Vi­o­lent vir­tual games are driv­ing teenagers to alien­ation

Vi­o­lent vir­tual games are the new ad­dic­tion, driv­ing teenagers to alien­ation – and some­times, vi­o­lence

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - De­exa Khan­duri

Hitlerkiller, a sniper, has landed in geor­gopol, a city with many dis­used brick build­ings and con­tainer de­pots hug­ging a bay in a u-shape. To sur­vive for the next thirty min­utes in the un­known land, he needs to find weapons, a mo­tor­cy­cle and a first-aid kit.

He will be at­tacked by un­known en­e­mies. He will need to cross many hur­dles.

Be­fore all that, he needs to kill 99 peo­ple to win him­self a chicken din­ner.

af­ter he shoots them down, rac­ing against the tick­ing clock, the screen flashes: Win­ner Win­ner, chicken din­ner!

Hitlerkiller, in real life, is sar­naam Verma, 19, of Kis­hangarh vil­lage in south delhi. all the time he plays Play­erun­known’s Bat­tle­grounds (Pubg), a vi­o­lent, in­ter­ac­tive on­line game of sur­vival pit­ting in­di­vid­u­als and teams against each other on a shrink­ing map that squeezes them into con­flict. The num­bers on the timer swirl as play­ers rat­tle and rum­ble through skir­mishes and am­bushes, hide­outs and shootouts. Till there’s a last man/woman stand­ing.

on oc­to­ber 10, sar­naam stabbed his fa­ther, mother and sis­ter to death. He’d ap­par­ently been an­gry with his par­ents. He had failed his std Xii board exam but ob­tained ad­mis­sion in a di­ploma course in civil en­gi­neer­ing in a pri­vate in­sti­tu­tion in gur­gaon. His fa­ther Mithilesh, 44, a con­struc­tion con­trac­tor, had wanted him to even­tu­ally take over the busi­ness. His mother, siya, was a home­maker. His sis­ter, neha, was 16. The young man stabbed his fa­ther first, eight times. When his mother in­ter­vened on hear­ing the com­mo­tion, he stabbed her 18 times. Then he rushed to his sis­ter’s room. she was found stran­gled and with seven stab wounds.

sar­naam, also known as su­raj, told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he hated his fam­ily be­cause they al­ways faulted him and praised his sis­ter. He claims he failed his std Xii board exam be­cause his fa­ther pressed him into su­per­vis­ing the con­struc­tion of the build­ing they live in. He was thrashed on oc­ca­sion. Blamed for poor grades and wast­ing his time on on­line gam­ing and bad com­pany. He had re­belled by hir­ing a room in nearby Mehrauli, where he and his friends would hang out, watch­ing TV, drink­ing beer, smok­ing hookah. and play­ing on­line games for hours, some­times from 7 am to 6 pm. He had re­cently bro­ken up with a girl.

“We lit­er­ally wor­shipped him,” says one of sar­naam’s friends, who all ad­mire

his ex­ploits on Pubg. They are on a What­sapp group of 11 for co­or­di­nat­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, meet-ups, game chal­lenges and tour­na­ments. Many of them have bunked school or col­lege to hang out at sar­naam’s room in Mehrauli.

Kis­hangarh vil­lage is con­tigu­ous with Mehrauli and lies near Vas­ant Kunj in south delhi. Like most ur­ban vil­lages, it houses many orig­i­nal farmer in­hab­i­tants who have turned land­lords of a dif­fer­ent kind, rent­ing out flats to mi­grants, stu­dents, nurses and paramedics at the nearby For­tis hos­pi­tal, first-time job­bers, Africans, pa­tients (or med­i­cal tourists) from iran, iraq, the gulf. Many mi­grants have also made it their home, buy­ing flats where the only source of light is from the large front win­dow open­ing on nar­row street. shops line the streets, and above them rise the apart­ments with cramped park­ing space and dark en­tries and stair­cases.

