SMITE: “I know your religion better than you!” and the Pornification of Kali

A scantily-clad blue-skinned woman with four arms, meant to be a representation of the Hindu goddess Kali. Her upper arms are carrying a pair of serrated curved swords, while her lower hands are respectively holding a severed head and a censer made of skulls. the SMITE logo is at the bottom right.

SMITE is an upcoming MOBA where players battle it out as deities from the Greek, Chinese, Egyptian, Norse, and Hindu pantheons.

American pop culture has long appropriated other cultures and histories. Many of us have noticed this and we have talked about it, but we were always dismissed with the same arguments over and over. This time is no different.

Rajan Zed, President of the Universal Society of Hinduism, has recently requested that Hi-Rez Studios removed the Hindu deities Agni, Kali, and Vamana from the game. He argued that their depiction in the game is disrespectful, among the many reasons of which are that the game has turned these deities into tools for the player to take control of. You can read more about it here.

So what is the response Zed got? Well, this gem here by Hi-Rez co-founder, Todd Harris:

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.

A white man misusing the ideas of a religion (probably) not his own and then implying he knows better than a (PoC) leader of said religion? Par for the course, really. Can this get any worse? Yes. Let’s examine how Kali, one of the Hindu deities in SMITE, is depicted.

Before moving on, first reacquaint yourself with Kali’s design in the game. Have you done that? Now, have an example of how Kali is portrayed in religious art:

The Goddess Kali: A four-armed woman with blue skinned. She has very long and dishevelled black hair. Her tongue is sticking out. Unlike her depiction in SMITE which is conventionally skinny with large breasts; she has a round figure here. All she wears are jewellery with a garland of severed heads and a skirt of severed hands. She has a curved sword in her upper right arm, a trident in her lower right, a severed demon head in her upper left, and a bowl on her lower left to collect the blood of the above head. Under her feet is the inert body of the Hindu god Shiva.

What SMITE has is not Kali. What they have is a generic monster girl with traits of Kali’s manifestations and lore tacked on.

Perhaps the most well known myth about Kali is her defeat of the demon Raktabija. A basic version of this myth tells of Raktabija, who has attained the ability to replicate himself with every drop of his blood spilled, and who once fought against the Hindu deities. When most the entire pantheon could do nothing against the demon, the goddess Parvati stepped into battle and assumed the form of Kali. By drinking the blood of every Raktabija, Kali won the battle but had gotten drunk on the blood.

The myth tells of only one aspect of Kali. What does the developer do upon hearing this? They give her skills named “Siphon Blood” and “Kali Rage.” In fact, they base her design around a monstrous vampire. The wild hair of the goddess has been replaced with something which makes her resemble Medusa. Her eyes are now blank white and she has been given fangs. The weapons she holds plays up her image as a beheader. She even has tribal tattoos! What else can we do to make her more like a vampiric monster? Well, vampires are sexy so…

Oh yes! The sexualisation! The difference in nudity between the above two examples are quite clear. While Kali in religious art tends to be nude and adorned with severed hands and heads, Kali in SMITE is instead put into an outfit meant to show as much skin as possible without being considered naked. Not to mention that her outfit is not Indian at all. And of course, she is not allowed to have plumpness in any part of her body except her breasts.

This is truly disgusting. Not only is a faith appropriated, but it is done so in a way which turns a widely revered deity into a male sexual fantasy. A goddess in non-sexual nudity is somehow less preferable to a caricature in which she is put in a costume for the male gaze. Whether you agree with Rajan Zed or not about controlling Hindu deities as combat tools is not the issue. The cultural imperialistic mindset which allows a westerner to pornify symbols of Hinduism and yet think he has the right to lecture a Hindu about the religion, this is the issue.

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57 Responses to SMITE: “I know your religion better than you!” and the Pornification of Kali

  1. Nezumi says:

    Good post, but it bothers me that there’s an inconsistency between what the description says Kali is holding in her hands in the second image, and what she actually is. In the image, her right hands are both empty, her upper left holds a sword, and her lower left holds a severed head dripping blood. This is rather different from what the description says.

    I don’t really have any input other than that, though — the post is good, and I lack much relevant information to comment beyond that.

  2. Jonny says:

    The actual Kali, as seen in the second illustration would make for a much cooler and more appealing videogame character than the generic Final Fantasy summon in the first image.

