Iraq bans popular online games to protect children from 'moral threat'

Iraq’s parliament has voted to ban popular online video games including PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite, citing their “negative” influence, especially on the young, in a country long plagued by real-life bloodshed.

Iraq held its first election in 2018 after years of devastating factional violence. Islamic State militants held wide swathes of the country for three years until they were driven out in heavy fighting with US-backed forces in 2017.

MPs approved a resolution that mandated the government to bar online access to the games and ban related financial transactions. The ban came “due to the negative effects caused by some electronic games on the health, culture, and security of Iraqi society, including societal and moral threats to children and youth”, the text of the resolution read.

Oil-rich Iraq suffered for decades under the dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein and UN sanctions, the 2003 US invasion and civil war it unleashed, and the battle against Isis, over which Baghdad declared victory in 2017. Corruption is still rife and basic services like power and water are lacking. Unemployment is widespread, especially among young people.

The new ban quickly drew online discontent, with hundreds of Iraqi social media users criticising MPs for what they said were misplaced priorities. Parliament has passed only one piece of legislation since it first convened, the 2019 federal budget law, which was issued in January.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), made by the South Korean firm Bluehole, is a survival-themed battle game that drops dozens of online players on an island where they try and eliminate each other. Fortnite, by North Carolina-based Epic Games, has a similar premise and is seen as an industry game-changer by analysts as it signed up tens of millions of users for its last-player-standing Battle Royale format. Both were launched in 2017 and have a huge global following.

The influential Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose political coalition won the largest number of seats in parliament, earlier on Thursday urged Iraqi youth to shun PUBG, calling it addictive. “What will you gain if you killed one or two people in PUBG? It is not a game for intelligence or a military game that provides you with the correct way to fight,” he wrote in a two-page statement.


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