Mara’s Garden teaches its players about the various Mara manifestations Buddhist disciples will encounter in their journey towards Enlightenment. According to Dharma Games, Mara literally means “the killer” (Mara's Garden ). The importance of Mara appears at the eve of Siddhartha Gautama’s Enlightenment ( Urban Dharma ). As the bodhisattva meditated under the Bodhi tree, Mara sent a deluge of distractions and enticements to lure the bodhisattva away from Enlightenment (Mara's Garden). Mara’s engagement with Siddhartha Gautama lasted for a total of seven years, i.e., six years prior to the Enlightenment and one year afterwards (Mara's Garden). In these seven years, Mara attempted to discover any weaknesses of the Buddha (Mara's Garden). As the Buddha began nearing the end of his earthly life, Mara attempted to convince him to depart before he proclaimed the Dhamma, otherwise known as the Dharma (Mara's Garden). In Buddhist teachings, there are five kinds of Mara: 1) Mara as deity (devaputta-mara), 2) Mara of defilements (kilesa-mara), 3) Mara of the aggregates (khandha-mara), 4) Mara of kamma-formations (kamma-mara) and 5) Mara as death (maccu-mara) (Mara's Garden). Within these five kinds of Mara, Mara’s Garden focuses on the second type, i.e., Mara of defilements (kilesa-mara).
Mara’s Garden takes place in a simple, rectangular field with immovable obstacles that can serve to benefit or hinder one’s path towards the Nibbana Pagoda. One by one, the player has to outmaneuver the ten defilements in order to deliver ten Buddhist flags to the festival. As the player defeats each defilement, the playing field presents fewer rocky bushes. The rocky bushes are programmed into the game to serve as traps for the enemy, but also as obstacles for the player that obstruct a direct path towards the Nibbana Pagoda. In each level, one is able to gain a bonus life by collecting lotus flowers; however, only one lotus flower presents itself in each level. Therefore, a strategic player will collect these bonus lives in the easier levels in order to expend them as necessary in the more difficult levels. As the player completes each of the ten levels, a congratulatory screen appears with the title of the defilement defeated and the option to learn more about the armies of Mara. The defilements are all portrayed as odd beasts that partially mirror the player’s movements across the garden. Yet, these mirror-like movements remind the player that Mara uses one’s own weaknesses as distractions to Nirvana (Mara's Garden), referred to as Nibbana in the game. The beasts are “mental defilements” of sensual desires, fear, uncertainty, and many others (Mara's Garden).
Listed under the category of Kids games, Mara’s Garden uses the arrow keys to maneuver the monk. The player is able to change the level of difficulty and choose to have the flag already attached to the monk or retrieve it among the rocky bushes whilst playing the game. However, even on the easiest setting, Mara’s Garden is rather difficult, especially as one encounters the last few beasts. The beasts move faster as one moves up in difficulty. Compounded with fewer rocky bushes, the player has to seriously contemplate each maneuver in order to outsmart the beast, or suffer the consequence of losing a life.
All in all, Mara’s Garden is a short game that takes place in an important context within Buddhism. It uses a variety of media to portray its message to its player. While the game is simple in design, it is accompanied with a variety of tools to reinforce its message. Perhaps, the simplistic design is an aid in clearing the mind to think of the opponent: Mara.