu goddess Kali, who is most commonly known for her role as the goddess of death and destruction as well as rebirth, is often pictured in drawing and statue form with four to eight arms and hands and pert breasts with pronounced nipples in order to emphasize her role as mother as well as slayer.
Considering that the Hindu goddess Kali happens to be the warrior goddess of death, and is routinely illustrated by Hindu's standing topless with her breasts covered by strategically arranged strings of flowers, on top of the dead body of a slain enemy, holding a trident in one of her four hands while waving a large sword in another and holding out the severed head of another enemy in her third hand, she not only appears to be the perfect deity to represent the Hindu faith in SMITE, if we were in the shoes of the Hi-Rez developers we would be hard-pressed to find an alternative.
The fact that in all of his official press releases Zed has identified only the positive aspects of the character of the goddess Kali, appearing to distance her from her other incarnation as the goddess of death and destruction, one has to wonder just how sincere this campaign really is? On the one hand we have a self-proclaimed activist decrying the marginalization of a religious figure as a warrior character in a video game, while on the other we have that same figure cherry-picking only the best and kindest features of the goddess so as not to have to explain why she would not make the perfect warrior character in that video game.
While the background and impetus behind this anti-SMITE campaign may not be clear, one thing that is clear is that it has the potential to become one of the most effective promotional campaigns for a video game in recent memory, and then there is the wild card issue of not knowing what tactic that Zed will seize upon next. The journey so far has been entertaining and unpredictable, with the only entity involved clearly benefiting from it being the video game itself, which thanks to the wide coverage of the alleged Hindu outrage has every chance to become a household word in the home of the average gamer.