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. ■

Alive - - News - by Chan­dr­shekhar Shri­vas­tava

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.

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