By Anand Ramachandran. This article first appeared on my weekly Game Invader column for The New Indian Express.
At the recent launch of Sony's Hanuman game for the PS2, there was much brouhaha about Hanuman being a non-violent game which featured “Indian Gameplay”. Whatever that means.
While I've written in these pages earlier about how Hanuman : Boy Warrior is a significant and important effort (and kudos to Sony, Aurona and Milestone for it), this kind of ill-informed and ridiculous marketing speak won't do the game any favours.
First, it was amusing to listen to Hanuman: Boy Warrior being touted as a game that promoted values such as non-violence – when it is merely a cookie-cutter beat-em-up where Lord Hanuman essentially bludgeons a variety of assorted demons using a mace. How is this non-violent? Purely because it's a god doing the bashing? What if it were Kratos? Or Thor?
Secondly, the game uses a storytelling device that contrives to tell you that you aren't really 'killing' your enemies, you're merely 'liberating their souls'. And some stuff about how 'nobody is really evil', and 'everyone has good inside them'. Which is all very well, and commendable. But pray tell, how any of this constitutes 'Indian Gameplay', as was proudly claimed by Sony bigwigs at the launch event?
In fact, I take exception to both parts of the expression 'Indian Gameplay'. The concepts of good and evil, and 'liberation of the soul' as explained in the game are hardly exclusive to Indian philosophies or worldviews. Any number of cultures all over the world have explored, adopted and preached the very same thoughts for centuries. Hence this aspect of the game is no more Indian than it is Chinese or Mexican or African.
And also, explain to me how this constitutes gameplay? In terms of gameplay, you beat the baddies up, then they fall, and leave a glowing orb of energy (the soul, in this case) floating in mid-air. Which is exactly like God of War. Or Fable. Or Ninja Gaiden. So, instead of calling it 'mana' or 'experience', you're calling it a 'freed soul'. Er . . sorry to disappoint, Sony, but the last time I checked, that isn't new gameplay. It's just terminology, and not terribly original terminology either, used to describe or add meaning to the actions that constitute gameplay. You could call it a storytelling device, perhaps. But for a company like Sony Computer Entertainment, which makes games, for crying out loud, to describe this as “Indian Gameplay” borders on the ridiculous. No, scratch that. It IS ridiculous.
I said the same thing when FxLabs launched the ill-fated Agni, and I'll say it again for Hanuman : Boy Warrior. It's a great effort, a very important and pioneering move by Sony and their partners, and worthy of much recognition and applause. But by making silly, ignorant statements, they do an injustice to their own product. Just imagine how amusing the international gaming community will find this – it's embarrassing that India's first console game will sadly be mocked, largely due to foolish claims made in the name of marketing or promotion. Everybody loves an honest, brave effort (which is what Hanuman is), but nobody who is anybody has the patience for claims such as Hanuman offers 'truly Indian gameplay', or that Agni was 'on par with the best PC games available'.
So listen up, corporate suits. You've have done the hard part by developing a game against steep odds. Don't eff it up by making lazy, ill-informed claims that only act as fodder for ridicule. At the very least, it will make the likes of me shut up.