At least three youngsters in the age group of 17-22 committed suicide after the government imposed a ban on ‘Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds’ (PUBG) on September 2. Three more died a fortnight before when parents restricted them from playing the game.
Cases of suicide attempts and self-harm allegedly triggered by gaming addiction were reported from West Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Uttarakhand.
PUBG Mobile is one of 118 Chinese apps that the Indian government blacklisted over national security concerns recently. This ban was preceded by India blocking 59 Chinese apps amid escalating border tensions between the two countries.
A day after the ban on PUBG, Perumal, who runs a silver shop in Vaniyambadi town in Tamil Nadu, reprimanded his son, Srinivasan, for playing the game despite the ban. Perumal even took away Srinivasan’s phone to keep him away from the game. Unable to bear it, Srinivasan, a class 12 student, hanged himself in the house.
Similarly, a 21-year-old student allegedly took his life in Purba Lalpur in West Bengal’s Nadia district on September 6 for not being able to play the online game. The deceased, Pritam Halder, was an ITI student. He hung himself in his house. Family members told the police that Pritam was addicted to the game and killed himself for not being able to play it.
Yet again, in the first week of September, another student Tejas Sidlapur, 17, of Sangur village in Haveri taluk, Karnataka, took the extreme step after his parents repeatedly advised him not to play the game and declined to recharge the internet pack.
Disappointed over the gaming ban and restrictions imposed at home, the teenager consumed a chemical used for plants and died.
The game has gone beyond tier-1 cities and reached small towns and villages. But with lack of information on de-addiction and how to handle gaming addictions, awareness among people living in India’s hinterland remains low.
Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma, professor of clinical psychology at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (Nimhans), who works with technology addicts at the institute’s SHUT (Service for Healthy use of Technology) clinic, says he receives 8-10 PUBG game-related addiction/conflict cases a week.
“With lockdown reducing outdoor activities, socialising and increasing availability of time with partial functioning of schools, the game got the students and youngsters hooked during the COVID crisis,” Sharma says. “A sudden ban affects them mentally and parents should engage them in pleasurable tasks rather than simply blaming them.”
For some, PUBG helps them with achievement and affiliation needs as the game is developed with a strategy to either survive (win) or die, Sharma says.
But it also triggers mental pressure for those who have predisposition with psychological illness or addiction. “They show signs of verbal and non-verbal aggression or talk loudly,” the doctor said.
A 15-year-old boy allegedly spent over 2 lakh rupees from his grandfather’s bank account on the online game in north Delhi’s Timarpur. A senior police officer said the boy had withdrawn the money over a period of time and spent on in-app purchases and for game-related activities.
Narrating one of the cases he received, the doctor said, while the parents felt the kid was addicted, and the kid argued that he wasn’t, they analysed his behaviour pattern and time schedule over the day. Since the child had no other psychological illness and did not show any behaviour of self-harm, they had recommended him to play for two hours and then slowly make a shift to offline games.
Dr Samir Parikh, director, department of mental health and behavioural sciences at Fortis Healthcare, had earlier told The Federal that addiction should be defined by an impairment in daily functioning — such as studies, work, social life and health — rather than the number of hours that a person spends on games. Many addicted gamers, he added, face withdrawal symptoms if they quit or reduce gaming activities, pretty much like in the case of alcoholics.
While the launch of FAU-G, a similar game developed by the Indian firm nCore Games, is seen as an opportunistic move to cash in on a crisis, gamers still feel it doesn’t match the quality and content of PUBG.
For PUBG, India was one of the biggest markets with over 175 million downloads to date, accounting for a quarter of the global downloads.
PUBG Corporation, a subsidiary of South Korean Krafton, issued a statement saying it would no longer authorise the gaming franchise to Chinese Tencent games in India, a decision it made to have its game reinstated in India.