    • Sarah says:

      That was my first thought too. Not only is the “pornification” a tacky design, but it’s boring too. She looks like practically every other thin, scantily-clad humanoid female character in recent video games. She doesn’t exactly give off “god-like” vibes. A design closer to the actual depiction of Kali would not only be truer to the source, but would also be more appealing/unique.

  3. Uys says:

    “A white man misusing the ideas of a religion (probably) not his own and then implying he knows better than a (PoC) leader of said religion?”

    He didn’t actually say he knew more about Hinduism, he just defended his right to artistic intepretation. Not really sure why his skin colour is relevant to that.

    • Corbiu Geisha says:

      “Ponder that for a minute.”

      How is that not implying he knew better?

    • Fullcircle says:

      Well actually I don’t really see defiling a Holy image a “work of art”. Art is supposed to emphasise emotion, and thoughts, I personally see absolutely nothing remotely artistic about insulting a group of people for the sake of a violent button mashing video game which neither uses an accurate depiction of the Goddess in question nor does it tastefully. I actually see this as discrimination and I’m surprised gamers are actually praising the developer for including the character in the game while ignoring every other religious figure purely for the fact that Hindus are tollerent to most things. The CEO of Hi-Rez studios even admitted that in his last interview with IGN. Call it PC overload but I for one strongly believe that entertainment should be such that it’s enjoyed by everyone and not limited to use of gender, race, sexuality or religious or political belief or opinion bias. Especially a game which is popular, free to play and available on the web.

  4. Doone says:

    Will we get to control Jesus? I think there’s a reason that hasn’t been advertised as yet.

    • Maverynthia says:

      I was thinking exactly this. Do we get to control God, what about Jesus? No? I bet Satan will be in there!

      Ugh just the response the team gave. This is why I don’t play those MOBA games.

      • Ashelia says:

        That’s unfortunately negative to MOBA games. Debasing an entire genre based on a studio that’s relatively unknown is frustrating. Valve makes a MOBA game, would you not play it because of what this studio said?

        I’m frustrated with Smite’s depictions, I think Heroes of Newerth also had some very horrible responses in the past, but dismissing a whole genre really disappoints me.

    • Matt says:

      This was the subject of a mini-thread on the ZDoom forums a while back. Unfortunately the person who brought it up eventually turned it into a generic “bluh bluh Christianity sucks bluh” rant plus some Marxist duckspeak which alienated everyone else and got the thread locked, but I thought his original point was good – we just about never see Yahweh/God/Allah appropriated in quite this way (though I’ve seen Jesus come close).

      Given how popular the Evangelion anime was I think there’s a market in Western media for this sort of thing.

      • Ari says:

        The Shin Megami Tensei games do it (appropriate the main deities of Judeo-Christianity) all the time. And not charitably, either.

        • Maverynthia says:

          Yup YHVH I think is the end boss in… I want to say SMT 1 but I can’t be sure. You can also choose to ally with Satan OR Lucifer.

          • Ari says:

            End boss of SMTII, and yes, you can ally with Lucifer in II and III. There’s a certain ending of III that implies that you become the demon who ultimately leads the war on heaven, to boot.

            Ooooooffff course, they’re Japanese games.

      • Ermoss says:

        Satan and the Christian underworld get nicked by videogames quite often, though. Doom, Dante’s Inferno, Diablo

        • Maverynthia says:

          The only think is, we are supposed to hate Satan. If we defile his image that’s a GOOD thing because Satan is evil, etc. Try that with Jesus and see how fast people start protesting.

        • Doone says:

          In case it wasn’t clear, this game features deities. Jesus, Yahweh, Muhammed, Moses, …these would be accurate comparisons.

          Satan is not an accurate comparison. In the same games you cite Satan, you should also cite a complete lack of the appearance of god in said games (Diablo, Doom; there are no depictions of the “good” god).

  5. Kasey says:

    This reminds me of the controversy that popped up when Age of Mythology announced the Christian race. I still wish I could have played it, since being able to walk on water seemed like such a fun and dynamic way to play. It was actually infuriating that fundamentalists caused that update to be canceled, although I must admit that my disappointment mostly stemmed from wanting to experience the gameplay possibilities.

    I suppose my point is, I’m not convinced that religions necessarily deserve such deference, from Americans, whites, or anyone. It sure is a tacky design, and the developer probably is a moron, but this doesn’t disgust me or feel like imperialism. Frankly, I’m surprised to see support for religious fundamentalists on Borderhouse.

    Also, Kali doesn’t appear that plump in that wonderfully brutal classic picture… and each of her breasts are also about the size of her head.

