Virtual Battles

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As thousands of youngsters fight virtually on a noisy online platform, the PUBG has emerged a new crisis for parents. Even the health officials say it is gradually getting into an unmanageable challenge, reports Saima Bhat

A youth busy playing PUBG on his mobile. KL Image by Tahir Bhat

India and Pakistan might not have fought as many battles as the ‘fighters’ carrying the national flags of these countries as their identity are fighting every night on an online forum, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds Game (PUBG) − 2018’s biggest video game. If part of the same side, they prefer to kill members of their own team rather than attacking enemy groups with a lot of abuses as well.

Launched in 2018 by a South Korean publisher Bluehole, PUBG has taken over the online gaming scene by storm. In Kashmir, where “fighting” is part of the routine, PUBG’s popularity is extremely high with the “infection” moving from teenagers to kids now.

PUBG is a multi-player online shooter game that allows for solo, duo or team play in squads and subscribes to the battle royal format, which drops 100 players at a time into an enclosed space where they must scavenge for weapons, medical supplies and other resources in an effort to be the last player standing who wins the game. It is a war theatre in mobile based on “eat or be eaten” strategy. The game developers were actually inspired by Battle Royale, a 2000 Japanese film where a group of students must fight in a Hunger Games-style competition.

As a new player, Adnan, 23, preferred to take a Pakistani flag and jumped into the game. This game is played under different subcontinents where the players need to have flags of their countries. “In Asia, I used to get my team members from anywhere. Mostly it was India but when they see Pakistani flags, they attack even the members of the same team, hurl abuses and never help you to revive in the game as a result of which my ranking in the game was continuously low,” Adnan said. “Usually, the bullets don’t kill the members of our own team but a grenade does. Indians kill us with grenades even if it is just a game.”

A class 10th dropout, Adnan downloaded the game in September 2018 and became the part of this online game from its Season 4. By the end of the 75-day’s season, he rose to the rank of RP 50. In a day, he used to play seven hours.

Soon Adnan realized he has to change his flag and he changed it to China’s flag. “You will see maximum Kashmiris with flags of Pakistan, a few prefer Bangladeshi or other countries.” Adnan’s trick worked and it got him better ranking. He plays in a squad of four that includes his cousins and friends as his teammates. The groups have fixed their timings when they come online together at 10 pm and play till 0030 hours every night. A game takes 30 minutes.

The other trend, Adil, 17, said is that Kashmiri players use the aliases of the militants in the game. Even if Sameer Tiger is slain, the name survives on PUBG.

But Adil has a real opposition to his virtual battles, his own sister. They share a common room and she says her sleep gets disturbed. “With his headphones on every night, I wake up to his cries – shoot him, lob a grenade, kill him, kill him,” Bisma said. “Sometimes it seems as if I woke up in my childhood of the mid-90s when crackdowns, searches, and killings were a routine.”

Screen grab of PUBG mobile game.

Bisma’s grievances is a long list: Adil gets irritated when his phone rings so he puts his calls on diverting mode; he consumes 500 MBs of high-speed internet daily. “We have 1.5 GB available, he uses 500 MB to play the game and the rest to watch youtube videos to improve his PUBG performance,” Bisma said.

Every game has different levels that start from bronze and goes up to the silver, gold, platinum, diamond, crown and finally Ace. And under these levels, a player has to clear five stages to reach to next level. But the players say there are many who buy their ranks online that come at a cost. But once the season changes, all players have to start from zero.

The Cellular service providers have estimated that Kashmir consumes 1000 terabytes of data every day that comes at an estimated cost of Rs 52 lakhs. “Out of this 1000, 700 terabytes are provided by Jio and 300 are managed by rest of the cellular providers,” a senior executive at Jio said. “Out of this data, 250 to 300 terabytes are consumed by the youth in the age group of 15 to 35 years. There is no separate study but these are approximate figures.” Kashmir’s monthly consumption of cellular internet data costs Rs 16 crore.