Mithilesh raised one such build­ing, about 18 years ago, af­ter com­ing to delhi from Kan­nauj, in ut­tar Pradesh, to work as a civil en­gi­neer and build­ing con­trac­tor. He had named the build­ing af­ter his wife. They re­fur­bished the build­ing two years ago, and sar­naam had been asked to over­see part of the work. The Ver­mas had a steady rental in­come from the apart­ments, and oc­cu­pied one of them, a 3BHK. Those who know the fam­ily say the boy thought he needn’t study or work hard be­cause they were well-off.

“We may be shocked by the rea­son for these mur­ders, but it’s the truth and the chang­ing face of the in­dian fam­ily,” says deven­dra arya, deputy com­mis­sioner of po­lice (dcp), south­west delhi. “The way his par­ents treated him is nor­mal in in­dia. The boy flunked Std XII, spent the en­tire day on the phone. He shows no sign of re­morse.”

arya does not be­lieve sar­naam may have psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems. He thinks sar­naam is an un­con­scionable liar, ma­ture enough to know the con­se­quences of his ac­tions. He says sar­naam’s friends had no idea of his tiffs with his par­ents, his strug­gles with his stud­ies, or his back­ground. “He was a stud among his friends, had a rented room, drank beer, smoked and had a girl­friend,” he says.

Pavan dug­gal, a cy­ber law ex­pert, calls games such as Pubg “hunger games”.

clash of clans, H1Z1, King of the Kill, The culling, coun­ter­strike, con­tra – they all throw play­ers into vir­tual worlds where they must com­pete to kill and kill to sur­vive till there’s no one left but the win­ner. There are points to ac­cu­mu­late, prizes to win, such as the chicken din­ner, all tot­ted up against the bod­ies hit­ting the floor, the struc­tures de­stroyed. Priv­i­leges such as weapons of var­i­ous grades and de­struc­tive power or how a player ap­pears to other play­ers are awarded against points won at each stage of the game. These fea­tures make for an ad­dic­tive hunger.

While it is not clearly es­tab­lished whether ad­dic­tion to vi­o­lent vir­tual games pred­i­cates vi­o­lent be­hav­iour by play­ers in real life, porn ad­dic­tion has been widely ac­knowl­edged as af­fect­ing the sex lives of men and women alike. Sim­i­lar ef­fects, such as loss of touch with re­al­ity, and mimetic be­hav­iour might be ex­pected from ad­dic­tion to vi­o­lent games, along with a sense of alien­ation. High stress lev­els, sleep­less­ness and in­abil­ity to con­cen­trate is com­mon among game ad­dicts. so is ad­dic­tion to al­co­hol, to­bacco, mar­i­juana or other drugs, es­pe­cially ‘up­pers’ that en­hance alert­ness.

“These games give play­ers a sud­den adren­a­line rush,” says dr KK ag­gar­wal, a for­mer chief of the in­dian Med­i­cal as­so­ci­a­tion (ima). “The main­stream view of gam­ing has be­come less cur­mud­geonly. Par­ents no longer think of on­line games as a hor­ri­ble evil that will cor­rupt their chil­dren.” He goes so far as to call the games hyp­notic, and says that if an in­di­vid­ual is guided and pas­sively hyp­no­tised by the ex­plic­itly vi­o­lent game, he will be­come the char­ac­ter and act out the vi­o­lence of the game in real life.

dr Kamna chib­ber, head of men­tal health and be­havioural sci­ences at For­tis Health­care, blames the ad­dic­tion to on­line games to the change in so­ci­etal struc­ture in re­cent years. “Fam­ily mem­bers are away on the com­puter or the in­ter­net...there’s an empty space that should be filled by out­door games or in time spent with fam­ily mem­bers, and this empty space is taken up by on­line games. Par­ents are con­stantly push­ing chil­dren to achieve per­fec­tion, ig­nor­ing the fact that nat­u­ral de­vel­op­ment oc­curs through the shar­ing of health crit­i­cism, not by depri­va­tion or scold­ing. The ap­pre­ci­a­tion that chil­dren crave from their par­ents is given to them by the games. ‘Great job!’, ‘You’ve won!’, ‘You’ve got so many points!’ Even if they lose, they can start all over again. such ac­tiv­ity boosts sero­tonin lev­els in chil­dren. sero­tonin is a neu­ro­trans­mit­ter that makes you feel happy and re­laxed, and this too fu­els ad­dic­tion.”

