Priests Vs Menstruating Women, A Video game by Indian Developers
Women clad in saris, with flowers in their hair, try to climb up floors in their bid to visit the temple at the top. As they make their ascent, they have to battle priests along the route, desperate to thwart their efforts if the women are menstruating, the scenario sounds familiar? No its not Sabarimala but this is the world of Darshan Diversion, a video game.
In 2016, Padmini Ray Murray, along with Joel Johnson and Ketan KV Jain, designed a prototype for the Global Game Jam, an international event where designers have 48 hours to create a theme-based game. The game, Darshan Diversion, is a player versus player game, where one can choose to either play the priest or a woman trying to sneak past the priest to enter the temple.
Speaking to Quartz India, Ray Murray has said that Darshan Diversion is particularly relevant today, “To be perfectly honest, we never imagined at the time that the controversy would be raging two years after we made the game,”. “There was never that much forethought. At the time, we figured it was an interesting idea, and ran with it.”
“The idea stemmed from an article I read during the unfolding of events in 2016. Two quotes stood out – one was by women saying they would use helicopters and storm the temple, and the other was by a priest who said women won’t be allowed to enter the temple until a machine was able to tell if a woman is menstruating or not,” said Padmini, who runs the Masters in Digital Humanities programme at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology. She adds that since the theme of Game Jam was ‘rituals’, “the absurdity of the situation lent itself well to the theme.”
Ray Murray says that Darshan Diversion wasn’t built specifically to raise awareness—a purpose that is at the core of several games, such as Leena Kejriwal’s Missing. “I never really had any intention to make a serious statement. It was just a riff on how absurd I found the situation.” She and her team were also attracted to the idea because temples are an established trope in the world of gaming, with several popular video games, such as Temple Run and Gateway to Apshai, offering variations of the theme. Darshan Diversion is a culturally-specific and socially-relevant nod to that recurring motif.
Darshan Diversion was shown at a Bengaluru event on Oct. 07. Curated by journalist Barkha Dutt, the event aimed to bring together feminist perspectives, and the game was part of an exhibition arranged in collaboration with the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology. The game attracted attention after Dutt tweeted about it, and was attacked by trolls on social media. It was scheduled to be displayed again at the Mumbai edition of Dutt’s event on Nov. 25, said Ray Murray, but was not shown for fear of backlash, given the volatile situation at Sabarimala.
The game is currently available on Windows and can be downloaded from globalgamejam.org/2016/games/darshan-diversion.
The Global Game Jam simultaneously occurs at several sites around the world. Game developers are given a theme, and challenged to make games within two days. The theme for the event in 2016 was Ritual, “chosen because of its rich cultural connotations, personal connections, and conversely, its connection with the mundane and ordinary,” according to the event website.
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