Tue, Mar 26, 2019 - Page 5 News List

India bans most popular mobile game over concern of creating ‘psychopaths’


A Holika Dahan effigy of PlayerUknown’s Battlegrounds is pictured ahead of the Hindu Holi festival in Mumbai, India, on Tuesday last week.

Photo: EPA-EFE

India does not have much of a history with popular computer games, unlike the US or Japan.

However, one of the industry’s kill-or-be-killed titles has become a smash hit — and the backlash from the country’s traditionalists is ferocious.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is a Hunger Games-style competition where 100 players face off with machine guns and assault rifles until only one is left standing.

After China’s Tencent Holdings introduced a mobile version of the death match that is free to play, it has become the most popular smartphone game in the world, with enthusiasts from the US to Russia to Malaysia.

Nowhere has resistance to the game been quite like India. Multiple cities have banned PUBG, as it is known, and police in Western India arrested 10 university students for playing.

The national child rights commission has recommended barring the game for its violent nature.

One of India’s largest Hindi newspapers declared PUBG an “epidemic” that turned children into manorogi, or psychopaths.

“There are dangerous consequences to this game,” the Navbharat Times said in an editorial on Wednesday last week. “Many children have lost their mental balance.”

Computer games have outraged parents and politicians for at least 20 years, since Grand Theft Auto first let players deal drugs, pimp out prostitutes and kill strangers to steal their cars.

Just last year, China went through its most serious crackdown on games, freezing approval of new titles and stepping up scrutiny of addiction and adverse health affects.

What is different about India is the speed with which the country has landed in the strange digital world of no laws or morals. It skipped two decades of debate and adjustment, blowing into the modern gaming era in a matter of months.

Rural communities that never had PCs or game consoles got smartphones in the past few years — and wireless service just became affordable for pretty much everyone after a price war last year.

With half a billion Internet users looking for entertainment, PUBG has set off a frenzy.

A student competition in the southern city of Hyderabad received 250,000 registrations from more than 1,000 colleges. One team walked away with a 1.5 million rupee (US$22,000) prize as the top PUBG players, just days before this month’s arrests.

Aryaman Joshi, 13, has played PUBG for a few hours each day and said all his friends play too.

“It’s a bit violent and there’s a lot of shooting, so boys like me like it,” he said.

His mother, Gulshan Walia, said she wants to take a realistic approach to Aryaman’s game playing.

That kind of demand is giving a hint at India’s potential as a gaming market. It is tiny today, generating a minuscule US$290 million in revenue.

However, it is already the world’s second-largest smartphone market, after China, and the fastest-growing.

PUBG has made the online gaming market soar and demonstrated that India is a very attractive market,” said Lokesh Suji, the Gurgaon-based head of the Esports Federation of India.

As long as the authorities do not choke it off first.

Local politicians, parents and teachers have expressed outrage over PUBG, arguing that the game will spur violence and divert students from their academics.

They have blamed the game for bullying, stealing and, in one Mumbai case, a teenager’s suicide.

A local minister went so far as to characterize it as “the demon in every house.”

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