Last week, four cities in Gujarat banned PUBG, a mobile video game. Concerned about the game being addictive and causing violence among Indian youth, authorities have prohibited anyone from playing the game. They have even arrested several people for playing PUBG.
Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara, and Rajkot were among the first to ban PUBG, a cult favourite video game.
Soon, the Bhavnagar, Aravalli, and Gir Somnath districts in Gujarat followed.
Claiming that the video game makes young people prone to violence, various branches of the Gujarat police have issued notices banning the game.
“Due to the PUBG game/Momo Challenge, we have seen an increase in violent behavior amongst children and young adults (the youth)”, said the Ahmedabad police.
Police sources added that the game is negatively impacting children’s studies.
What is PUBG?
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, or ‘PUBG’, is a mobile application game that can be downloaded to a smartphone and played on the go.
The premise of the game is to work as a military squad with other players who are online to ransack a deserted island for medical supplies, armour, and weapons that can be used against enemy squads.
Simply put, PUBG tries to simulate an on-ground battle experience for its players.
“At our core, we are gamers dedicated to developing the greatest Battle Royale experience ever”, says the company.
However, this game has seemed to ruffle Gujarati feathers.
What does the police say?
Police in Gujarat said that PUBG is provoking violence and gaming addiction among children.
Rajkot Police Commissioner Manoj Agrawal said that the ban on PUGB will remain in place from March 9 till April 30.
Three “youths” have been arrested in Rajkot and charged under IPC Section 188 for disobeying a police order and Section 35 for knowingly committing a crime.
Police Inspector Rohit Raval said, “This game is highly addictive and the accused were so engrossed in playing them that they could not even notice out team approaching them.”
News18 reports that the police have also seized mobile phones.
Among those who have been arrested, one is a labourer, one is a corporate executive, one is an unemployed graduate, and six are college students.
Ahmedabad Police Commissioner AK Singh’s notice said that the ban will be in effect between March 14 and March 28.
In Ahmedabad, NDTV reports that 10 college students were arrested but have since been released on bail.
Agrawal told the Indian Express that although people have been released on bail, they will be tried in court.
“The case will go to the courts and there will be a trial for not following the notification issued”, he said.
Is gaming addiction real?
Whether or not gaming addiction is a real affliction remains a matter of debate in the medical community. There is also no consensus on whether video games have a direct link to violence and aggression.
USA Today said that Dartmouth University commissioned an international study that found a link between violent video games and physical aggression.
Upon analysing adolescents between the ages of nine and 19, the study concluded, “violent video game play is associated with subsequent increases in physical aggression”.
However, Jay Hull, lead author of the study and dean of the Department of Social Science at Dartmouth, said that no research study is definitive.
Hull clarified that his study found the influence of violent video games to be “relatively small, but statistically reliable,” meaning a link does exist, but they cannot determine how strong it is.
USA Today also said that while violent games can provoke reckless behaviour like drinking and rash driving, there is no evidence to say that it causes criminal behaviour.
In contrast, Time magazine published said gaming was actually healthy. Quoting game designer Jane McGonigal, the article said that video games pose challenges for that the human brain can engage in and attempt to solve creatively.
McGonigal even said that after a brain injury, she was able to heal better by creating a video game.
In 2019, an Oxford University study found no connection between violent video games and real-world aggression.
Research Andrew Przybylski said, “The idea that violent video games drive real-world aggression is a popular one, but it hasn’t tested very well over time…”
He added, “… the research has not demonstrated that there is cause for concern.”
Neuroscientist Marc Lewis’ opinion on video games is more positive. He says that there are dozens of studies that have seen a correlation between video gaming and improved attention span, multi tasking, and spatial processing.
He added that gaming is neither addictive nor does it have adverse effects on gamers lives as substance addiction might.
Lewis says that those who are more prone to addiction- whether they play video games compulsively or abuse drugs- have low impulse control.
He added that people prone to addiction have already suffered from psychological conditions like depression and anxiety or childhood trauma.
Can a ban solve things?
The Gujarat police has not cited any medical studies to support its claim that PUBG is addictive and harmful.
As the police claim the game is impacting children’s studies, the ban will stay in place for the duration of school examinations in Gujarat.
However, the authorities have arrested adults and older college students, who are not the target of this effort.
Moreover, if “video game addiction” is a real mental health condition, are bans and arrests the appropriate method of treatment?
Although the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified gaming addiction as a disorder, it has advised against putting people in jail.
“Compulsive video gaming may be a new and modern day psychological disorder but it’s still a health issue–– not a crime,” says Prabhjote Gill, writing in Business Insider.
If video game addiction manifests like other known addictions, people who suffer from it need treatment and rehabilitation.
Additionally, if the Gujarat authorities are concerned enough about a type of addiction to institute a ban and arrest people, one wonders if it being temporary really solves the problem.
Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) made a public appeal to the Gujarat government to engage with academic literature on gaming addiction.
“The top three cited meta studies on Google Scholar on the general impact of gaming on adolescents indicate varying outcomes. Some even suggest benefits such as development and improvement of hand eye co-ordination”, said IFF.
The organisation also said that it will be assembling a legal team in Gujarat to address the issue “responsibly”.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius.