Religious statesman Rajan Zed expressed concerns about two of Overwatch’s alternate character skins for Symmetra which draw inspiration from Hindu goddesses, requesting the removal of the skins from the game.
An excerpt from the official statement said the following:
“Rajan Zed indicated that reimagining Hindu scriptures, symbols, concepts and deities for commercial or other agenda was not okay as it created confusion. Controlling and manipulating Devi with a joystick/ button/keyboard/mouse was denigration. Devi was meant to be worshipped in temples and home shrines and not to be reduced to just a “character” in a video game to be used in combat in the virtual battleground.
Zed further said that Hindus were for free speech as much as anybody else if not more. But faith was something sacred and attempts at belittling it hurt the devotees. Video game makers should be more sensitive while handling faith related subjects, as these games left lasting impact on the minds of highly impressionable children, teens and other young people, Zed added.
Hindus welcomed entertainment industry to immerse in Hinduism but taking it seriously and respectfully and not for refashioning Hinduism scriptures, symbols, concepts and deities for mercantile greed. He or other Hindu scholars would gladly provide genuine entertainment industry seekers the resources they needed for their study and research regarding Hinduism, oldest and third largest religion of the world with about one billion adherents and a rich philosophical thought, Rajan Zed stressed.”
His statement can really be summed up into a few basic points.
- Reducing our most sacred goddesses to a skin upgrade is a bit disrespectful to the one billion practicing Hindus
- You have the right to include these skins in the game, but it doesn’t mean that it’s in good taste
- We are willing to work with you to help represent our culture better if you’d like
Sounds pretty reasonable to me. I do not practice Hinduism but I can see why these skins might be offensive to a whole group of people even though I think they are beautiful works of art. I would also like to point out that Zed and his organization made the effort to learn about Overwatch and learn its context. They even researched Symmetra’s origin story which a lot of Overwatch fans haven’t even looked up themselves. Furthermore, they offered to provide Blizzard with resources to help them include Hindu culture within their games in a way that is more appropriate. I can’t imagine a more sensible request, whether Blizzard acknowledges it or not.
Yet Zed’s statement was met with a lot of hostility from Overwatch fans. Among the most vocal voices on his Facebook post were white males who have made no effort to understand the concerns or the culture surrounding them.
One user even went so far as to berate Zed and then offer him prayer.
As a proud member of the gaming community and someone who plays Overwatch almost exclusively these days, I wanted to take a few more of these comments and use them to address problematic arguments I frequently hear when these issues arise. These comments were posted publicly so I am choosing to use them in this analysis. I also am addressing these concerns by using a collective “we”. As a member of the community I’m criticizing, I must accept these problems as my own.
1. It’s just a game.
We often demand that video games be taken seriously, but the moment anyone brings a charge against them we fall back and say “Get over it. It’s just a game.” The reality is that we can’t have it both ways. Either video games are a respected art form worthy of criticism or they’re just toys for children not worth more than a passing amusement.
2. Demanding Freedom of Speech by silencing others
“Blizzard can do and say whatever they want, so shut up.” Do you see the irony? I see this a lot. We cry Freedom of Speech and then use it to tell people that their voices don’t matter and that they they have no place voicing their opinions. This is similar to the “It’s just a game” argument. Either everyone has the right to speak up or you shouldn’t say anything either.
3. Getting protective of things that don’t actually impact us
Alternate skins in Overwatch are purely cosmetic. They don’t give characters any new abilities or any advantage. It just adds some more color to an already colorful game. I adore the Symmetra Devi and Goddess skins. They’re some of my favorite in the game, but if it wasn’t there tomorrow, Overwatch would still be fun. Why is it that we will fight to the death to keep certain things in a game that don’t actually impact us at all? I think the other side of the coin holds a lot more water. A representative of a group is saying one skin in dozens is highly misrepresenting something that a large population of the world holds sacred.
Using the same logic we use against others, we need to realize that the world will keep turning if the skin is removed, we actually lose nothing by its removal, and we need to just get over it.
I’m not here to make a judgment on whether the skin should be removed or not. If anything, I err on whichever side makes the most people feel as included as possible. Regardless, I hope that we can start doing better as a community to stop jumping down people’s throats whenever we feel remotely threatened. For the love of Devi, can we just grow up?