First Impressions: Smite

It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these – primarily because I’ve been too busy playing Smite to play and write about anything else. The title isn’t exactly correct, either, because my first impressions of Smite have turned into second looks, third glances, and now tenth or eleventh eyerolls and bulging stares as I learn more and more.

Smite is a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), like Dota 2, League of Legends, and Blizzard’s new entry into the territory, Heroes of the Storm. Smite is developed by Hi-Rez Studios, is free to play, and was officially released out of beta into the wild in March. Smite’s camera is third person over the shoulder, utilizing WASD instead of clicking and directing your character with your mouse. You have 3 basic attacks, with one ultimate attack, a passive ability, and a store to choose items from depending on your build. You play as gods, some with name recognition, like Thor, Odin, and Athena, and others that you’ve never probably never heard of, like Bakasura, Ullr, and Geb.

It’s pretty standard, as far as MOBAs go: the main challenge is called Conquest, with two teams of five, three lanes, a jungle, and a titan at the end to kill. You push with your minions and teammates to capture towers and buffs, always trying to steadily make your way to the titan. There are smaller versions, called Siege and Joust, with alternative versions of the 5 player teams called Arena and Assault. .

I played Dota for a hot two seconds, just long enough to get my feet wet and to not gain any interest in continuing further. I played Heroes of the Storm for a bit longer, since I had friends who were also playing; I think I also found comfort in playing as characters that I knew from my WoW days, so everything wasn’t as new as it was in Dota. Nothing in either of these games held my interest and I can say with a fair amount of certainty it’s because of the camera and excessive clicking in moving the camera along.

Like most multiplayer games, I find the joy in playing Smite in playing with other people. I have a group of about seven friends that I play with regularly, which ups the value factor and makes me want to keep playing. I’ve also found joy in realizing that I’m actually good at playing certain characters – I am good at lots of other things, but generally, I am awful at actually playing video games. In multiplayers I’m used to happily shuffling along, talking my fool head off, mostly providing support that feels like it probably isn’t needed. I do that in Smite too – I mainly tank or provide support as a ranged mage – but with Smite, it feels like I’m necessary. Like I’m needed. And I’m good! My stats prove it. I am good at Smite. I am good at a video game. You hear me, world? I, Kim, am technically good at a video game! Perhaps that’s where my love affair with Smite comes from. I love games that so rarely love me back, it’s a nice surprise when something actually does.

Smite suffers from Nearly Naked Lady Syndrome, which isn’t uncommon in fantasy games, but is still disappointing. Smite has 55 playable gods; there are about 15 playable ladies and all except 3 (Artemis, Scylla, and Chang’e) are all in various states of undress (though I can see the argument for Hel and Athena not being in their underwear). The oversexualization is rather extreme in some cases – take Neith, for example. You can rage all day about “history accuracy,” but what makes the lack of clothes worse is Neith’s overly girlish, high pitched voice and her loss animation, which shows her falling on the ground in a very suggestible position. Neith can be a great character to play, but it seems like her character was designed with the male gaze solely in mind.  Most of the women, in fact, are suggestively posed, make “come hither” expressions with their hands, and sound overly sexualized. Even Artemis, the most clad of the ladies,  makes a “call me” cradle with her hands – after completing a most badass roll-in from the side of the screen.

The other problem Smite holds for me is it’s disregard and what feels like cultural appropriation when it comes to gods from the Hindu religion. Smite draws from classical mythologies and contains the likes of Greek and Norse gods, including Zeus, Mercury, and Odin. Hinduism is the only active and practicing religion from which Smite draws deities from. Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society Hinduism, complained about the depictions of gods Bakasura, Kali, Vamana, Agni and the recently included Rama. Todd Harris, Hi-Rez’s Chief Operating Officer, gave the following reply:

“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.”

More deities, you say? Whatever more deities that come in Smite, you definitely will not be seeing gods from Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.

“From [the] perspective of a video game, the key Abrahamic figures–Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, are not that interesting in character design or gameplay. They are all human. They never overlapped or interacted with one another. They certainly never fought each other in dramatic fashion with unique abilities. They are all peaceful–at best they would be support characters.”

The above quote is also from Todd Harris. And therein lies my problem with Smite including Hindu gods. I want to point out that I am in no means a religious expert, nor am I even religious. I’m an atheist. It feels completely arbitrary to not include gods from these religions. It’s obviously not arbitrary however – these are the most popular religions in the world and you can bet your bottom dollar that people would be up in arms about a game including Jesus. Smite is making a business decision to not include these religions to avoid the blowback and are freely taking from Hindu religion because of the smaller follower base. It feels like cultural appropriation and while Smite has a very alert ear toward the Hindu community, the effort it would take to keep these few offensive gods out of the game rather than potentially harm a small, already marginalized community (at least in the US) seems like it would be a small effort indeed.

So! My first impression of Smite? It’s addictive. It’s addictive as all get out and I need to curb my addiction at some point. It has problematic elements that I wish I could unsee but I won’t ever be able to. I hope that they get a hard look at in the future and are possibly changed.

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