Playing a god: can religion and videogames mix?

Recently, a PlayStation 2 game has come under criticism – not for gratuitous violence or sex, but for religious reasons. Called Hanuman: Boy Warrior, the India-made and released game allows players to roleplay the adventures of Hanuman, a Hindu deity famous for defeating the villainous King Ravana.  At least one Hindu leader has taken offence:

“In a video game format, the player would control the destiny of Lord Hanuman while in reality, believers put their destinies in the hands of their deities, [Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism] wrote.

“Controlling and manipulating Lord Hanuman with a joystick, button, keyboard, or mouse is ‘denigration'”, he added.

It should be noted that the game follows the ancient Hindu scriptures; one cannot make Hanuman steal cars or shoot bazookas. remarks that the real offence being perpetrated is that the game is pants.

I find this interesting. We’re going to see increased dialogue about these kind of topics as today’s interactive media is becoming more and more used as narrative devices. Is this truly different than tribal elders in ancient times, reenacting the great achievements of their gods in front of a raging bonfire?

Mind you, I’m sure Americans would be up in arms if you could roleplay Jesus in a video game – although no one raised an eyebrow when George Burns played you-know-who in the film Oh God!

Would the ancient Greeks have taken a dim view of God of War?

It will be a long road until videogaming is perceived from “callous pastime enjoyed by lazy youths” to a recognized genre of art. Until then, remember this – even the Gutenburg press was accused of the same, since people were busy using it to make pictures of naked people with it.

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