The Blue Whale Challenge The black hole of cyber world
Virtually addict children are easy prey to cyber bullies and blackmailers that ensnare them in performing life-threatening tasks. ■
After Kerala, Mumbai, Indore and Bengal, a 16-year-old boy from Delhi is the fifth victim of notorious Blue Whale challenge in India. The Delhi boy is still battling for his life in a hospital after jumping off the fourth floor of his residence in Ashok Vihar locality and all are praying for his survival and safe return from the hospital.
Starting from Russia, the Blue Whale game or Blue Whale Challenge has finally arrived in India via Brazil, China, Italy, Argentina, Spain, Venezuela, Georgia and other European countries. When the reports of teenagers’ casualties came from Kerala, then from Mumbai, Indore and Bengal, the government came around and immediately issued orders to remove its link from all search engines and social media sites. Even after that, report of a teenaged boy jumping from the fourth floor of his apartment building came in from Delhi.
All these reports, and government’s action to save the kids, present a gloomy picture of magnitude of the trade of online and offline violent video games in our country. We are facing a big challenge of understanding the factors behind the expanse of such virtual business.
Games and challenges played via social media are not a new phenomenon. One of the best known challenges was the ALS ice bucket challenge, which raised enough money to support research
discovering a new ALS gene. However, not all challenges are quite so constructive.
Instagram and Snapchat are the most common sites used for the challenge, though this and other death groups are also hidden in Facebook and Reddit. Blue Whale has also been known as A Silent House, A Sea of Whales, F57 or F-57 and more may appear. Social media sites are working to take preventative measures. For example, Instagram warns users searching Blue Whale that the content may be graphic and offers users resources for self-harm or suicide (though they do still allow users to view the content).
A key concern about the popularity of video games is that so much of the content is hypersexualised. Pornography is often embedded in these games, allowing kids to engage in virtual or simulated sex acts to accumulate more points. The images of males and females depicted in these games are also often overtly sexual, and many games glorify violence and sexual exploitation.
Some games exist for the sole purpose of simulating sex — virtual sex games are often free and easy to access for kids; these games allow kids to create an online identity to explore sexuality in any place and in any way, including group sex, bestiality and other fetishes.
Children are often instantly drawn to the realistic images and fastpaced action that online gaming offers. A first-person shootout or a highstakes poker match gives a jolt of sensation that can become quite addictive. But, since predators prey where kids play, it is no surprise that online games are the new frontier for sexual predators. They use online gaming to connect with children and groom and target their next victim.
Online gaming allows predators to build shared online experiences and
VIRTUAL SEX ACTS A key concern about the popularity of video games is that so much of the content is hypersexualised. Pornography is often embedded in these games, allowing kids to engage in virtual or simulated sex acts to accumulate more points.
CHANGED BEHAVIOUR A study by psychologist Christopher Burley says that once played a video game continues to affect child’s psychology for ten minutes. But prolong gaming leads to accumulating effects that even tually shape the overall behaviour.
of the kids begin them just for trial out of curiosity.
They begin by clicking ‘invite’ from the admin and by the time actual game begins, admin gathers lot of information about the gamer and begins to keep a watch on their activities. It is then that gamer has completely fallen in the trap of the admin and it becomes next to impossible for the gamer to come out of it.
Then begins the round of challenging tasks that continues for fifty days. Teenagers being daredevils accept these challenges one by one, little realising that they are being blackmailed. Psychological pressure also keeps on mounting during this period and very soon the gamer becomes like a ‘robot’ and follows every command faithfully. Like, the admin asks, “Inscribe ‘yes’ on your arm with blade and send the image” and the gamer does exactly that.
Waking up at odd hours – like at 4:20 am, listening to mentally disturbing music and tapes about nothingness of life, watching horror videos all day long and remaining connected to its link are other commands that compell the gamer to perform challenging tasks. These commands also involve dangerous tasks like standing on one leg on a highrise building or crane, hanging from the railing of bridge. Above all, the gamers are compelled to not talk to anyone, walk alone even at odd hours. If they fail to do so, they are threatened of untoward incidents or harm to their family members or themselves.
With every step, level of dangerous activities or self-harming tasks is increased and the gamer has to provide a proof of his achievement. The gamer and admin remain connected through Skype. The ultimate step is to carve out a figure of whale on arm with a needle or blade and getting prepared to commit suicide. It is easy, for faithfully obeying the commands during fifty days and continuous blackmailing bring the gamer in a mental state where he or she is ready do anything mechanically what the admin wants him or her to do.
Family & society is responsible for this sad state
But it would be totally wrong to say that only the children or their curator is responsible for this extremity, like committing suicide. Two years ago, the American Psychological Association (APA) had released a report that was based on the behaviour of kids who watch violent or horror videos. The report says that both the family and society are responsible for this sad state. More than often, children’s upbringing is also responsible. The other responsible factors are domestic violence, solitude, frustration, school atmosphere and even poverty that together shape the mental makeup of a child.
Then there is a big difference between watching violent and horror shows on television and actually playing such games on videos. While watching such shows on television, children are passive whereas while playing them they have active participation. They know who is their most dangerous enemy and they kill it first. Points gained during advancing levels of game make them more alert and aggressive. Such reward points determine their activeness, excitement, behaviour and overall personality.
Besides, indulgence in violent activities and excitement of victory give a kind of happiness that is otherwise impossible while watching a television show. Thus, it is easy to guess about the mentality of online gamers.
Psychological studies, however, present contradictory inferences. Citing Aristotelian theory of Catharsis, many psychologists argue that games played in violent ways provide a vent to pant up violent and aggressive emotions. Hence, instead of blaming video games, they could be taken in a positive way. But as much as 130 psychological studies, conducted in different parts of the world and in different times, reject this generalised hypothesis.
These studies established that children who play violent video games have more violent tendencies and are more excited and aggressive than those who shun these games. They usually have high blood pressure and heart beats. They have less empathy for others and are less likely to help those in need. They are also less socialising in nature; often putting their parents in great embarrassment.
Shaping overall behaviour
A study by psychologist Christopher Burley says that once played a video game continues to affect child’s psychology for ten minutes. But prolong gaming leads to accumulating effects that eventually shape the overall behaviour. This makes the difference between nature of those who play violent video games and those who do not or play non-violent video games.
It is often said that violent video games lead to metamorphosis in children. They soon begin to show violence and excitement in nature. It may not manifest easily, as many children acknowledge that they play violent video games but have never indulged in violence. Their behaviour in family and school is normal. But medically speaking, they behave differently in different circumstances. So, no one can say with certitude that their online behaviour will match exactly with offline behaviour. But Blue Whale challenge has erased this difference.
Then for a child, who has undergone mental tortures, faced life threats, listened to depressing music and sermons that highlight nothingness of life and been subjected to blackmailing for fifty days, it is not that difficult to take the extreme step of committing suicide.
Unfortunately, there are no known survivors of this ghastly challenge, who can relate their gory experiences during the game. It is all up to cyber sleuths to crack the mystery involved in this selfinflicting challenge.