According to my father, who knows these things, there is an old Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.” The last week or so since my last blog entry about Playing Gods have certainly been interesting times.
It started last Thursday or so, when I sent out a few dozen e-mailed press releases to religion editors at newspapers across the country. I spent a few hours carefully crafting a press release, being alternately informative and teasing, much like a shy teenage flirt or an especially interesting label on a jar of dill pickles. Of the e-mails, about 20 bounced back, but a few got responses; the Toledo Blade, for one, and a small newspaper you might have heard of called USA Today.
I did a half-hour phone interview, telling her about the game. The wanted the name of the distributor, just to verify that the game was real and legit, and was indeed being handled by North America’s largest game distributor, Alliance. (I can almost picture the conversation with the vice-president of marketing: “So, are you really carrying this game that might potentially offend millions of people? Have you seen it? Are you really okay with Jesus beating people over the head with his cross?”) I also sent a bunch of jpegs of the game, as well as a copy of the game Second Day Air by FedEx for a whopping $70. Ouch. But, as it turned out, well worth the investment. Nothing much happened over the weekend with the game, save for a laggard response or two. Monday brought a follow up phone call from the USA Today reporter, wanting a few more basic facts such as my age and home city. She also wanted to discuss a little more the 800-pound gorilla in the room.
Yes, we got around to the Muslim figure; the “this-game-might-elicit-death-threats” angle to the story was not lost on the reporter or her editors, though I had tried to downplay the issue by explaining that the generic Muslim figure included in the game IS NOT Mohammed, Allah, or any other specific historical personage or entity.
The piece was published on the USA Today Web site last night; I’ll have comment and reaction in a later blog. The writer said that the game included a “turbaned fellow with a bomb and a degger vaguely hinting at Mohammed,” which isn’t quite the way I would have phrased it, but is fair enough. No, the blog headline that pissed me off was one that said that the game depicted Mohammed in figurine form (I won’t post the link, no reason to give it any publicity).
I don’t want to dwell on this, so let me make this official position statement on the issue:
Playing Gods is a satire and not intended to offend anyone, though
sometimes people find satire offensive (note the recent flap over the
Barack Obama cartoon on the New Yorker cover).
Players can inject as much – or as little – real religion into the game as
they wish. Players may pit Zeus against Cthulhu, Oprah, the Flying
Spagehtti Monster, or the Almighty Dollar for control over the world, or
pit Jesus against a Muslim figurehead. It’s all up to the player. I hope
the game is taken in the spirit in which it was offered. I’ve shown the
game to Catholics, Buddhists, and a Muslim. They weren’t offended.
Salman Rushdie had a great quote: “It’s very easy to not be offended by a
book: Simply don’t open it.” Playing Gods has a clearly labeled satire
warning on the back, next to the warning to keep small parts away from
children. “WARNING: SATIRE HAZARD. Contains satire. Keep away from
easily-offended fundamentalists.” If anyone if offended by the game, it’s
their own fault for not reading the warning label!
Islam forbids the depiction of either Allah or the prophet Mohammed. To
avoid any offense, we have a sticker with a star and crescent that can be
affixed to a round disc to symbolize Islam in the game. (Other stickers
represent other religions as well.) Neither Allah nor Mohammed is mentioned anywhere in the game, rules, cards, Web site, or anywhere else. While we do have a generic Arab figure, it is unspecified and ambiguous, with its face covered, and could be
anyone from a mullah to an imam to a sheikh. I showed the figure to two
Muslims, and neither had a problem with it as long as it was not
identified as Mohammed, which is certainly is not!
I briefly thought about not including a Muslim figure, but I decided that
Muslims should not get a free pass. The game is democratic in that it is
an equal opportunity offender. No belief is above question or satire, and
I would hope that good people of all faiths would join me in criticizing
those who kill in their gods’ names. Religious zealots have done far more
damage to their faiths than infidels ever could.
As Monty Python member Terry Gilliam noted, “If your religion is so
vulnerable that a bit of disrespect is going to bring it down, then it’s
not worth believing in.” If my board game is the biggest problem in
someone’s life, I’d say they are doing pretty well.