How 'Raji: An Ancient Epic' Falls into the Indian Far-Right's Trap

Gaming’s hottest emerging market is India. The country is predicted to have around 300 million gamers and a $1 billion dollar games market by 2021, and all that cash and hype has fueled a modest local game development scene. While most of those game startups pan for gold on the freemium mobile game market or take up outsourced work from foreign developers, a few indie studios are struggling it out at the fringes of the economic boom, creating idiosyncratic and ambitious work like QUICKTEQUILA’s Lovely Planet, Studio Oleomingus’s Somewhere, and now Nodding Heads Games’ Raji: An Ancient Epic.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/m7ajbv/raji-ancient-indian-epic-far-right-hindu-nationalism
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Just wanted to say this was a really interesting post about issues I was previously unaware of. It’s too bad that the game (by appearances) set out to tell a progressive, feminist story and failed to do that justice, although the developers are of course not blameless.

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Yeah, this was a really interesting post on a subject I knew nothing about!

I think a lot of the issues here are present in a most games that use history. A lot of the most easily recognizable elements of pop-history come from nationalist mythologizing that often has bad intentions and simplifies things. Yet leaning on that pop-history and mythology means a lot of the work of generating a mood and sense of place is already done for you. If you use more obscure and complicated, but more “accurate” historical imagery and stories you risk losing the audience.

A lot of the issues presented here can be seen in Europe too, with how medieval and ancient Mediterranean imagery and myths are used and claimed by white-nationalists.

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Articles like this are why I always keep coming back to Waypoint. I also wasn’t aware of the state of games and politics in India. Good stuff!

And yeah, as Binho mentioned, history is complicated and muddy and not at all linear like how they teach it in US schools. What would historically set media look like if it didn’t rely on pop-history shorthand? I don’t know but I bet audiences would find it “inaccurate”. Just look at the blow back every time a tv show places a non-white person in medieval Europe. Yeesh.

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Great article, it really gets to the contradictions inherent in modern Hindu discourse. For those that don’t know, Hinduism has no central authority, and the importance of individual texts and practices varies greatly between towns, families, and individuals. For some, it is the prototypical polytheistic religion, where the gods very much exist and interfere in human affairs. For others, they are merely manifestations of Ohm, and are more myths than actual figures to be accounted for in daily life. Heck, there are even atheist Hindus that ride the line of Buddhism, similar to Prince Siddhartha’s* spiritual journey many centuries ago. It also varies culturally, and I would say that as someone in the Hindu diaspora, Raji does not hold the same ultranationalist overtones that someone in modern India would feel from the work. And that’s not to say that reading is invalid, especially with the developer being in India. But I will say that the use of Mughal architecture and aesthetic need not be simple appropriation of Islam, but also an aesthetic that informs South Asian aesthetic as a whole through centuries of cultural osmosis.

Honestly I’m not sure what the point of my comment is. I suppose I just wanted to provide perspective of someone who finds Raji evocative of the stories my grandfather would tell me as a child, and that it kinda gives me the warm and fuzzies.

*EDIT: I had blanked on Buddha’s birth name when I first wrote this comment, so I figured I’d correct that.

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Baahulbali 1’s ending has got some real bad vibes with the massive army of dark people rushing at the lighter-skinned good kingdom. This article reminded me of that.

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It’s a really charming game, for sure!

I really appreciated this article for providing very detailed context for a cultural thing happening in India right now that non-Indians probably aren’t aware of. The specific detail of anti-Muslim politicians invoking the rakshasas is pretty significant.

When I played the demo, I figured it was more akin to oni appearing as enemies in a Japanese game, where they’re just a stock character with limited modern resonance. (Although I’m sure someone will provide a link of Japanese far-right politicians likening Koreans to oni to blow up my perception there.) In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s what the developers were doing with Raji, so I wouldn’t feel too guilty about buying and playing it even in light of this.

Still, this is a great reminder that we have to engage critically with myths in this time of resurgent nationalism.

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Thanks for your perspective. Weird coincidence, I was talking to someone today about my time as a student studying Hinduism (or as my tutor would argue ‘Hinduisms’ for the reasons you mentioned) and trying to explain what you put beautifully, I hope you don’t mind if I point them in the direction of the post?

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Sure thing, go for it!

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MOTHERFUCKER I did NOT expect to read the words Amar Chitra Katha today.

My relationships with Hinduism and India is a can of worms that I don’t think I’m ready to broach yet, but honestly, this piece has brought me a bunch closer to that. Particularly, it’s making me think about how readily I have been able to accept India as being equivalent to Hinduism (in broad, not in particular, fuck Hindu nationalists); the idea that a game that took place in ancient India would include Muslims had never crossed my mind.

But I’m far enough away from India that I can ignore a bunch of the shit happening there, how does it not come up when you live there while Hindu nationalism is fucking raging? (That’s mostly rhetorical I know the reasons.)

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This is an excellent article that anticipated all of my arguments and skepticism and elaborated convincingly on why this game’s apolitical presentation carries water for Hindutva (even if it’s probably doing so unconsciously.

My only minor nitpick is the statement about slaying hordes of Orcs in western games not being problematic. The idea that orcs, as other-colored violent monsters, have potential as a very unpleasant racial allegory is not a new one. Tolkien himself, the guy who invented Orcs, was not at all satisfied with his own presentation of a race of absolute evil. That conversation is being had all the time, and efforts to respond to and subvert that issue are becoming more and more prominent in Western fantasy. Again though, this is a nitpick not directly related to the point of the article.

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I think the point about Orcs is less about their presentation in media (which is definitely problematic, especially in the Peter Jackson films) and more that racist demagogues don’t tend to invoke them directly when talking about their scapegoat religions/ethnicities. I think this has more to do with LOTR being seen as “nerdy” than anything else, though. (Although that didn’t stop some of them from seizing on the whole “Men of the West” thing back when the movies still had some cultural cachet.)

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