    • Laurentius says:

      “I suppose my point is, I’m not convinced that religions necessarily deserve such deference, from Americans, whites, or anyone. It sure is a tacky design, and the developer probably is a moron, but this doesn’t disgust me or feel like imperialism. Frankly, I’m surprised to see support for religious fundamentalists on Borderhouse.”

      Religions do not necessarily deserve deference but people actually do and sometimes people are also religious but that should not stop deference being applied to them.
      And if “religious fundamentalists” will claim that “2+2=4” would you go for new mathematical principle because agreeing with them would mean that you support them?

      • Kasey says:

        “sometimes people are also religious but that should not stop deference being applied to them.”

        Sure. And, yes, the developer’s comment was a little snarky. However, at least from my (admittedly) liberal, western perspective, they absolutely have the right to depict Kali however they like…. though they could have been more polite.

        • Doone says:

          They are also responsible for the people they hurt by doing so. No, “freedom” doesn’t mean “freedom from being responsible.” They were kindly told that they were harming others with their crude depiction, NOT THAT THEY SHOULDN’T USE IT AT ALL. In other words, Hi Rez should have, at a minimum, revisited the design in order to be more respectful of the people they’re hurting.

          It’s irresponsible the way they’ve handled it. I hate when people throw around “free” as if there’s no responsibility attached. You are responsible for your actions, which includes those which hurt others.

          • Ohma says:

            I’m the sort of terrible atheist who’s even almost completely unmoved when people complain about their favorite public domain characters being cast in an unfavorable light, but even I think that was an asshat-y response Todd gave. You don’t have to subscribe to someone’s worldview to treat them like they’re people with thoughts and feelings who exist outside your head and are just as worthy of respect as you.

      • Ronny Nunez says:

        People don’t actually deserve deference. Respect, sure.

        • Kasey says:

          Agreed. I’m absolutely not ok with assuming that religious institutions inherently “deserve” deference and, as I said above, I’m actually shocked that this seems to be controversial here.

    • Corbiu Geisha says:

      If you read carefully, I never indicated whether I supported Zed as frankly, that topic has no place here. What I’m talking is how (anglophonic) westerners can continue to take from other people, fail to understand the complete depth of the subject, and turn it into something self-serving. This is cultural imperialism, where you feed the entire world your culture while reducing everyone else to your playthings.

      About the classic image, rounded forms has long been held up as the ideal in Indian standards of beauty (although this is changing thanks to Hollywhite and the skinny obsession). Not saying that any one is better. I raised that point to give the image a better context, and I’m sure you notice how much plumper Kali is in comparison to the SMITE one. Her big breasts are symbolic of her status as a mother goddess and I’m pretty sure it is obvious that her bared breasts there is not to titilate.

      Also, having done a quick search on the Universal Society of Hinduism, they don’t appear to be fundamentalist as far as I can tell. They actually promote freedom of faith. In any case, what they are is not important. What is important is that a westerner appropriated a symbol from a faith associated with a non-Western culture to pornographic levels and yet thinks that he knows better than a member of the faith (who just so happens to be PoC).

      By the way, “moron” has ableist connotations so please try not to use it here :)

      • Kasey says:

        “Also, having done a quick search on the Universal Society of Hinduism, they don’t appear to be fundamentalist as far as I can tell. They actually promote freedom of faith.”

        Good point, I should have been more careful with my terms!

        While this isn’t the place to get into it, the concept of cultural imperialism can be enormously problematic, especially when applied to art. Specifically, I’m far from an apologist for Hollywood, but I do feel it is more a symptom of a problem, rather than a cause.

        The developer may be snarky and a jerk and have created what is clearly a overly sexualized, tacky representation of Kali… but I have a hard time seeing it as an issue of morality, rather than taste.

        • Corbiu Geisha says:

          Yes, it is a symptom of white supremacist racism.

          Hinduism is not a faith which is coded (west European) white and so is exotic and ripe for turning it into whatever you want without regard for those the people whom it belongs to. That is what the attitude behind it.

          • stille says:

            I’m not sure I see it as white supremacist racism since Norse and Celtic paganism get similarily shitty treatment. Granted, there are very few Norse and Celtic pagans around nowadays, so it’s probably a case of using mythologies whose adherents aren’t in a position to cause too much trouble .

