Return of PUBG Raises Concerns among Psychology and National Security Circles

Battlegrounds Mobile India is launching with a new South Korean vendor but the issues with the former game still persist.

Nitin Pandey is a Cyber Security, Dark Web, Counter Terrorism Researcher and Cyber Crime Investigator, currently working as Senior Cyber Consultant with Uttar Pradesh Police. A globally acknowledged expert, having more than a decade’s experience in the field of Cyber Security.

PUBG Mobile is returning to India in its new form Battlegrounds Mobile India. The game is set to release in June, 2021 and is seeing a trending rise in the youth of India. Especially the school going teenagers. I ran a poll on my Instagram stories yesterday for few hours asking whether the release of Battlegrounds India was a good step or not. Out of the 500 responses, 39% were in the favour of this move while the rest 61% were against it. 

PUBG Mobile was taken down in September 2020 along with 266 others following India’s retaliation to Galwan Valley clashes between India and China. Although PUBG corporation is based in South Korea, Tencent Games which was responsible for distributing the game was a Chinese one. Post the ban, PUBG Corporation is coming back to India with its game Battlegrounds Mobile India through a South Korean Company, Krafton Inc. 

At the time of the Galwan conflict, the long piling issues of privacy infringement and big data hoarding by Tencent Games was responded with a coercive action of a ban on the game but looking at the bigger picture, the micro level implications of this game on our youth at the grassroots levels of our homes could be catastrophic. The psychological impact this game might have on children, the behavioural changes they undergo through this and the development of their brains is at a risky stance with the introduction of such games. This effect would be maximised because of the pandemic. The children are sitting in their homes and barely have anything to do rather than engaging in such addictive games. 

New Beginnings as Battlegrounds Mobile

Although Battlegrounds Mobile India is coming back with another identity, it can be clearly seen that the sole purpose of the name change is to condescend to the soft power of the government. The gameplay is altogether the same as seen in the beta version and not many changes are to be seen there. But some new policies fearing the misuse of the game have been introduced like “Kill” is now called “Finished” in Battlegrounds Mobile India.

According to the new privacy policy, the gamers under the age of 18 will only be able to play the game for a maximum of three hours per day. Krafton has also restricted the maximum spending limit in the game down to Rs 7,000 per day. These are done in an attempt to evade the controversies that surrounded PUBG Mobile prior to its ban, in terms of the levels of addiction that it stirred among gamers playing the title in the country. 

Farah Hawa

Farah Hawa, an Application Security Engineer at Bugcrowd said “I have three younger siblings who are in school and the government bringing back games like Battlegrounds India concerns me hugely. Kids in that age group are living in a digital world and we do not want violent games to affect them in a way that can blur lines between the online and real world.”

Gaming Addiction and its implications

“But even the three-hour limit is too much for our children. Even before the game got banned, the children of my house used to play PUBG Mobile for about three hours daily. The children would often indulge into fights with each other because of the game. They would snatch phones from each other and were getting out of control. I felt like this was a form of addiction which our children had been introduced to and the government was still unable to recognise it. Now that this game is coming back, our children would get deranged from their peaceful and studious lives and go back to playing the game.” said Ms. Lata, a concerned mother. 

The gaming addiction is an exponentially rising problem for our society. The WHO in 2018 declared gaming addiction as a mental health disorder. Addicted people tend to exhibit social phobias, anxiety and depression. This is also accompanied by a disturbed sleep cycle and eating habits. And games like these are replacing conventional forms of games with physical involvement of the body. Children are going to parks and playing PUBG while sitting in a group rather than playing outdoor games. To add fuel to the fire, the game would see more than predicted traffic because the users can transfer their PUBG Mobile data to Battlegrounds India and they would not have to start from scratch. 

IPS Ankita Sharma

IPS Ankita Sharma, Chhattisgarh Police says “The game- PUBG, as the trend showed, had engaged youth in considerable numbers. Having larger implications in the arena of youth psychology. Cyber bullying, Cyber friendship, violence in the general tendency of youth, continuous engagement in mobile has in a way drained the capability of a generation. The police in the past have witnessed a lot of cases related to PUBG gaming- such as rivalries, turning into grievous hurt, cyber defamation in the case the identity was revealed. 

The love of guns and Grenades, developed through the gaming network has considerably increased intolerance. The engagement of children and others has a lot to effect in their capacity building. No break addiction to mobile has in a way tarnished the intellectual and physical capacity of youth. Not to mention the aloofness and social disassociation with family and physical friends.

Children addicted to PUBG were going beyond limits to ensure their undisturbed gameplay. They were resorting to violence. Many cases were seen where they went to the extent of killing their own family members. News headlines like Minor kills friend for not giving him phone to play PUBG , Teen spent 16 lakhs of his father’s money while playing PUBG, Youth who stabbed parents 26 times was addicted to PUBG etc were not uncommon to see every other week. 

Gopika Baghel

 “While analyzing this, we found that exposure to violent games increases aggressive thoughts, and decreases helping behaviour. When you play games your brain releases a dopamine supply with occasional sudden explosions. Over time, your brain gets used to this steady supply of dopamine, and the nucleus accumbens requires even more dopamine release for gaming to feel fun. That stops you from enjoying anything that is not as stimulating as a game.” Said Gopika Baghel, Crime Consultant at Chhattisgarh Police.

Such addictive behaviour was also seen in the users of the games like Pokemon GO, where the users were going to dangerous geographical locations to catch Pokemons and Blue Whale, where many users started committing suicide in the final stage of the game.

Rahul Pandey

Rahul Pandey, a Cyber Security Researcher from Telangana says “Violent games can be blamed for young people becoming more violent and are engaging in extreme anti-social behaviour. The kills and the show of blood in this game are negatively affecting the minds of children and young adults. A Gaming Disorder DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) caused by inactivity, by sitting still for long periods of time is on the rise in India because of games like PUBG. Another booming problem in India, which the government doesn’t care about, is the Gaming Cafe culture. PUBG is a violent game which need not be proven and brings gaming risks like false sense of control, Social Alienation, Lack of Exercise, Aggressive behaviour, Severe Health Problems and Poor academic Behaviour. Boys Diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or hostility are more likely to become addicted to games like PUBG. Spending More than 60 minutes a day in playing Games like PUBG can lead to an increased risk of addiction and parents must enforce strict rules in the interest of the safety of their child as well as theirs. If your kid throws tantrums on taking away the mobile, you should know the brain is already affected and can develop some form of addiction in the next 5 years.”

National Security

When Krafton Inc. (also known as Bluehole studio) took over from Tencent Holdings Inc. The countries of their vendors changed from China to South Korea. This is an attempt to please the Indian Government and instil a trust for the game’s re-release. What the Indians tend to overlook is the fact that Tencent games own 15.5% in Bluehole Studio and can still be used by the Chinese government to collect the personal data of the users using that financial power. 

Back in September 2020, PUBG Mobile app was banned under the Section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act. At the time of blocking PUBG Mobile, the Indian government said that the app was banned as “it is engaged in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state and public order.”

While the game is coming back with new vendors holding its publishing rights from South Korea, there is still no explicit guarantee that the personal data of Indian users wouldn’t be compromised to the Chinese. 

The leading Chinese apps transfer user data to certain outsider parties and around 69% of the data was being transferred to other countries like China. The course of action of these organizations is treating user information and breaching the policies of data localization, it is necessary for the government to intervene and take necessary steps to provide a shield for national security and ecosystem.

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