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Online Game Suite: Dharma GamesEdit
Dharma Games was created with the intention to tap into the vast wealth of resources that technology offered. By creating a website that devotes itself to teaching Buddhist principles in the format of online gaming, Dharma Games sees itself as using the new tools of internet media to deliver its message. The creators of Dharma Games saw the central role that video games were taking in the modern world, outstripping traditional modes of entertainment (television, music and film) (About ). According to internet archives, the earliest records of Dharma Games came online on December 20, 2005 (Archives). Since its inception, Dharma Games has undergone a steady stream of updates up to its most recent, recorded update on March 29, 2008 (Archives). From a superficial level, it appears that Dharma Games experienced little change since its birth in the virtual world. Having spent some time on the various archived websites, Dharma Games only shows a few signs of alteration except random superficial changes. Otherwise, Dharma Games’ content and selection of games has never changed.
Perhaps the most interesting and unique aspects of Dharma Games is its multi-faceted gaming experience. The games presented are all relatively simple, ranging from target practice to puzzles, but each game has a wealth of Buddhist knowledge. Rather than incorporating the actual messages into the game, the Buddhist principles are external links that players are able to access, sometimes during game play and at other times after completing certain levels. In each game, one always has the choice to pause the game and learn more about the Buddhist precepts the game is meant to teach and/or reinforce. For example, in Mara’s Garden at the end of each level one has the option to continue to the next level or read about “The Armies of Mara.” If one chooses the latter option, the game saves itself at the completed level, and brings one to another page explaining who Mara is. The explanations are incredibly in-depth, providing the player with a wealth of information concerning the topic at hand. As one familiarizes oneself with the various games offered, one realizes that the games are merely conduits to lure the player into reading the texts concerning Buddhist principles. The vast amount of information each game conveys surpasses the simplicity of the games. The information is always presented in various forms including videos, pictures, and much more.
The website acknowledges the speed at which video games have come to rival other media of entertainment, i.e., film, music and television (About). Rather than passive participation in traditional forms of entertainment, e.g., watching television, video games are immersive and the decisions of each player affects the outcome of the game (About). The creators of Dharma Games realized this unique quality of video games. Consequently, just as Buddhism uses a wealth of metaphors to teach, Dharma Games use video games as “game metaphors” (About). In this manner, the games are participatory metaphors that rely on more than the traditional aural-oral metaphors (About). The website clearly outlines the lessons to be learned, or reinforced, from each game. For example, one of the games teaches the player fundamental phrases and words of Pali, which is the “canonical language of the Theravada school of Budhism” (About). Through this website, the creators hope to offer an alternative paradigm for video games. Instead of “violence, animosity and competition” Dharma Games offers a “paradigm of selflessness, loving-kindness, awareness and wisdom” (About). It is able to harness an expansive offering of games and reinforcing mediums to create “more Dharma awareness through an engaging and stimulating activity” (About). These simplistic games carry important messages with the purpose of equipping each person’s mind with a “deeper and wider perspective” (About).
Although the title of Dharma Games implies a solely game-based website, Dharma Games provides other tools to enriching one’s path towards Nirvana. The Dharma Channel, Dharma Bar, and the mobile phone Dhammapada are examples of the various other mediums that the creators of Dharma Games use to teach Buddhist tenets. These tools are meant to aid the larger mission of the website: In the pressure-filled and stressful world of today, “Dharma is therefore vital to heal the world of its many illnesses of mind and body” (About). The creators of Dharma Games see the status quo as only a springboard into future possibilities of multi-player games and other games that are more technologically advanced (About). Dharma Games is only at the beginning of its journey in the virtual realm.
Short Game Review: Roots of EvilEdit
Roots of Evil is a short game found on the website http://www.dharmagames.org/. The Dharma Games suite offers a variety of short games which present Buddhist teachings. Roots of Evil claims to be “a challenging game that reminds us of the Three Roots of Evil” (http://www.dharmagames.org/), and in this way may be considered a religious game. The three roots of evil are greed, hatred, and delusion. In the Buddhist religion, as well as in the game, these roots of evil are represented by the cock, the snake, and the black hog, respectively. The website, http://www.dharmagames.org/Buddhist%20Games/EvilRoots/evilRoots3_content.html, offers an extensive explanation of the animals’ symbolic representation. Greed, hatred, and delusion are considered the sources of all unwholesome actions, according to this game (http://www.dharmagames.org/Buddhist%20Games/EvilRoots/evilRoots3_content.html).
When three of similar symbol are aligned, those are eliminated. If an evil root is eliminated, the space is replaced with a symbol of the Buddha. The object is to replace evil with good. However, when three alike good symbols are aligned, they are replaced with evil. This seems to indicate that outside of the game, one should attempt to replace greed, hatred, and delusion with a Bhodi leaf, a Buddhist flag, and a Dharma wheel.
It seems as though this game is a teaching mechanism to remind the player that the goal of Buddhist practice is to “purify one’s mind of these three evil roots” (http://www.dharmagames.org/Buddhist%20Games/EvilRoots/evilRoots3_content.html). The puzzle of the game is to eliminate the roots of evil on varying levels of difficulty. The easiest level is to remove all of a single root. The moderate level removes two of three roots. And the difficult level removes all three roots of evil. This seems to parallel the idea that outside the game it is more difficult to remove all three roots of evil from one’s life than to remove just one root. It is interesting that in the game it is sometimes necessary to eliminate some good in order to eliminate any bad. This reminds me of the idea that the ends justify the means. If one can remove some good from one’s life with the intention to later remove an even greater amount of bad, then it is justified to do so. What seems unique to the game, and perhaps not to the Buddhist practice, is the chance that replacing either good or evil symbols may inadvertently align three similar symbols, and automatically replace them, without the player’s participation. This may occur with either good or evil, and seems to temporarily remove control or freedom of choice from the player.
In the game, when a level is completed, a story and words of the Buddha are displayed for the player to read. Different stories, or words of wisdom, are displayed for each root of evil. If the player wishes to purify his or her mind, as the game encourages, then the player will read and apply the short story to his or her own life outside of the game. However, it is just as easy for the player to start the game over, or quit without even regarding the words of the Buddha. Similarly, if one only plays to win, and does not consider the symbolism represented in the game, then the player may have no religious experience. This seems to be a conscious effort that must be put forth by the player to experience or not experience the Buddhist practice.