            • Corbiu Geisha says:

              Hmm, I guess it would be a combination of white supremacist racism and American-centricism? Greek mythology and history is an example of an European culture which gets appropriated time and again, especially by Hollywood.

              My understanding of white supremacist racism is that it constructs hiearchies not just among PoC but also even among other white people, but the American thing is a factor too, since Nordic and English cultures get fetishised in Hollywood as some bastion of whiteness.

            • Kasey says:

              Calling these developers white supremacists is completely over the line.

      • stille says:

        I’m with Kasey on the classical!Kali not being more plump than game!Kali. Classical!Kali has wider shoulders and a wider chest, and lower cheekbones which make for a less angular appearance, but these are all skeletal differences rather than body fat differences. Other than that, all their easily visible in the images bits look very similar muscle and fat layer-wise.

        As for the whole story, there seem to be a couple different issues being conflated in here. Kasey seems to be mostly worried about the religious reverence-vs-irreverence issue (are depictions of gods in an irreverent manner ok? does the possibility of hurting believers’ feelings limit the right for freedom of expression?), whereas Geisha is mostly worried about the misrepresentation of a culture, the humongous rudeness of the dev and the particular brand of slut shaming mixed with tittilation that puts a Generic Shiny Bikini on a goddess usually represented nude.

        So, in no particular order because my head is full of fuzz:

        The dev was rude as hell – explaining to a Hindu the Hindu concept of truth in an argument where said concept had nothing to do with the price of fish sounded like a really bad attempt of giving his irreverent depictions more high-browness than they’re worth, on top of the obvious-from-low-earth-orbit ‘splaining that Geisha complained about. It makes me sad about the amount of spine people seem to have nowadays – instead of honestly admitting that it’s a crapcheese depiction but they’re in the business for fun-for-an-afternoon, less-deep-than-a-MMO crapcheese, he tries to sell said crapcheese as Camembert because only high-brow expression has protection and therefore everything that we want to keep expressing has to be redefined as intellectual. No spine, I tell you. No spine.

        Cultural misrepresentation sucks. Lots of games don’t bother much with world-and-mythology setting, preferring to borrow from another mythology/set of mythologies rather than write their own. And contemporary Western culture doesn’t really have a mythology of its own, seeing how it is this very generic multinational rather thin layer of memes. So when it comes to borrowing from other mythologies, they’re mythologies that are almost unknown to the writers, so the presentations are often almost ridiculously wrong. Which, in itself, wouldn’t be much of a problem if the original mythology would be known, we’d just have a silly story who thinks the Iele do a lovely, seductive dance. It gets to be a bit more of a problem when the original mythology isn’t well known, because people forming an opinion of your cherished myths based on this sort of caricature can be quite hurtful…it’s people telling you to your face that they understand you and then describing a straw mannikin that they think looks like you, and the bit that really does it is when you try to correct their mistakes and they then explain to you why you’re wrong :P. This sort of shit wouldn’t happen if the original mythology was more well known, and the second-hand appropriations wouldn’t be that wrong if the original mythology was more well known, but, as any school teacher would tell you, it’s rather hard to get people to learn what you want them to learn :P

        The Generic Shiny Bikini….I don’t think that one needs anything more than a headdesk.

        Does the possibility of hurting believers’ feelings limit the right for freedom of expression? Of course not, in the declaration of human rights, sadly, yes, in the way many countries, including mine, interpret it. Personally, I strongly feel that it shouldn’t. Said believers should then be welcome to try and hurt your feelings as well, and words should be fought with words as it is fair. I seriously don’t think the government should get involved in it, but nobody did involve the government in it. The devs made a shitty depiction, the Universal Society of Hinduism complained about it *to the devs* rather than to any third party that might have had the power to stop this from appearing, and went above and beyond the call of duty in offering to advise them, one of the devs answered with some rather rude things, people on the internet are complaining about the rudeness, people on the internet are worried about the religious-freedom issues and everything is as it should be freedom-of-expression-wise.

