The idea began with the big picture, a daydream of a story more than a product itself. The girl played Sarathi De when she was little. Bloody good at it, too. Undefeated. Ran around with a ridiculous avatar, a winged elf weilding twin double-bladed laser swords, and moved with the grace that only a child with entirely too much time on her hands could manage.
It was a game with two sides to it: player vs player combat in the central city, and the exploration of the world itself beyond. At this stage in development, the exploration never really came up. It was, in the girl's story, already largely resolved.
It's just that nobody could ever quite recall what the resolution had been.
The thing with Sarathi De was that it kept coming up, in daydream after daydream, story after story. A game that took on different forms each time, world that manifested as only one thing true: none who go there ever return. So find a workaround. Don't actually go there. Don't actually leave. Play the game, and only the game. Make a game.
The first iteration was a webcomic that never happened, a story of a group of roleplayers brought together for a game that would change their lives. It was a new world, with new names, new faces, something that could be released without fear of copyright. Here, the little girl was all grown up, and never had played the game herself, but it seemed a good as any a place to start a game. "Create your characters," she said. "You're all going to Sarathi."
But it was Sarathi, and Sarathi has a mind of its own. And this was the girl, who still had some of her childish nature. Things went awry. An incident with a breadstick, some magic gone wrong, and suddenly the players were the played, becoming their characters in flesh, in the very world that would destroy them all, lost and confused and utterly alone. And, in once case, with a slight case of a sexchange.
We call them games because they are not real. The bad things happen there, not to us. The characters do things we never could, and skip past the things we just don'tThey owned and operated care for. When the game becomes real... the implications hang in the air like a sentence that trails off into stupid oblivion.
The second iteration blurred across several stories. A series of books and screenplays interwoven and never quite touching, not exactly Sarathi, but with the story very much interwoven into their own. A D&D campaign with a set of players driven slowly mad as their characters were sent over the edge exploring a world falling apart at the seams, replaying the events of the webcomic's campaign until they eventually failed a few sanity checks too many. Walls whistled at them suggestively.