This makes PUBG richer. PUBG’s mobile revenue has reached the US $30 million, according to Sensor Tower estimates. It also reported that PUBG Mobile remains far outpaced by Fortnite’s mobile earnings of US $ 2 million dollars daily, excluding China. PUBG’s revenues mostly come from Asia as the US contributes only 30 per cent. On Jan 20, 2019, Forbes reported that PUBG ‘Lost’ To ‘Fortnite,’ but it still made the US $1 Bn in 2018.

The local Kashmiri players with whom Kashmir Life talked to said they are literally in love with this game and call it a “blind game”. “I have played many video games where after getting killed and getting a new life you find the enemy on the same spot again but this game is different as the map is large and you don’t know how and from where your enemy will attack you, even if you get killed a number of times,” says Aijaz, a new PUBG fan.

But everything has its flipside and costs. PUBG is reportedly causing ‘mental illness’ among youth as their addiction is hampering their sleeping cycles. It is also increasing stress levels, experts believe. Children who play more violent video games are more likely to have increased aggressive thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, and decreased the tendency to help others.

For the first time, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared gaming addiction as a mental health condition, where it is called a “gaming disorder”.

While referring to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), Dr Muzaffar Khan, a leading psychologist in Kashmir, says like drug addiction, the addiction to the Internet, social networking sites, videos, and gaming also fall in the same category. On PUBG, he says it has both positive and negative aspects on a player depending on its usage. The positive effects include: it increases the stimulation of the brain, the reaction time increases and it also improves eye motor coordination. “These positives will come if we regulate its use but if we cannot then it creates problems,” Khan said. “It consumes more time; the players cannot focus on other things like their food intake gets disturbed, sleep and work get impacted, and it impacts their socialization as well. And we have also observed that these players show aggressive behaviour if somebody suggests them against playing the game, which happens in addicts.”

With the online fighting games, the aggression level increases in the players. “When it comes to Kashmir, the children are more prone to get ‘addicted’ as there are no other means to keep them busy.” Another psychologist says, “We have seen the sentiment of Tehreek trickling down from one generation to the next and when these children see their enemy fighting them, they see in him a local army man. So he develops pleasure out of the feeling that he can kill or control him. This makes him more vulnerable.”

Recently Dr. Khan received two young game addicts who had got involved in drug addiction as well. He sees these children as ‘volatile’ and easy targets.

With the increasing popularity of PUBG, a debate has also started around India where people are worried about addiction to this online game and the kind of mental damage it can cause. Now, some schools in Bengaluru have started warning parents against letting their kids play this online game.

In Kashmir, reportedly the board of school examination blamed this game for the poor performance of students in the recently declared 12th class examinations. The results declared in January 2019, showed an overall pass percentage of just 52 per cent, much lower to 75.47 per cent in January 2018. Many see it as an impact of the then education minister who was very strict with rules and performance of teachers.

The pass percentage for the career-making twelfth class was 55.18 per cent in 2015 and 57.19 per cent in 2016.

A fitness trainer from Jammu has reportedly lost his mental balance after playing the game for 10 days continuously. As per psychiatrists these kinds of games take the children away from the real world and make them live in a fantasy world that creates problems of adjustment in real life. Parents are worried about their children getting addicted to such type of violent, time-killing games and suggest its banning.

Youngsters while playing PUBG game. KL Image by Malik Kaisar

But an addict says the game lacks addiction. “We don’t even hear a voice when a player gets into level 10 or 11,” he said. “The addiction decreases once you become an expert in the game.”

One of Adil’s friends was in Baramulla for a night and he played the game at his host’s home. Next morning, a neighbour came knocking to ask about the welfare of the family; she had heard of bullets and grenades during the night, least knowing that she had messed a guest’s virtual world with her real life. It was embarrassing for both the families.

But Dr Khan has a message for parents who suggest them not to be “stereotypical”. “Before you tell your child not to play these online games, you have to create alternatives for his physical activities, and indoor infrastructure has to be build up,” Dr Khan suggests. “This is where the role of government also comes in, which can invest in developing the sports infrastructure in the state. Let these kids play but give them this thrill through some other means.”

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