Regarding the pacifist first-person shooter I designed in 2000-2001 to teach Hindu principles of non-violence using the Unreal Engine, you may justly feel skeptical.
This Hindu non-shooter was conceived and produced entirely by - nobody ever believes this part - recent graduates of the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. Yes, really. In early 2000, a gaggle of upscale white American 20-somethings with fresh MUM animation and graphics degrees thought it would be fun to create a computer game based on Hindu teachings. Funded by the young heir to a chain of furniture stores, who scraped by on a parental allowance of half a million dollars a year, they licensed Epic Games' hotly anticipated Unreal Warfare engine - six months' allowance right there - and set to work.
After these enthused neophytes spent nine or 10 months learning the editor and designing some levels, it eventually occurred to them they might need a game design. The team's producer - I'll call him "Newbie" - was a huge fan of Deus Ex. (He pronounced deus "dee-us.") Newbie contacted DX designer Warren Spector, who referred him to me. The project attracted me because there's tons of good game material in Indian culture. Everybody knows about Thuggee assassin cults, but we never hear of the many Indian martial arts, nor Kundalini yoga, nor the siddhi powers of legendary yogis. As for India's history, you could do games about a dozen empires, like the Gupta Dynasty, the Mauryans under Ashoka, Vijayanagara, the Mughals or the British Empire in the time of Gandhi. India today, a rising world power, could inspire games about tangled political scandals, Kashmiri separatism, inter-caste tension, the children's films and stories of Satyajit Ray, Bangla bands, Bollywood musicals and so on.
The MUM people, though, wanted a story inspired by Hindu mythology that illustrated the Hindu principle of nonviolence, ahimsa. In other words, having spent $250,000 to license one of the most kickass, muy-macho, hyper-adrenalized deathmatch shmups on the planet, the Maharishi disciples wanted a game where you could only win if you never killed, injured or damaged anyone or anything in the game. Anything at all.
Well, OK. I bought a stack of books and hit the web. In the dark age of 2000, Year 1 B.W. (Before Wikipedia), I found no Hinduism portal, but there were sites like Hindu Books Universe, Hinduism Today magazine, Kamat's Potpourri and the Saiva Siddhanta Church in Hawaii. I stumbled on oddities like Saranam ("Hindu Puja and Ritual Services") and utterly jaw-dropping stuff on About.com's Alternative Religions page.
Because few of the Maharishi grads had relevant experience, I first pitched a simple puzzle-based design inspired by the 1993 Trilobyte bestseller The 7th Guest. This approach aimed for a humorous, upbeat tone:
"As the game begins, you are a humble monkey who has gotten lucky. In an incident drawn from Hindu myth, you performed a service for Rama's consort, Sita. As a reward, Hanuman the Monkey God grants you the opportunity to ascend to a new life - perhaps even to the celestial court of Vishnu.
"Searching for enlightenment, you journey through the mysterious astral realm called Mandala. Hanuman, Rama and Vishnu encourage you to solve their puzzles and reward you by teaching you ever higher states of consciousness. Through each state (each game level), you strive to please the gods by demonstrating cleverness. Along the path, you encounter gurus and demons, helpers and thieves, and a rich array of creatures from Indian mythology.