Online Gaming and its Infinite Challenges
Policy Research Associate
Internet along with several opportunities brought several challenges with it. It has confined nearly everyone’s world into their digital devices. Children and teenagers also confined themselves to smartphones due. Online gaming is one of the sections which captivated their attention but only to drastically transform them and their behavior.
In a recent horrific and distressing incident, a 16-year-old boy in UP killed his mother by shooting because she stopped him from playing PUB G, an online game. Similarly, a teenage boy in Mumbai committed suicide by jumping in front of a train when stopped by his mother from playing the game. In another case, a boy lost Rs. 36 lakhs while playing games.
What could have led to these disturbing incidents? How are these new-age online games shaping children’s mental landscape and transforming them psychologically?
Online games come under various categories and involve various activities from involving money, and casual games to violence like- Dream11, Ludo King, Chess.com, PUB G, Pokémon Go, Blue whale, Pink City, etc.
Online gaming is problematic particularly for the certain age group of people 18-25 years when it turns into a compulsive and obsessive behavior of the individual. This Problematic Interactive Media Use (PIMU) is having a serious mental toll on younger generations. The younger generation is often found glued to their digital devices for hours without break. It has been termed as ‘Internet Gaming Disorder’.
World Health Organisation in its International Classification of Disease (ICD-11) defined gaming disorder ‘as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences’.
In a recent series on Amazon Prime, ‘Guilty Minds’, the second episode, ‘ Finisher’, depicted the harm caused by online games and their violent nature where a college-going student brutally kills a taxi driver in a temptation to complete a challenge. In this case, he could not differentiate between the virtual and real world. He finds himself in a situation where he was no more under his control. He killed a taxi driver with no fear in mind and an absolute sense of impunity. This raises a serious question
How an online game can force a person to kill somebody?
Through the framework under which these games work and the tasks a player has to perform in order to win.
PUB G (currently, banned in India) is a top-rated game among teenagers, small kids, and youths. PUB G uses very aggressive and violent methods. In this game, a player is dropped on a deserted island where there are already thousands of players. A player’s goal is to collect the weapons hidden in the islands and kill other players with the help of these weapons; whoever lasts is the winner.
Garena free fire is another game where there are a group of players. This game is available for children of 13 years or above. In this game, a player collects a wide range of weapons -guns, grenades, rifles, etc. The objective is almost the same as PUB G to kill enemy players, and the more players you kill, the longer you stay in the game.
Blue Whale game is another game that kills children at the final stage of completing the challenge. It starts with the challenge of ‘carve with a razor of ‘f57’ on your hand and send a picture to a curator’, ‘wake up at 4:30 and watch scary videos’, ‘and finally, ‘jump off a high building and take your life’.
What forces these children to take up these challenges?
A Bengali film named ‘Habji Gabji’ very nicely depicted the evolution of a digital child, were in the race to make your child a modern child with everything in their hand, turned everything into a disaster. Parents forget to stick to the idea that excess of everything is dangerous. In this film, a son of a working couple gets addicted to mobile phones and online games. With time there was a behavioural shift in the child, and he turned anti-social and aggressive. He even attacked his father. He became very irritable and threatened his parents whenever his mobile phone was taken away from him.
These harmful game sounds scary to even start with, but why do people start playing such games? Society is one of the reasons behind this. An isolated and disconnected society makes children feel lonely at the very outset of their life, which eventually pushes them into the new world of online games, which compels them to meet strangers and further makes them anti-social.
For children who feel powerless in some aspects of life, in these games, they experience the power they might not feel in the real world. It gives them the illusion of power and instant gratification. It generates a sense of false courage in doing something adventurous like the one which Blue Whale offers.
These games severely impact the psychological well-being of children. They can make them addicted, just like drugs, and force them to do anything to get access to these games or devices. These games give rewards and hence, instill a sense of constant competition where a child constantly strives to fulfill his materialistic desires. The gamification of almost every part of children’s life is a serious negative consequence of PIMU.
Violent online gaming, in general, has made children aggressive and violent, where observing violence and blood is a new normal for them. Hence, it leads to the normalization of violence in order to win. These games take away the most productive years of their life and build a destructive tendency in them.
It also severely affects health because of its addictive nature, where children spend an average of 5-6 hours daily and compromise sleep and sometimes even meals. It also reduces the ability of a child to concentrate.
These games sometimes socialize them in a wrong way about very sensitive matters, sexual content, racism, etc. The appearance of age-inappropriate content in the middle of the game like links to adult sites or betting sites is another problem to be taken seriously. It also makes the child use abusive words more frequently because of the anonymity of the online space.
Online games give the player a false sense of empowerment. The various after-effects of these games are to be taken seriously. The family can play the most crucial role, especially parents who can keep an eye on their children’s screen time. They can spend time with them so that they feel less attracted to these games. Another stakeholder who should be responsible is the government and the firms developing these games. The government needs to urgently develop guidelines rather than just adopting reactive stance to ensure that a child does not access excessively violent and self-harming content like Blue Whale. The government needs to urgently develop the Online Gaming Act, which comprehensively deals with the area. Similarly, firms should take responsibility.