        Are irreverent depictions of gods ok? Damn straight from the freedom of expression pov :P. However, all this means is that nobody should employ state power to stop them. It does not mean that they get any claim on our attention, or that they get any immunity for criticism. How we treat them from these points of view depends on finer distinctions than irreverent vs reverent, like what new and interesting things is the depiction revealing to us. In this particular case, the depiction of Kali doesn’t really tell me anything new or interesting about anything, so I’m not bothering with it. The discussion of the depiction of Kali is mildly interesting, however, so that does get a claim on my attention :P

        • Doone says:

          “Does the possibility of hurting believers’ feelings limit the right for freedom of expression? Of course not, in the declaration of human rights, sadly, yes, in the way many countries, including mine, interpret it. Personally, I strongly feel that it shouldn’t. Said believers should then be welcome to try and hurt your feelings as well, and words should be fought with words as it is fair.” – Stille

          I don’t know why you stand by this. Freedom doesn’t mean “do what you want.” There is a price, there is a cost, there is a burden. Freedom *does not* mean free from consequence. You make a choice, you face the consequence. In this particular case, Hi Rez is hurting another group of people with their actions and their response. Period. Nothing can be done for it, but let’s not wrap this up in the flag of “freedom” and call it a day.

          Americans pervert the concept of freedom. We want it to mean “not responsible.” It is not possible. I don’t know why anyone wants to defend an ideology that says “screw other people, I can hurt who I want.” It’s sociopathic. It’s not ok.

          This isn’t directed at you personally, but your statement. You basically believe it’s ok to hurt others in the name of “freedom.” Correct me if this isn’t what you meant.

          • Kasey says:

            I think you’re basically correct. However, the places that we tend to restrict speech are usually far, far closer to the place where speech meets actual physical harm. The classic example of yelling fire in a movie theater, or burning crosses or swastikas on someone’s lawn.

        • Fullcircle says:

          I don’t understand the whole “freedom of speech and expression” argument. You do realise that it’s actually an insult to throw democracy in the face of a Hindu especially since India is actually a democratic country and believe it or not they’ve had their fair share of wars to fight for it (ever heard of Ghandi? Independence of India?). As far as I know Indians have absolutely no problem with the depiction of sacred figures in media as long as it’s done with respect, tasteful and accurate. I’ve seen Bollywood films and comic books as well as TV shows depicting Gods and Goddess’s telling the tale accurately from religious books. In fact, I saw absolutely no repercussions from the “super best friends” south park episode which showed Ram “transforming” into different people, mainly because 1) it was a joke and 2) they included other religions as well. I like many people have a problem with the developer singling out a religion purely for the fact of making a profit as well as taking advantage of how tolerant Indians are about their religion. If anything all this has done is given an excuse for racial discrimination all for the sake of making a profit. Where have the ethics and morals gone?

          • Jordan says:

            The freedom of speech argument is valid because it is exactly why this discussion is occurring. No one has the right to point a weapon at anyone and say “you cannot say anything insulting to this person or you will be harmed.” One person’s rights end where another’s begins.

            The freedom of speech and expression allows those of us who can see the long-term perceptual and cultural repercussions of someone’s expression, and to point it out to them. Thus we are holding each other accountable and, as more of us become aware of such repercussions and choose to avoid causing them, less people will be able to do such things without being ridiculed.

            Case in point, devs pulling moves like this are gaining more and more criticism every time it happens. If this open discussion continues, individuals and the companies they work for will have to, in order to stay relevant in a market made up of thinking people, become more considerate of those people’s thoughts.

  6. Deviija says:

    I am not against media using religion, iconic religious symbols, or entities (deities, prophets, saints, messiahs). What I am against is the misuse and uneducated uses and the blatant disrespectful uses of the content. If a game wanted to use Kali as a deity within their game, complete with lore an portrayal as it is in the actual religion, then that’s fine. Great even! As I think one of the wonderful things about gaming interactive media is that we can expose ourselves and each other to so many other things that might otherwise be ‘outside’ our box, so to speak. BUT when a game is just latching onto figures or concepts and bulldozing them to cartoonish and immature levels of representation (or just to knock it down or disassemble it until it’s just titillation for consumption), then I have grave issue with it.

    Kali represented here is nothing more than straight guy titillation and idealized wank material, imo. Her presentation imagery is very different from how she is portrayed in historic and modern depictions. Kali is muscular/full-figured, modest bust, tongue sticking out, etc. and none of this sexy model face and sexy clubbing makeup. Bleh. Far as I see it, it would be equivalent to making Jesus have the body of an adonis, wearing a fetish g-string, pursed with Bluesteel model gaze, and posing with his butt out in gratuity to the camera/viewer.

  7. KA101 says:

    [KA101 is fond of Kali, having been introduced to her as someone who “goes around killing men”. That particular professor of English probably oversimplified things…to put it charitably. In any event, she got a bad rap in Indy & Temple/Doom IMO.]

