When we can’t even leave religion out of videogames

MAY 3 ― “Dia Islam ke?” (Is he/she Muslim?) When it comes to religion, Malaysians are a ridiculously nosy bunch.

It’s not just Malay Muslims, however. I was once cornered at a party by a strange Chinese girl who insisted on knowing what religion was displayed on my IC as she clearly had never encountered a non-Malay Bumiputera before. 

What’s your race? What’s your religion? Questions that are considered rude in many other places are nonchalantly asked of perfect strangers and in every conceivable form that needs filling out. I really don’t see why a tampon survey needs to know my racial and religious make-up, for instance.

Then I saw a Tweet that disturbed me on so many levels: this random Malaysian Malay asking about a videogame character: “Is Pharah Muslim or murtad (apostate)?”

Pharah is a videogame character from the game Overwatch. In-game, her full name is Fareeha Amari and she was previously enlisted in the Egyptian army.

What bothers me is that one, this person immediately assumed that Pharah was a Muslim. This, despite Egypt being home to, among others, Coptic Christians and other non-Muslim Egyptians.

It’s like the Allah issue all over again. Despite Christian and non-Muslim Arabs using Allah since before the beginning of Islam, Malaysian Muslims insist that Allah is a “Muslim” word. 

It doesn’t help that plenty of ignorant non-Muslims in Malaysia aren’t any better in their thinking. One non-Muslim even went so far as to call Allah a pagan word, which Christians had no business using. I wonder if she would be willing to tell a Lebanese Christian that to his face. 

Ascribing apostasy to even fictional characters is nonsensical and troubling. ― Twitter/Blizzard pic
Ascribing apostasy to even fictional characters is nonsensical and troubling. ― Twitter/Blizzard pic

Most alarming to me is that a Malaysian would immediately bring up apostasy in the context of a videogame. Why does it matter what religion a fictional character professes? If you think about it, a fictional character never truly existed and thus cannot really pray in the first place. So why does her religion or lack of one concern you? 

It isn’t normal for this obsession with religion to creep into, of all things, videogaming. A character’s backstory is just that, a backstory. One made up to give the game flavour and most gamers create what is called “head canon” — their very own version of events — in their own imaginations anyway. 

Apostasy is already a loaded issue in Malaysia, so ascribing it to, of all things, a fictional character is frankly disturbing. Next thing you know, we’ll have locals boycotting Blizzard for “daring” to field an apostate character. 

I think we have to start encouraging a new paradigm — that anyone, fictional or not, should not be answerable to strangers’ fixation on their faith. And that anyone should be able to say this when asked what faith they profess: “None of your (expletive optional) business.”

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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