It was also reported a few days ago that the son of a constable in Nagpur killed himself after having lost a PUBG mission. The developments have raised criticism concerning the addictive nature of such e-entertainment options and susceptibility of people across age groups. The Centre this week banned 47 Chinese apps, a month after it pulled out 59 apps developed by China, citing security concerns. While PUBG is not part of this checklist, the govt has set its sights on the popular game, which was targeted by a Thoothukudi-based NGO for its violent content.
It is important to place in historical context the vitriol directed against gaming, or specifically violent video games as a catalyst for aberrational behaviour. In April 1999, two high school students in Colorado, US, embarked on what would then be referred to as the deadliest school shootings in US history – the Columbine massacre. Reports had then suggested that the two shooters were avid gamers and fans of hyper-violent PC games such as Doom and Duke Nukem. Close to 21 years later, games inspired by their precursors have been ported onto mobiles, setting off a global chain of dialogue on where the rot stems from.
The WHO attempted to bring some clarity to the issue, and in 2018, Gaming Disorder was included in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). It was defined as a pattern of digital or video-gaming behaviour with characteristics such as stunted control over gaming, the undue priority placed on the recreational sport as opposed to other daily activities and interests, and the ignoring of negative consequences. Now, following the outcry from across India, the developers of PUBG, a Singapore-based company has written to the Union Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY), stating it will begin implementing limits on the duration of gaming, as well as OTP-based validation for minor users.
The developer’s reaction merits comparison to how Indian filmmakers are ‘duty-bound’ to inform viewers about the hazards of alcohol, smoking and tobacco usage when a character on screen indulges in such vices. A similar charge of inspiring deviant behaviour has been levelled against what would be considered a harmless pastime – online rummy. The Madurai Bench of Madras High Court had urged the Centre and State governments last week to ban online games including rummy and card games that entail cash rewards. It went on to cite a recent ordinance passed by the Telangana government which banned such games.
The Supreme Court of India had ruled in 1968 that rummy was a game of skill, and not necessarily a game of chance. But players are unfortunately being dragged into a spiral of gambling-like debt – due to addiction – and the need to keep replenishing their winnings. However, it’s worth considering whether TV, movies, PC or mobile games or any such indulgence, excessive consumption is an individualistic choice, and enforcement of bans or governmental restrictions will only turn those affected to alternative avenues. What might be beneficial in the longer run, would be creating awareness concerning the pitfalls of addiction among youngsters. This needs to be done both on the developer front, as well as on the social support front, vis-à-vis parents, teachers and counsellors.
For a nation where over 65 per cent of the population is under 35, it must be understood that just imposing restrictions and curbs might not be the best option – instead instilling awareness and setting limits would go a long way in creating a level playing field.