A Buddhist game to help teach ethics

by Chatrarat Kaewmorakot, The Nation, March 12, 2007

Bangkok, Thailand -- Concerned about a news report of a boy attacking his mother because she refused to give him money to play online games, a senior officer at the Religious Affairs Department decided to create a game himself.

"Ethics Game", created by Pakorn Tancharoen, director of the Moral and Ethical Development Office works by using a principled game to overcome decadent games.

"It is impossible to stop kids from playing games or flocking to online-game arcades. So, let them play, but play good games," Pakorn said.

The game aims to indirectly teach players about morals, doing good and the five Buddhist precepts.

When he first came up with the idea, Pakorn - who had never played online games and has no children of his own - decided to work it on it in secret, as he was not sure that his boss would go along with the idea.

He spent his after-work time at online-game arcades to observe what kinds of games attract children.

"Most of them were about killing," he said.

He then devised a game plot that includes four main characters: Dharmmahapanyo, an old respected monk; Charn, an orphaned boy who is mischievous but clever; Nu Na, a girl who is clever and kind-hearted; and Paloe, a big half-Chinese boy who was born into a rich family and likes to tease others, especially animals.

Pakorn said he had initially asked children to participate in designing physical images of the four characters because he wanted them to win kids' hearts.

The three kids have to follow the monk on a pilgrimage. There are many barriers they have to face during the journey. Only intelligence, goodness and morals help get them past the barriers.

Killing might be the aim in most popular games, but in "Ethics Game", hurting even an animal means you lose points.

The five precepts of Buddhism are do not kill, do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not lie and do not drink alcohol. These are included in the final stage of the game when the four characters must teach villagers about the precepts and instruct them if their behaviour has gone against any of them.

The project was finally approved, but the proposed budget of Bt3.2 million was cut to Bt1.2 million.

Fortunately, a game company was willing to produce the game and footed the cost.

"They said they had been hired to produce so many violent games, they saw this as a chance to make amends," said Pakorn.

The launch of 10,000 CDs of the game was warmly welcomed by children, who phoned in to ask for copies. The game is also available for download at www.khondee.net/game.

Pakorn will create an animated television programme and a cartoon book. He will hold a competition soon for the design of a second version of the Ethics Game.