Tag Archives: god of war

Crap of War

“Games journalists” are very excited about the latest installment in the God of War franchise, a game about brutalizing everything that walks, because Kratos is a dad now (that seems to be a thing as game developers get older – what can we do with Kratos? Oh right, make him a dad, because we can relate to that now).

Aww. He cares so much about his son that he teaches him to charge headlong into danger, instead of away from it, because Kratos totally doesn’t want the boy to become like himself.

… Smart move, Kratos.

Hand the boy a weapon and he’ll grow up to become an upstanding, peace-loving citizen, and be real good at solving problems without resorting to violence. I’m sure.

I might have more to say about it, depending on the exact way it butchers Norse mythology, in a while. But seriously, this is a thing about dismembering monsters yet everybody finds a ton of highly philosophical things to say about it?

Hand me the acid, please.


Gods and Games, Vol. II

Thinking on from the Overwatch Devi stuff, how to depict gods in games respectfully?


The obvious way: Depict gods in largely the same way as the adherents of that faith do. Statues, murals, parts of the environment. An example I can think of is the statue of Shiva and Kali in Tomb Raider: Underworld. The statue looks pretty traditional, but is part of a puzzle and will move to reveal the level exit in the end. This is not respectless, gets people interested in who Shiva and Kali are, and makes for a nice looking game setpiece. Lara Croft mentions the names herself and reads a few inscriptions about Hindu tradition. The developers get a free motif for their game, but also acknowledge the source. Well done. A gift for a gift!

To me, this seems not only respectful, but fitting. Gods are a part of the real world environment for religious people, so doing that in video games follows logically. It is unobtrusive and adds flair, the statue is not out of place in an overgrown temple ruin (it’s almost to be expected, just like seeing depictions of saints in a church), while actual worshippers will just be pleasantly surprised to see something familiar. It’s also about twenty meters tall which adds to the dignified appearance.

Yes, the statue can be controlled by the player, but not directly, and the player has to put in some work (platforming etc.) to make it move. The level (“Coastal Thailand”) is cleverly designed so the two ancient gods themselves seem to reward the player and allow them to proceed. This is a respectful treatment. No problem with this at all. A-OK in my book. More than OK in fact. The developers clearly did their research and managed to embed Shiva and Kali in their game without distorting the faith and tradition. This can’t possibly offend anyone. I personally really like it.

Non-Player Characters (NPCs)

Depicting deities as characters is a lot more difficult to do respectfully. Suddenly you have a walking, talking image of a deity in your game. There’s much more that can go wrong here. You see, deities from actually existing religions and pantheons are not video game characters by nature. You have to treat them as pre-existing characters from a real-world context that have certain traits in the minds of people. Much like putting celebrities in your video game, or, actually, much like putting Hatsune Miku or Mickey Mouse in your game!

Only that there is a trademark and copyright on Hatsune Miku, so you could never get away with it unless you have a license.

Deities are from a time where all that didn’t exist. I’m not sure if the old Celtic or Greek people had a concept of intellectual property. Hence, no one can claim copyright to deities, but hold on – it’s that respect thing again. An entire culture and tradition worshipped these gods for a long, long time. Of course every Greek stonemason or artist could make images of Athena, because no copyright, but all of them did it respectfully. Even the Romans depicted Greek (and Egyptian, and Celtic) gods with respect, even painters in the christian era did it. Because frankly, anything else would have been tasteless.

Now there are differences between religions, as I pointed out. Take the Germanic mythology: There is a story of how Thor was dressed up as a woman and almost married to a giant. There is a story of how Loki changed into a mare and gave birth to Odin’s horse, Sleipnir. There is even a story where Loki accuses pretty much any goddess of sleeping around, and gets away with it. Heck, there is a story of Loki tying his balls to a goat, with them both pulling on the rope, to make the goddess Skadi laugh as a kind of payment for her father’s slaying by the Aesir.