The ad­dic­tion cuts across classes. “it’s not about the lower or the mid­dle or the up­per mid­dle class,” says dr Mansi Wad­hwa, a psy­chol­o­gist. “at my clinic in greater Kailash-i, ev­ery month i get three-four par­ents who com­plain about the be­hav­iour of their chil­dren. But many of them do not want to dis­cuss the prob­lem with their chil­dren or want a pro­fes­sional con­sul­ta­tion. The prob­lem re­quires a holis­tic ap­proach, re­work­ing how the fam­ily struc­ture works and how the in­ter­net is used.”

Par­ents, teach­ers, coun­sel­lors and stu­dents need to come to­gether to help pre­vent the prob­lem and draw ad­dicts out of the spell of vi­o­lent vir­tual games. dr chib­ber does not go so far as to blame gam­ing for vi­o­lence: they can only be one of the rea­sons, par­ents’ at­ti­tudes, peer groups, home en­vi­ron­ment have a role too. curb­ing in­ter­net us­age can help. says neha singh Malan, a teacher at Green­field Pub­lic school, “in schools, the use of tech­nol­ogy is largely mon­i­tored. But at home, the child is free to spend long hours on the net, with par­ents of­ten tak­ing pride that they know noth­ing about us­ing the in­ter­net while their child is an ex­pert. They even con­sider it okay that the child plays 20 games at a stretch on­line. They for­get that some­times it’s best for the child to study from books, with­out go­ing on­line.”

cy­ber crime ad­vo­cate dug­gal says in­dia doesn’t have laws to reg­u­late on­line games, with the in­for­ma­tion and Tech­nol­ogy (it) act 2000 leav­ing those as­pects un­touched. “in­dia has be­gun to see the vi­o­lence caused by the on­line games. The it act 2000 was passed with­out dis­cus­sion in both houses of par­lia­ment. it is silent on reg­u­lat­ing on­line games that force a player to do self-harm or in­cite vi­o­lent be­hav­iour. The po­lice too seem re­luc­tant to reg­is­ter cases as there’s no telling who to name as the ac­cused. There are games that tell you how to rape or kill some­one...and the dark net is tak­ing away our right to ac­cess safe on­line space. it’s high time we have a gam­ing law,” he says.

Tal­ish ray, an­other le­gal ex­pert, how­ever, feels par­ents and schools need to step in and teach chil­dren how to use tech­nol­ogy and in­for­ma­tion from the net with­out get­ting trapped in be­havioural prob­lems like ad­dic­tion to games or on­line gam­bling. “our it laws are pretty rudi­men­tary. in some cases, the pe­nal code is ap­pli­ca­ble, such as when some­one in­cites some­one to vi­o­lence, but that’s tough

to prove in terms of gam­ing...who will you hold guilty?” he asks. “reg­u­lat­ing gam­ing legally is chal­leng­ing, not just in in­dia but all over the world. Most of these games come up with guide­lines and clearly men­tion a safe age to play. But they are avail­able for any­one who cares to play, how­ever young. as a so­ci­ety, we’re fail­ing be­cause our kids are not able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween on­line and off­line worlds. Isn’t that scary? it’s high time, school and par­ents need to ad­dress the is­sue and in­clude the topic in the cur­ricu­lum.”