    Hmm. I hadn’t heard that particular part of Kali’s backstory, but it might flow into the part I had heard: she was somehow not-herself, possibly because of getting drunk on the blood, and proceeded to kill her husband–who, IIRC, is that chap she’s standing on in the second picture–without realizing his identity. She realized what she’d done immediately thereafter, and holds her tongue out as some sort of shame-indicator.

    I can think of one deity that ought to be pornified: Eros. Zeus, maybe, since he was willing to polymorph himself to all sorts of things to seduce/kidnap women. Kali? not so much.

    Re: Age/Myth
    I hadn’t realized that they had released more pantheons. Problem with Abrahamic is that it’s all men, and AoM was fairly lax in the pornified-men department IIRC. Not every female deity was pornified, but I’m not sure why Gaia had to have a bikini.

    • Corbiu Geisha says:

      Well, there are many details about that myth. Some says that he is already dead and she’s dancing on his corpse. As for the tongue out in shame, that explanation came later. There are also myraid interpretations ranging from a tantric expression to being a symbol of Kali consuming the world.

  8. Korva says:

    I don’t have much sympathy for religious sensibilities given how much abject hatred and human rights violation are based on and justified with them every passing second. That said, the attitude that any non-Abrahamic religion is cool to be used in whatever (usually condescending, twisted and shallow) form of entertainment we Westerners desire while “our” (ha!) religion and its direct brothers are off-limits really stinks. And I do have a certain soft spot for Kali based on the mythology I read as a kid who wanted to die rather than grow up female. When you have zero role models IRL, and encounter a goddess who is the only force in existence that was able to save the world twice and is beyond terrible when provoked instead of shutting up and putting up like a good abused girl … well, she was kinda appealing. Needless to say, I’d be willing to bet that she’s high on the list of deliberately misrepresented and demonized deities because she’s in many ways a totally “unacceptable” portrayal of a woman.

    A porno vampire-medusa with Kali window-dressing is just another notch in that gun, sadly. :( But a disgusting one anyway.

  9. Iron Twinkie says:

    I could understand the thought process of “Hey we need another dead religion for or MOBA game, how about Hinduism? “a little better if Hi-Rez Studios was located an area that was 99.9% WASP, but I can’t understand how they can go through the same thought process when their office is located in an area of north Atlanta with a sizable Indian population. You can’t go to the grocery store or a shopping mall without seeing people in Hindu garb. Atlanta itself has the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Atlanta, the largest Hindu temple outside India.

    They really don’t have an excuse.

  10. Rakaziel says:

    What shall I say that has not already been said? I agree with you, short and simple.

    While I like most of the Smite design (the bikini top is just silly and does not fit to the rest, but the rest of the design looks actually cool, when viewed as a character by itself.), it is definitely not Kali.

    And Kali’s original design would be perfect for a fighting game imo.

  11. Raja says:

    Honestly I like the idea of a 3D MOBA, I think it’s a good step in terms of evolution of the genre. That being said I don’t find the idea necessarily offensive in itself; I personally have no problem with dieties of ancient pantheons duking it out and I don’t imagine a lot of other players do; in fact when I saw a screenshot of Kali I was like whoa that looks badass, I’ve never a hindu god depicted in a game before being Indian myself if any Asian culture gets represented in video games its usually chinese or Japanese. That being said; i can see where the oversexualizing thing comes from and i can agree on that.

    • Corbiu Geisha says:

      I personally have no problem with playing Kali in a game either but Kali has ALWAYS been misrepresented in western media (and to the point of even affecting the mindset of other Asians, including those from Indianised cultures). It used to be “EVIL GODDESS EAT HEARTS” and now, while Google searching for an image, I came across several Kali porn. This combined with the astounding hypocrisy by Todd Harris is just… Ugh.

  12. Ultraviolet says:

    *sigh* as a heathen (Northern tradition pagan) i of course have to mentally wince as to what my deities will be portrayed in this… but i’ve always done that with the games. And then played with or allied to the god-person i love irl anyway. I have no issue with deities in games (if anything i more like it than not), only shallowness and reduction of complex personalities to a soundbite always makes me sad and express hetero/hollywood normativity (spirits don’t have a stance on that) annoys me as appropriation of them for a message. But truth be told people appropriating gods for their own ends was as much present at the height of e.g. Viking conquest as it is now. People are w*nkers because people.

