The violence in action-adventure games is one thing, but violence in multi-player games like PUBG is quite another.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) Mobile is easily the most popular mobile game in India. It is currently banned in the country. Each time there is an escalation of military tension along the border of India and China, India punishes some apps from across the border.
Recently, the axe fell on PUBG along with more than a hundred other apps. The government considers these apps, ‘prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order’. PUBG is certainly prejudicial to parents’ mental health as they anxiously watch their children get sucked into the game.
Under lockdown, the youngsters in India decided to preoccupy themselves with this first-person shooter game. In May alone, PUBG was downloaded 12 million times in India. While the epidemic raged outside, millions of PUBG players were busy parachuting down to the hazardous island and grabbing weapons to start shooting the enemy.
Video games are not without their merit. PUBG provides an outlet for some to express their daily frustrations. Such games tend to sharpen a gamer’s situational awareness, problem solving skills and survival instincts. It’s about killing or be killed. The players wear their kill/death record as a badge of honor for shooting the opponents’ brains off. But can these skills be transferred to the real world when the only aim in the game is to outlive enemies?
Gamers would point to our spirited celebration of violence in real life; the military celebrates it and nations honor it. Interestingly, the armed forces started to fund video games after World War II. They use it for recruitment and training on teamwork, cross-cultural communication, and quick decision-making. More recently, virtual gaming environments are used to treat PSTD, where soldiers are made to confront traumatic situations by clinicians.
PUBG gamers argue that there is more gut-wrenching violence in movies and other games. The violence in action-adventure games is one thing, but violence in multi-player games like PUBG is quite another.
PUBG players go after the virtual avatars of real people. Squads round up their prey before they go for the kill. At what point does PUBG cross the line between healthy teaming and mob violence? The sound of young players screaming, “kill him” is chilling, as they exhort their gang of friends over Team Audio to hunt down an opponent. It sounds disturbingly like a simulation of public lynching. Games do not reflect the sense of loss, pain and grief when soldiers and their families lose their own. So, PUBG does not reflect the many dimensions of violence in real life.
Setting aside the ethical dilemma, parents find it hard to look away from PUBG’s addictiveness. The randomness of human reaction makes PUBG exciting. It is immersive because gamers can voice chat with their team, while baying for the blood of their enemy. In March this year, PUBG had imposed daily playtime restriction of 6 hours. This itself sounds bizarre because this means that most of your productive hours could be sucked by the game.
Acknowledging gaming addiction as a mental health problem, the World Health Organization describes it as “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior, which may be online or offline, manifested by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
WHO pegs the share of gamers who are addicted at 3-4 percent. This seems small until you look at the actual numbers. PUBG has 400 million users worldwide, and 50 million people play every day. By that count, 1.5 million people could be addicted to a game that is already known to be highly addictive. A Bangalore-based clinic treating digital addiction reported in September 2019 that seven out of ten visitors every week were PUBG addicts.
Playing PUBG should not be a problem until other aspects of life get impacted, such as online classes and sleep. Addiction to gaming is considered harmful when it becomes the main instrument for coping with life’s challenges. It is important to know this because it gives a clear perspective on how much is too much gaming.
Shalini Verma is CEO of PIVOT Technologies
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