So when you have a mythology like that, you can take some liberties. But never forget that these “characters” are beloved to many, and that not all the stories are like that, and don’t overdo it. Don’t resort to senseless violence and gore (I’m looking at you, God of War) where it isn’t appropriate.

Don’t be a jerk. Do your research. Talk to people. Keep it sort of civil.

An easy way to avoid any and all complications is to depict fantasy versions of the gods. This was done well in the fantasy game “Too Human” which depicts Norse gods as cybernetically-enhanced beings and takes it from there. When it’s pure fantasy, with some actual creativity on show by the developer, it’s hard to take it the wrong way. You could also create similar characters that have different names (that’s what Scout’s Journey does, by the way). The key here is “creativity”.

An example from another medium is the Neil Gaiman novel, “American Gods”. In it, gods from many pantheons are struggling to make a living in modern America. But what’s most important, Gaiman takes all these traditional characters and depicts them as people with wants and needs, very close to humans, which is not out of line with for example Norse mythology. They are treated with respect, even when they live in dingy apartment houses and smoke too much and no one gives them any attention anymore. You can’t even get a bottle of Soma in this friggin’ world, you know. It is sometimes heartwarming, as in a scene where Odin makes Easter cry because nobody remembers her despite all the Easter bunnies in the world. This isn’t respectless because it’s the truth. And somehow we know that these aren’t really the old gods from the mythology because Gaiman goes on about how everything in America is basically an imported version of the original, hence the title. The novel is incredibly funny and sad, but always tasteful, well-researched and in character of the various deities.

Player avatars

Here’s where it gets tricky. While you have lots of freedom with fleshing out NPCs, a player-controlled avatar is just a shell in most games. And this is where the Overwatch Devi stuff becomes so bothersome. It’s like wearing a goddess as a costume and controlling her like a toy. The context is a problem, too: This is a multiplayer shooter, so you wear your Hindu goddess costume-toy mostly to kill and be killed and not waste a second thought. It’s not a real character. Skins like these are just an extension of your e-peen. Your entertainment is all that matters here, and the undoubtedly huge sum of money that Blizzard makes with it.

The Devi skin is emptied of all meaning and character, except as a remote controlled weapon, and given as a plaything or status symbol to thrill-seekers.

That’s just not very creative or thoughtful. It’s hollow, and in the end it serves the interest of making a buck just like weapon skins in Counter-Strike. A Hindu goddess IS NOT Mickey Mouse and she’s not an AK-47 or Hatsune Miku. Close, but no cigar. There’s a difference in what she means to people. And that is the key thing to take away from this.

I don’t doubt that letting the player play as a god or goddess is possible in a respectful way, but it takes a little more than this. Yes, deities like Hel or Kali could be depicted in a pretty dark way and it would be in character, although all the games depicting Hel as an evil mastermind are missing the point – “Viking: Battle for Asgard” is an example. If the next “God of War” falls into the same trap, I’ll be disappointed. Again, do your research.

Mars could be depicted as a warrior. Loki could be depicted as somewhat of a rogue. But why not invest some creativity instead of just taking the likeness and slapping it onto a player avatar because it’s not copyrighted and hence costs no money. That’s kinda lame.

There are things that you can’t put a price on, things that copyright and trademark cannot even begin to describe. I’m glad those things exist. Don’t throw them to the dogs.

That Goddess stuff

A Hindu spokesman, Mr. Rajan Zed, recently criticized Blizzard for an Overwatch character that looks like a sexy melange of various Hindu goddesses. The character obviously serves as a player-controlled avatar in the game and is basically used to kill and get killed. His main points are that this is respectless, trivializing and unethical.

There are over one billion Hindus in the world.

I have to say, I do see his point. Does Blizzard have the right to include whatever artwork they want in their games? Yes, unquestionably. Is it the right thing to do? Not necessarily.

I do agree that video game characters like this are indeed direspectful of the religious people’s sensitivities.

