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Recently, China limited playing time for under-18 gamers to three hours a week. If your child’s PUBG addiction is giving you sleepless nights, read on to know what you can do to help your child balance gaming and other activities
In August, a 16-year-old boy in Mumbai spent ₹10 lakh from his mother’s bank account to play the video game PUBG. After being reprimanded by his parents, the teen ran away from home. (He was traced and sent back to his parents by the police.)
In February 2019, an 18-year-old boy in Mumbai committed suicide when his parents refused to buy him a costly smartphone on which he wanted to play PUBG.
In May 2019, a Grade 12 student died in Madhya Pradesh after playing PUBG for six hours continuously. Doctors said the excitement must have caused an adrenaline rush, leading to a cardiac arrest.
These are just some of the alarming incidents linked to the popular and addictive video game, PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds). Launched in 2017, the multiplayer game can be played on both PC and mobile platforms, with the mobile version being particularly popular in India and China. While PUBG Mobile is a free-to-play game with in-app purchases, PUBG on PC is a paid one.
PUBG involves players relying on luck and skill to fight for survival in a hostile environment. It’s a “battle royale game”—a game involving a large number of players who will fight till there’s only one person or team alive. In PUBG, 100 players parachute onto an island and then look for weapons to kill the other players without getting killed themselves. The last player, or the last team standing, wins the round.
PUBG is not considered by game designers to be overly violent. But as it’s an FPS (first-person shooter) game, it can get competitive in an unhealthy way. This is why it’s considered more dangerous than Candy Crush, another highly addictive game app.
In 2019, activists were so concerned about PUBG addiction that a Hyderabad-based NGO sought a ban on the game, and its petition calling for the ban even got the support of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). Although there are no definitive statistics on the number of users who fall into the “addiction” category, several cases of PUBG addiction have been reported to SHUT (Service for Healthy Use of Technology) Clinic. The Clinic was started by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, to help people battle technology-related addictions.
In September 2020, PUBG Mobile was banned in the country, but on July 2 this year, the South Korean company Krafton launched Battlegrounds Mobile India—the Indian version of PUBG Mobile. The company revealed that the game had crossed 34 million players in its first week!
Meanwhile, there have been attempts to make PUBG safer. For example, Krafton has mentioned on its Battlegrounds Mobile India website that under-18s will have to get parental consent to play the game. Moreover, a 3-hour daily limit has been imposed on underage players.
Simply put, addiction is repeated intake of a substance or involvement in an activity because of the pleasure or rewards it brings, despite knowing that it could cause significant harm. For a long time, addiction was largely associated with substance abuse—drugs and alcohol. But now, sex, gambling, and playing video games are also being included in the definition.
In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) included “gaming disorder” as a health condition in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). While stressing that video gaming is as addictive as cocaine and gambling, the WHO mentioned three characteristics of gaming disorder:
For a diagnosis of gaming disorder, the behavior pattern must result in severe impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning, for at least a year. According to research, internet gaming disorder is most common in male adolescents between 12 and 20 years of age.
Easy access, creative content, and gorgeous design all come together to make PUBG highly addictive. Let’s look at the features that make PUBG more addictive than many other video games:
Easy access: PUBG is accessible on multiple devices like PCs and smartphones. Internet connection and affordable smartphones have made gaming accessible to almost anyone.
Says Bengaluru-based game designer Santosh Palaniswamy, “PUBG has the same mechanics as most video games—progression, rank, and shooting. The reason it has become so popular and addictive is that you don’t need high-end computers to play PUBG. You can play it on low-end mobile phones. Candy Crush is also available on phones, but it doesn’t appeal to teenage boys the way PUBG does, as it doesn’t have shooting.”
Large player pool: The game has millions of players across the globe. So, matchmaking (pitting players against other players of similar skill levels) becomes much easier. This makes it easy not just to join the game, but also binge-play.
Business model: R Srinath (name changed to protect privacy), postgraduate student in game design, says, “Making a game absorbing is not the same as making it addictive. There are several business models in video games. PUBG falls in the category of ‘free-to-play’ games, which are deliberately made more addictive than others, as the revenue accrues from keeping the player hooked. This is not the case with ‘one-time purchase’ games.”
In the case of PUBG, a player starts with the illusion that they’re not paying anything. By earning and using the in-game currency called battle points (BP), a player can change their avatar’s appearance, or get clothing or weapon skins. “But if the player falls short of BP, and they have this urge to get something rare, they have to go on playing and use real money to buy more from the store. This makes the game akin to gambling,” explains Srinath.
The pace of progression: The “level progression” in a game determines the hold it has on a player. In PUBG, the pacing of progression is such that the player gets instant gratification and is motivated to explore and fight more. It becomes difficult to stop playing.
Learning curve: The designers have found a learning curve that is balanced. “The game is complex enough to interest and engross the players, but not so difficult that it alienates potential players,” says Srinath.
New features: Srinath explains that PUBG tries to avoid being repetitive, as this would make it boring. “In fact, I have not come across players who stopped playing because they got bored. Most have stopped because it’s too time-consuming, and they sense that they’re getting addicted. New, attractive features are constantly added to PUBG to keep players interested and to keep the game ahead of the competition. Fortnite is of a similar genre but nowhere as popular,” he says.
Simultaneous voice chat: A gamer can talk to other players (friends and peers)—this human connection makes PUBG more addictive.
Research shows that playing video games in moderation offers many cognitive, emotional, and social benefits. For example, gaming helps develop problem-solving skills in children, increases concentration, improves eye-hand coordination, and promotes multitasking. But when a child is addicted to gaming, it can negatively affect their development.
