nless you’ve been living under a rock for the past one year, you would definitely know or at least have heard about PUBG (or PlayerUnknown’s Battle Ground), an online multi-player game that was first launched for PCs and gaming consoles and later made available on smartphones as well.
With over 400 million players, PUBG is one of the most-played video-games of all times. It is, therefore, no surprise that when a concerned mother of a ninth-grader complained to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about her son’s online addiction during the Pariksha Pe Charcha 2.0 event in Delhi, earlier this week, he light-heartedly commented, “Ye PUBG-wala hai kya?” [“Is your son also a fan of PUBG?”], thereby indicating that the game is so well-known that it holds even Modi’s attention.
Mobile gaming has gained immense popularity in recent times. According to the techARC Digit report (published in December 2018), 70 percent of mobile-phone users play one or more games daily on their smart-phones. It was the second-most used category after social media which had 76 percent of daily users.
Modi, at the Pariksha Pe Charcha 2.0 event, while addressing the audience, adopted a neutral stance by saying that technology is a problem as well as a solution, and children should be encouraged to use technology. He made a valid point when he said that parents need to take an interest in the way their children are using technology.
Recently, an eleven-year-old boy appealed to the government of Maharashtra to ban PUBG on grounds that it promotes violence, gaming addiction and cyber-bullying. Even before examining the validity of the claims made by the boy, the first and foremost question we need to ask is: How does an eleven-year-old boy have access to a game that’s rated for a 16+ audience?
Research indicates that a majority of parents remain relatively disengaged from their child’s online activities because they lack the necessary information to be able to support their child online. Children use mobile phones to access the internet from the privacy of their bedrooms, and the prevailing generation gap stops a lot of parents from understanding what is truly going on in the digital world.
Whether the technology is a boon or a curse is an age-old debate. The popularity and so-called addiction to playing PUBG, in particular, has led to the government of Gujarat banning students in primary schools from playing PUBG. But once again, one needs to realise that children in primary schools should not be playing PUBG in the first place. It is not age-appropriate. PUBG is rated 16+ on mobile devices.
It has an ESRB Rating of Teen for versions on PCs and gaming consoles which means that it is generally suited for ages 13 years and above. So, why is banning even being considered a plausible solution?
Instead, parents need to set boundaries around their child’s internet usage, and not let them have unlimited, unsupervised access to smartphones.
According to a survey done by the BBC’s news programme for children, Newsround, more than three-quarters of children between the ages of ten and twelve years had at least one social media account even though social media is not designed for under-13s. It is in fact against the terms and conditions for children to be using these platforms.
Parents need to be aware of the friends their child has, both, online and offline, and parents should keep an eye on the way their child is communicating online in order to curb cyber-bullying. It is natural for children to view supervision as interference, but parents need to know how their child’s interaction in the virtual world is translating into their real-life interactions.
It is natural for parents to feel uncomfortable with the technology their children are using because the children do seem to know far more than them. The issue of exposure to violence is not a new one, and PUBG alone cannot be held responsible for it.
According to Rai et.al. (2016), 61 percent of children (between the ages of five and fifteen) exhibit violent behaviour after watching even cartoon-shows that come on television.
PUBG contains violence, as do many other shooter games in the action-adventure genre. Parents can decide how much screen time they want their children to have, and ensure these rules are followed using the parenting style that works best for them.
A healthy lifestyle includes limits on daily screen-time, and this can be inculcated if parents themselves serve as role-models and limit their usage of television, smartphones and laptops in the house. Parents also need to get involved when their children are using the internet by helping them make good choices about what games to play, or what videos to watch. They need to spend time with their child regularly enquiring what is going on in the game they are playing or the show they are watching.
Is PUBG addiction a sign of gaming disorder?
Online games are very popular and addiction to gaming was described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) which is used by mental health practitioners to diagnose mental disorders where it noted that gaming can cause significant impairment or distress in several aspects of a person’s life.
While APA stated that there wasn’t enough evidence to classify it as a unique mental disorder, it had listed internet gaming disorder in the section recommending conditions for further research. Some of the proposed symptoms of internet gaming disorder included preoccupation with gaming, withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away or not possible (sadness, anxiety, irritability), the need to spend more time gaming to satisfy the urge, inability to reduce playing and unsuccessful attempts to quit gaming, giving up other activities and losing interest in previously enjoyed activities due to gaming, continuing to game despite problems, deceiving family members or others about the amount of time spent on gaming, the use of gaming to relieve negative moods, and having jeopardised or lost a job or relationship due to gaming.
When scrolling through online forums, it is not uncommon to come across players reporting these symptoms while playing PUBG, but one must note that under the proposed criteria, a diagnosis of internet gaming disorder would require experiencing five or more of these symptoms within a year. The DSM-V was published in 2013.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), while releasing the eleventh revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) in mid-2018, decided to include gaming disorder, and this decision has sparked a lot of controversy since there is still not enough research-base at present to classify the condition.
Before PUBG, it was Pokemon Go that had taken the internet by storm, and before that, there was Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Mafia Wars and even Farmville, once upon a very long time.
Time and again, some games emerge as sensational hits while others fail to captivate the online gaming market.
Banning PUBG is not the solution
Banning is definitely not the solution. Instead, people who enjoy gaming would benefit by staying alert to the amount of time they spend on gaming activities, especially if they notice that they are excluding other daily activities more than usual.
They should also be mindful to changes in their physical or psychological health and social functioning and assess if it could be attributed to their pattern of gaming behaviour.
Whether we like it or not, technology usage is on the rise and it will continue to increase. We need to teach children healthy boundaries and instil in them the benefits of interpersonal interaction, the importance of time away from technology.
One of the most effective ways of doing that is leading by example.
The author is a counsellor and psychotherapist based in Mumbai. She runs ‘The Silver Lining’ which addresses issues related to mental health