Again, is that a problem? Legally, in many countries, no. Ethically? Yes, possibly. Because with something like this, you’re saying to some people: “We don’t care about what you think or want. Deal with it.” This is just not very nice – you’re being insensitive and possibly insulting, even if it’s just within the law. Maybe you just didn’t think it through properly. But you’re basically being a jerk. It’s not how grown-up, reasonable people should treat each other. Respect goes both ways!

Instead, you should listen to people’s opinion, and take some of it on board. Remember, in democratic countries you have the right to be an atheist, but you also have the right to be religious. It goes both ways. In cases such as this, where cultural sensibilities are involved, you should be able to see the conflict coming from miles away.

So yes, legally you have the right to be a jerk to other people. Ethically, you probably don’t want to be. And practically, you probably don’t want to disrespect one billion people who could be your customers.

The typical internet argument “but all religions suck because violence …” doesn’t hold much water, by the way. Not all religions are equal. Did Native Americans go on crusades? Does buddhism tend to create a lot of terrorism? Shintoism? Taoism? Wicca? How many Wiccan terrorists do you know? How many Hindu terrorists blowing themselves up in public? See, it holds no water. Most of the people who go “… Religion is for crazies” are thinking of Christianity, or Islam, because that’s all that is on TV where they come from. But that’s not the same as religion in general. People have been religious for 100,000 years before Christianity and Islam came along, and mankind obviously survived just fine in spite of, or maybe because, of its religions.

Hindus, you know, are these people who like to toss coloured pigment at each other on holidays and sink ginormous elephant-headed statues into the river Ganges.

Damn dangerous, those Hindus.

So you see, “religion is for crazy people” is actually untrue. Just because you think what we’re doing is crazy, doesn’t make it so. Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t give you the right to ridicule it.

Hold on a moment, is this guy religious? He doesn’t usually sound that crazy?

Well yes, I sort of am, even though I don’t really talk about it. I’m what many people would call a neo-pagan. I believe that nature is, in a sense, holy and that humans shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. I believe that we are not the “crown of creation.” I’ve always liked the old Norse mythology, and even though I don’t really see gods or giants throwing fireballs around in shopping malls anytime soon, I like those stories in my life and wouldn’t want to miss them. Do I believe that a cow licked the first being out of cosmic ice? Not really. I believe in evolution, but I still like the idea.

You get my drift.

How serious do we take this kind of religion? Well, it’s officially recognized in Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Spain among other countries. Yes, you can have a pagan marriage in Denmark or Iceland if you want. So this is an actual modern religion.

And this is where the topic at hand gets personal.

Am I offended when I see ridiculous adaptations of pagan deities in videogames or movies? Well, slightly. I’m not offended enough to become angry. We tend to take these things with humour. But I am slightly concerned, for instance, about the new God of War game set in the North. I’m not saying they can’t do this. All I’m saying is when I imagine images of my own gods and goddesses being slaughtered and dismembered in an orgy of blood by Kratos, the series’ crazed protagonist, I don’t like the idea. I find it slightly disgusting. What have they ever done to deserve it? Is it respectless? Yes, you bet it is.

So I can see Mr. Rajan Zed’s point. It’s not illegal, but does it have to be done?

And then you’ve got issues of minorities and misrepresentation of certain mythologies and cultures and in the end, it’s just a question of respect.

Maybe we live in a time when everything has to be brought down, everything has to be ridiculed, and people can’t tolerate anything they don’t understand. It reminds me a little of the movie Agora, where in one scene the early Christians ridicule Pagan goddesses by tossing fruit at the statues with much fanfare. It is just a stupid thing. Am I insulted? No, I’m just disillusioned and kinda sad about the behaviour of the mob, both the film mob and our modern internet mob. You just can’t tolerate that someone has a statue or someone lights some incense at a shrine in the street? You can’t tolerate that someone walks around with what you like to call “invisible friends”? You get angry if the people who you see as weirdos voice an unpleasant opinion?

What happened to “respect your fellow human”?