A petition calling for the ban of the PlayersUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) game in India has got support from the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), with the Commission seeking a report on the action taken against the game from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
PUBG is an online game developed by the South Korean firm Bluehole. Released in 2017, it can be played on both PCs and mobile phones. The game was initially launched only for PCs; in 2018, a mobile version of the game was also released. PUBG is a survival game where 100 players parachute into an island, scavenge for weapons and kill each other. The last man standing wins the round. The game has over 200 million players worldwide.
The Hyderabad-based Forum Against Corruption, founded by anti-corruption and consumer rights activist Vijay Gopal, is trying to get the game disallowed across India. Gopal wrote to the NCPCR and the MoE&IT seeking a ban on the game in January this year. The NCPCR took up the issue after a Hyderabad-based Class 9 student had to be given medication by a psychiatrist for PUBG addiction. The game, for now, has only be banned in Gujarat, the state's police have also initiated a crackdown and have arrested 15 youth found playing the game.
“My worry is about teenagers and young children. We would like to avoid any deaths here on and it's all the more important that we and our government take steps proactively” says Gopal, when it is pointed out that not all people who play PUBG develop an affinity for violence. The activist is of the view that with increased access to the internet and mobile phones, more children are getting access to the game with little or no parental oversight.
“Earlier, access to these types of games was limited, you may go to a video game shop for perhaps 30 minutes. Only the upper-middle-class had access to consoles where games could be played, it was out of reach for others, but that’s not the case today,” he adds.
The concept of PUBG as a game was inspired by the Japanese movie Battle Royale directed by Kinji Fukasaku, in which a group of high school children are forced by the government to fight to the death on a remote island. The film, which came out in 2000, was a hit in Japan but courted controversy over its depiction of brutality and was banned from being released in a few countries.
The movie, however, gave birth to a new survival-based gaming genre named after the movie’s title. The genre has since then given rise to many games similar in concepts such as Fortnite, Apex Legends, Realm Royale, Knives Out-Tokyo Royale and many more.
In India, there have been various reports about youths needing medical attention due to their addition to PUBG. According to a survey conducted by free internet provider Jana on its mCent browser app for Quartz, out of 1,047 respondents, 62% said they played the game.
Child psychologists say most parents are unaware that their children are addicted to PUBG and other games. They say parents bring their children in for counselling mostly for poor academic performance.
Dr Radhika Acharya, a child psychologist at Somajiguda’s Deccan Hospital, says a majority of those found addicted to the game are between the age group of 12 to 19. The doctor finds the survival concept of the game problematic. “They are not running a race in this game, they are killing each other, if you don’t kill others you don’t survive,” she adds.
The doctor points out that the live streaming by the New Zealand mosque terrorist who gunned down 49 people in Christchurch was very similar to the player perspective of a game from the Battle Royale genre. The terrorist live streamed using a camera attached to his head. The psychologist says, “The live video looks like a video shoot or a game, only the tip of the gun is visible.”
Dr Radhika says prolonged exposure to violent gameplay can dehumanise and desensitise a person. “Extended exposure to the game dehumanises and desensitises a person to criminality over time, the gruesome way of killing is being made to appear as normal,” she says. According to her, prolonged exposure to such degree of violence in games could even hamper brain development in children.