He of­fers an anal­ogy. “There are fire haz­ards in ev­ery home. But we don’t hear ev­ery day of chil­dren dy­ing in fire ac­ci­dents at home. This is be­cause from an early age, it’s dinned into their ears that they must not play with fire, match­boxes, elec­tri­cal mains and so on. sim­i­larly with tech­nol­ogy: chil­dren must be taught to ac­cess it, and use it with care.”

in June 2018, the World Health or­gan­i­sa­tion (WHO) added gam­ing dis­or­der to its In­ter­na­tional Clas­si­fi­ca­tion of dis­eases. The con­di­tion is still spo­radic, with less than three per­cent of all gamers be­lieved to be af­fected. But it’s a clear and present dan­ger, as sar­naam’s story shows. in­dia has the third largest base of in­ter­net users. The on­line gam­ing in­dus­try is es­ti­mated to be the high­est growth seg­ment in me­dia and en­ter­tain­ment, with pro­jected av­er­age growth rate of 27.5 per­cent be­tween 2016 and 2020, com­pared to the over­all in­dus­try’s 11.6 per­cent for the same pe­riod, ac­cord­ing to a March 2018 re­port by Ficci and ernst & Young. its rev­enues are al­ready more than the ra­dio and mu­sic in­dus­try.

at Dug­gal’s home, a bat­tle of a dif­fer­ent sort has been fought and won. He re­mem­bers how his 10-year-old son would be em­bit­tered and frus­trated: the 15-year-old daugh­ter would ei­ther not al­low the boy to play car­rac­ing games on­line or would let him play and de­feat him mer­ci­lessly. There would be whin­ing and shout­ing and sib­ling ri­valry play­ing out in all its forms. “and whether they played or not, they’d for­ever be un­happy!” he says. “ad­dicted to them, they’d play and lose, feel­ing frus­trated. and if they kept off the games, they’d again feel bad, be­cause it was a crav­ing they could not con­trol.”

His so­lu­tion: no video games, no use of the in­ter­net dur­ing week­ends. Time was to al­lot­ted for friends, fam­ily, out­ings, cook­ing, play­ing off­line games. and no phones.

“i started to limit the use of the in­ter­net dur­ing week­ends in 2013 for my kids and re­sults were quite clear. They start ap­pre­ci­at­ing things around them and ea­gerly wait for week­ends. in 2014, my daugh­ter chose to lose in the same car rac­ing game for the sake of her younger brother,” he says. “That doesn’t mean she’s not do­ing well. But she un­der­stands that the vir­tual world is not the real world.”

“We may be shocked by the rea­son for these mur­ders, but it’s the truth and the chang­ing face of the In­dian fam­ily. The way the boy’s par­ents treated him is nor­mal in In­dian fam­i­lies. The boy flunked Std XII, spent the en­tire day on the phone. He planned and ex­e­cuted the mur­ders and shows no sign of re­morse.” DEVEN­DRA ARYA DCP, South­west Delhi “It’s not about the lower or the mid­dle or the up­per mid­dle class. At my clinic in Greater Kailash-i, ev­ery month I get three-four par­ents who com­plain about the be­hav­iour of their chil­dren. But many of them do not want to dis­cuss the prob­lem with their chil­dren or want a pro­fes­sional con­sul­ta­tion. The prob­lem re­quires a holis­tic ap­proach, re­work­ing how the fam­ily struc­ture works and how the in­ter­net is used.” MANSI WAD­HWA Psy­chol­o­gist “In­dia has be­gun to see the vi­o­lence caused by the on­line games. The IT Act 2000 was passed with­out dis­cus­sion in both houses of par­lia­ment. It is silent on reg­u­lat­ing on­line games that force a player to do self-harm or in­cite vi­o­lent be­hav­iour. The po­lice too seem re­luc­tant to reg­is­ter cases as there’s no telling who to name as the ac­cused. There are games that tell you how to rape or kill some­one... and the dark net is tak­ing away our right to ac­cess safe on­line space. It’s high time we have a gam­ing law.” PAWAN DUG­GAL Cy­ber crime ad­vo­cate

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