    I hate the whitewashing supermodel redo of Kali though. Why screw up a perfectly good Indian body with that. Draw inspiration from freaking Bollywood at worst. Eliminating Indian features from her = *headdesk*. Then while i’m down with Allfather, more or less non-wrong body type, gear, etc – Hel has the exact same body (ok Hel is the only Norse goddess whom i’m down with depicting as skinny) and freaking bikini as Kali plus EVEN MORE silicone. It seems to be about a single ‘right’ way to portray women – as sexual objects to white male teen audience.

    • Corbiu Geisha says:

      Gah, I forgot to add the point about the whitewashing!

    • Ohma says:

      The whitewashing and pandering is just PAINFUL to see. Not even just from a “oh well you’re a left-whiner so you just don’t like anything :V” angle either. Just, UGH! Seriously is it too much to ask that not every character in media look like they’re a 32×32 pixel icon for their character type? Like, maybe the artist(s) could’ve taken all of 15 more minutes to come up with something better than crossing Kerrigan with Liara? Like, ANYTHING less generic? ANYTHING AT ALL?! D8

  13. Krishna says:

    I’m not sure I have anything else to add on the racism/ whitewashing front. But as much as this mildly offends me, what bugs me is the missed opportunity. I actually would enjoy faithful, respectful depictions of religious icons in video games. As a kid I never really got into the Bible until I got an illustrated version. A whole lot of my exposure on Hindu deities came from the comics down at the bookstore a few blocks outside my grandmothers house in Coimbatore. There’s so much potential to educate. There’s a lot of free material, too, if you were willing to invest the effort. I feel like crap like this (or worse, travesties like “Dante’s Inferno”) just convinces people a) they don’t need to bother with research, they can just pick a name off Wikipedia, run a Google images search and punch up the sex to sell, or b) there’s no sense in risking offending people, so why bother? Which is such a waste. There’s plenty of epics that would put God of War to shame. Can you imagine how awesome a Mahabharata game could be if game developers were willing to actually treat the source material with respect? How ’bout an epic of Gilgamesh game?
    And I agree with Rakaziel and Geisha! A faithful depiction of Kali (or Durga) would have been so cool. And other Hindu deities and heroes would have worked too. Can you imagine if Hanuman was in a fighting game? Ughh the possibilities are making me too excited and and frustrated at once.

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  15. NequiredRame says:

    I hope all that I’m about to write isn’t for nothing.

    Before I get into replying to your points, I just wanted to bring attention to Rajan Zed, the self appointed “Hindu statesman” you mentioned in your article, via links to some “issues” he has brought up in the past.

    Here is one situation where he was offended by the image of a deity being (plainly enough) featured on a yoga mat, and requested that it be censored.

    And another situation involving the film “Avatar”.

    He said it would not accurately depict what he believes to be the Hindu concept of an avatar(incarnation), and called for it to be edited to highlight that(via disclaimers I think).

    He has complained over many things in a similar fashion. If you do not like having an image of a deity on your yoga mat, cool, that’s your opinion. But if- based on your opinion, you wanted to forbid someone else from possessing a yoga mat, wouldn’t that be extremely petty and potentially harmful behavior? I don’t see this man as a source of logical arguments.

    He has been accused of making these Jack Thompson-esque complaints for publicity, and certainly, it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities, as it’s essentially the only thing that gets him attention (like right now!). He doesn’t seem to be able to even argue his way onto a wikipedia article…

    On what grounds would you call him a leader of Hinduism? He calls himself an “acclaimed Hindu-statesman” and a “Hindu leader” quite a lot, but is that adequate enough to be a religious leader? I’d think it takes more than that and trying to censor yoga mats.

    Anyway, one of the recurring gripes in this post seems to be around “westerners” and their “cultural imperialism”. Games, movies, books, sources of entertainment of all kinds- at times derive inspiration from other sources, this phenomena isn’t exclusive to one region or culture. So far you most likely agree with me so I won’t bother going into that claim further.

    If a Japanese game developer uses the identity of a plumber from Brooklyn as inspiration/a base for one of their characters, you agree that it would be satirical to paint that as an “imperialistic” issue, right? The game you posted about uses real-world mythology as inspiration for most of their characters/npcs. How do you get from this point, to the point of ‘therefore, westerner imperialistic, parasitic, immoral behavior’?