Some of the common negative effects are described below:
Physical: Playing video games for hours on end can cause obesity (outdoor play and sports become rare) and problems of posture, muscles, joints, and nerves (like carpal tunnel syndrome). It weakens eyesight and may cause headaches.
Sleep: Teens may lose sleep because of playing late into the night. Also, prolonged screen time disrupts sleep, as the blue light from electronic gadgets shuts down the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
Behavioral: In 2017, the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Violent Media concluded that violent video game exposure was linked to increased aggressive behaviors, thoughts, and emotions, as well as decreased empathy. But it’s not clear whether violent video game exposure was linked to criminality or delinquency.
Other behavioral effects:
Academics: Children may find it difficult to concentrate in class because of fatigue and sleep deprivation, and they may miss school and homework. This is bound to disrupt their studies. In addition, they may lose interest in reading and other hobbies that have educational benefits. According to a news report in 2019, a young boy in Karnataka failed in his first-year PUC exam after he wrote only about how to play PUBG game in the economics answer sheet!
Social: Children who spend a large part of their day in the virtual world miss out on meeting friends and playing with them. They tend to have more online friends than real ones whom they can connect with face to face. They also have very little time for parents, siblings, and grandparents. They miss out on these valuable connections.
Our son Rahul, 13, was introduced to PUBG a year ago by a school senior whom he saw playing the game on his phone. When Rahul asked for a smartphone, we gave in to his demand, not knowing how this act would create a world of problems. Initially, we were happy to see Rahul occupied. But soon, he seemed to forget the real world and retreated into a fantasy world. He would forget to eat his lunch or to do his homework. He would play 8–9 hours a day and still say he was not finished.
Things began to turn ugly quickly. When we took away his phone, he became extremely angry, shut himself in his room, and refused to go to school unless he got his phone back. For the first time in his life, he shouted at his heartbroken mother. His grades have dropped drastically, and teachers have complained that he seems dull and lifeless in class. He sneaked his phone into the school premises and was found playing the game during lunchtime.
We have tried to get him out of the habit, or rather obsession, but nothing has worked. My wife cries a lot and I don’t know whom to blame. We never thought our son would become a PUBG addict. I have read about incidents in the media but never would have imagined that it would happen to my own son. We are thinking of seeking counseling.
– Sushil Kumar, father of Rahul (all names changed to protect privacy)
Health issues and incidents of violence and self-harm related to playing PUBG are making parents anxious. So, how do you deal with your child’s PUBG addiction? Banning the game may not work. Digitally savvy children know how to access even banned games. Blaming children and calling them “addicts” is a no-no and will only alienate them. Taking away their devices will only cause tantrums and conflict. Here are some things you can do:
1. Talk to your child
Educate your child about the pros and cons of video games. Make him realize that gaming achievements are imaginary and not connected with real-life success.
2. Bond with your child
Spend time with your child, talking and doing things. A good rapport creates trust, which helps you to influence your child. Reflect on your communication and parenting styles. Perhaps, you may need to make some changes.
3. Track how often your child is gaming
The results may come as a shock to not just you, but your child as well. A gamer tends to lose track of time while playing.
4. Fix a reasonable time for your child to play
Recently, China limited playing time for under-18 gamers to three hours a week. Take a cue from this move and discuss as a family how much time your child can spend playing video games on weekdays and weekends. Include your child in this discussion and encourage her to voice her opinion. Be firm about these rules. Grant access to the game only if homework is done and your child has spent some time in physical activity.
If your child exceeds the limit, there should be predecided consequences, such as withdrawal of privileges. This could include not being allowed to play the next day. A simple kitchen timer could be used to limit play. Or you could invest in an app that turns off the computer after a certain amount of playing. Another way to curb gaming is to allow your child to play only on certain days (only weekends) and with certain friends.
5. Be selective
Keep a close eye on the kinds of online games your child is playing. Some are more violent and addictive than others. Help him choose games that are age-appropriate and are not too hard to stop or pause.
6. Remove devices from the bedroom
Keep the computer, laptop, gaming console, or phone used to play in areas where you can see it. This way you can monitor better, and your child will also know you’re monitoring time spent on gaming.
7. Encourage replacement activities
Motivate your child to play outdoors with friends, cycle, swim, or take up a sport that will be as absorbing and enjoyable as playing video games. Inculcate a reading habit from an early age. Not only is reading an absorbing activity, but it’s also a certain route to improved learning. Or you could enroll your child in a hobby class—art, music or dance.
Invite your child’s friends over. Since one of the dangers of video game addiction is social isolation, encourage her to spend face-to-face time with friends.
8. Seek the root cause
Children with negative self-esteem and depression are more vulnerable to addictive behaviors. Be clued into your child’s life so that you know if he’s going through any emotional or social difficulties.
9. As a last resort, ban video games altogether
This is necessary when getting your child to play in moderation doesn’t work.
10. Seek professional help
In extreme cases, consult a mental health professional, such as a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist specializing in deaddiction and technology detox.
“When we make games, our main goal is to make it fun for the player. At times, the behavior of players could be because of psychological disturbances. I did my thesis on the impact of violent games on adolescents, and my conclusion was you cannot put the blame solely on the game or the gaming industry for incidents of violence,” says Santosh.
Designers are helping kids differentiate between the virtual world and reality by using cartoonish characters. Moreover, he stresses, some games even give advice to the players—“There is a life outside this game as well. Why don’t you enjoy with your friends?” or “Don’t take this too seriously. It’s just a game.”
In a nutshell
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