This Video Game Designer Has A Feminist Response To The Sabarimala Temple Issue

This Video Game Designer Has A Feminist Response To The Sabarimala Temple Issue

On October 3, 2018, the Supreme Court continued its string of landmark judgments with the Sabarimala Temple issue. In a 4 to 1 decision, a Constitutional Bench stated that the “Sabarimala Temple’s practice of barring entry to women between the ages of ten and fifty was unconstitutional.” If you haven’t already been following the latest updates on the Sabarimala temple news, you might be wondering why this judgement was widely celebrated across the nation.

In a nutshell, the hill-top Ayyappa temple in Kerala has historically restricted the entry of a class of women –– namely those aged between 10 and 50 or those who menstruate –– but allowed post-menopausal and pre-menstrual women entry because its deity, Ayyappa, declared himself celibate. Although the country’s apex court made the historic decision of scrapping the ancient, exclusionary practice, the fight for gender equality, the right to religion and worship at a temple of one’s choice is not over because the law stayed unimplemented despite women attempting to enter for ‘darshan’, as recently as Tuesday, October 23, 2018.

Designer of a video game called ‘Darshan Diversion,’ Padmini Ray Murray is contributing to dialogue on the Sabarimala Temple issue in a feminist, cheeky, and satirical way. Padmini has a PhD in English literature and heads the Masters programme in Digital Humanities at the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology. She is also immensely interested in how technology transforms culture.

“The game was built in 48 hours for Global Game Jam, an international event during which people from all over the world build video games at the same time,” she said. Global Game Jam operates like a ‘hackathon’ of sorts with a theme to guide video game designers; and, in 2016, the year Padmini participated and helped organise the event in Bangalore, the theme was “Ritual”. Interested in the intersection between technology and culture, Padmini said in chuckles, “This theme was something we knew we could handle in India.”

A still from 'Darshan Diversion'

Padmini explained that the game consisted of a temple that the women characters would attempt to enter. “The women move from floor to floor and a red light goes off on their head indicating that they’re menstruating. Then, they have to dodge the priest,” she said excitedly.

Until now, Padmini has been hesitant to share ‘Darshan Diversion. “To be honest, I very reluctantly publicised the game at that time. I was slightly afraid of putting it out there. I only showed it at conferences and events,” she tells me. Even making the game was a task because she was only one of two women, among 46 men, at Global Game Jam 2016. “One of the men I was working with didn’t understand why I thought this [Sabarimala] was an issue,” she said. Padmini tells me that although women are increasingly getting involved in tech and games, the best way to keep the momentum going is to make these spaces more inclusive by getting rid of the ‘bro culture’ that thrives in the industry.

She tells me about how game designers like her, whether men or women, must be cognisant of power dynamics in society because video games transcend mechanics––they must have narratives that the audience relates to. “I really hope the game demonstrates to people how absurd this controversy is, and how we’d be much better served by focusing on actual problems that need solving like brahmanical patriarchy,” she said. But, Padmini believes that Indian society is moving in the right direction. She believes the climate of India is more receptive to feminist dissent and she now feels more confident putting her game out into the public space. Like most of us, Padmini is hopeful for change.

Currently, the game can only be played on Windows and can be found here.

Feature image by: Padmini Ray Murray

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