    You might think these characters are silly, oversexualized, or too exaggerated in comparison to their real-life mythological equivalents. Alright, I can pretty much agree, or at least understand your opinion, but this isn’t an “imperialistic” or “white supremacist” issue. I see no moral issue with characters in a video game being silly either, regardless if they’re inspired by a plumber or a god. A silly character can be amusing at times, dare I say- entertaining. I wouldn’t defend using sex appeal as a character/marketing crutch as well, though I wouldn’t attempt to censor the right of someone else to make an uninspired oversexualized character in a videogame (again, regardless if the character is based off a plumber or a god).

    I don’t know you personally, or know anything else you’ve posted, and while I can give you the benefit of the doubt to an extent, your post at times feels nearly indistinguishable from sensational “oppressed” blogging because of the way it seems to jump from one point to another without logically bridging that gap. By that I mean, point A: criticism on what you believe to be uninspired/oversexualized/whatever character design, to point B: a grand westerner conspiracy/attack on religion. Unless I’ve missed the reasons for this radical jump, of course, although I’ve read your article + replies thoroughly in hopes that there’d be no reason for me to respond.

    There is lame stuff out there that is racially motivated, sexually motivated, we don’t need to create it. I do not think that a silly interpretation of a historical or religious figure is enough to claim that a developer is driven by a racial superiority complex, that big bad Hollywood is conspiring to destroy a religious icon, and that we need to censor it immediately.

    On the other gripe about the “white man lecturing”, this was disappointing to read after seeing the description of borderhouse and imagining some sort of “pro-equality” theme for the site. Why would it matter if it’s a white man lecturing about Hinduism? Why did you even mention he’s a westerner/white? Even if I were to agree that he was attempting to lecture on Hinduism(I don’t think that’s the case), so what?

    You seemed surprised that someone thinks they have the “right to lecture” or speak about Hinduism when they aren’t Hindu. Well, you do have that right, regardless if you’re religious, regardless of the region you come from or the color of your skin, regardless if you’re directing a porn starring characters based off gods, and regardless if you’re completely wrong. Wanting to deny someone such a basic right, or to downplay it, because they drew Kali with perky breasts or whatever, is worse than trying to censor yoga mats.

    Jeeebus, I hope you don’t ignore this, but I’m responding in opposition to an opinion blog, that can be a massive handicap. I’m happy to get this turd off my chest anyway.

    • Corbiu Geisha says:

      Please don’t use “lame” in this manner.

      Admittedly, I don’t really know much about this Zed person. His opinion isn’t really the point of this article, merely the backdrop. What I’m trying to point out is the hypocrisy of a westerner who shamelsssly exploits a symbol revered by people all over the world, and it is also a symbol with roots in a South Asian culture, while thinking himself empowered to tell a PoC belonging to said culture to “Ponder on this.” This whole thing wouldn’t even be an issue if Todd had just shut the fuck up.

      As for the western cultural imperialism, go educate yourself about it. That will take too long here. On that note, pro-equality means that we shake the status quo which privileges the kyriarchy, not that we pretend everything is peachy and we can just hold hands and sing kumbaya.

      • Kasey says:

        I think that’s just the point, though. He IS empowered to do that, just as you are empowered to criticize him. The only hypocrisy here would be attempting to deny either side the right to speak based on their religion or race. Of course, I realize you’re not calling for censorship, but I still find hard to fault this guy for much aside from being a tacky jerk.

        It’s a little disappointing to hear that Zed is of such questionable character, although, again, this is more evidence that leaders of religious institutions do not inherently deserve deference. (as if we needed any more evidence of this)

  16. GarrickW says:

    In case anyone is still interested in this case, there’s apparently been a new development: statements have come from Catholic, Buddhist and Jewish figures calling on Smite to be changed:

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  18. Raja says: I think the author does bring up a good point that movies are held to a different standred than games. Girl with the Dragon tatoo has one of the most graphic rape scenes ever yet there wasn’t outrage like there was with tomb raider

    • Shannon says:

      *facepalm* Are you quite serious? You can’t compare Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to freakin’ Tomb Raider.
      For one thing the *genre and audience* is completely different, for another, the female characters are completely different. That, and there actually was quite a lot of outrage because of the American version of the movie, which was gratuitous and frankly unnecessary.
      The other thing is in GWDT, sexual abuse it was handled within the context of a SERIOUS film and book series, as in, a crime film that had relatively complex characters, not in a series of videogames best known for having gratuitous cleavage and killing T-Rex. It was also not handled purely for the sake of “breaking” a woman. It also highlighted many of the ways that society fails victims of abuse, unlike what it appears to be in Tomb Raider, that is to say, a one-off thing and not handled sincerely.

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