Fighting virtual battle

By Anissa Lamare

Jymmangjophi Diengdoh loves his M416 and he has already killed around 1,700 “enemies” on the war front. It is a killing field and he is determined to win the war.
Wondering how this ‘brave’ soldier is risking his life on the enemy line? Well, not really, but virtually yes.
Welcome to PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, popularly known as PUBG, the virtual war front where there is only one rule — kill as many with the choicest weapons and proceed to the next level.
PUBG, a multiplayer game, is the new acid that has its gamers on the edge of their seats since its inception. Though the game made its worldwide debut in 2017, it made its way to India in 2018 and instantly became a hit. Today, it is the most popular and addictive game in the country beating games like Mini Militia, Candy Crush, Clash of Clans and DOTA, to name a few.
In just one year, the game has reached every nook and corner of the country. According to a nationwide survey, there are more than 200 million PUBG users in India and more than 30 million of them are active every day. In Shillong too, hundreds, or maybe thousands (as there is no state-wise survey), of PUBG players are fighting their battle for survival.
“The concept of you versus 99 players and winning the battle is the most attractive part of the game,” said a 24-year-old avid gamer. The young fighter spends two to three hours a day playing PUBG.
Diengdoh says PUBG is different from other video games in many ways.
“The realistic 3D visuals and sound effects, the range of weapons available, appearance of the avatar, flexibility to play from different servers, flexible graphics for different devices, tier rankings, rewards and the thrill of winning as a team are some of the reasons why I play the game,” says the 22-year-old player whose favourite killing machines are AKM equipped with compensator and a 2X or 3X scope and extended Quickdraw magazine, M416 equipped with a compensator or suppressor and light grip Tactical Stock. The virtual fighter has killed 1,698 people between seasons 4 and 7 and is still counting.
Brendon Greene, the mastermind behind this phenomenon, was inspired by the Japanese movie Battle Royale.
Greene, who was working with a Korean gaming industry Bluehole, has single-handedly created this intimidating form of entertainment.
PUBG is compatible with almost all devices, from Microsoft, Intel, Android and IOS, and comes with one of the most impressive graphics for the size it offers, that is less than 2GB. This perhaps is one of the main reasons for the alarming popularity of the game.
Other than using Android devices, laptops with a normal i3 Intel processor can also support the graphics and size of the game without any glitches.
The game has also gained popularity among the fair sex and professionals. But how alarming or addictive is PUBG?
Almost all the players whom Sunday Shillong spoke to are of the view that the game’s popularity is not alarming, neither are they addicted to it.
The 24-year-old gamer, who started playing 10 months ago, says he manages his PUBG time and it has not affected his social obligations or academics.
“I may spend more than six hours at a stretch on the game but there are days when I log in only to get my daily rewards. I am not addicted to PUBG but I see it as a company success and a mode of income for the developers of the game,” says Diengdoh.
In fact, the player is convinced that the game has helped him top in IT courses that he is pursuing and it will also benefit him in the sector.
According to Chong John, who started playing about a year ago, PUBG is a social game that enables one to connect with people from all over the world. He, however, has stopped playing “because the size (of the game data in his phone) got too big”.
PUBG is not just a game but can also be a source of income, says a player on condition of anonymity. “You can make bets and have your YouTube channels for viewers to watch their gaming videos. The number of kills simultaneously increases the bets and reward as well and it is the main attraction of the game,” he says and adds that as a professional he does not have time and plays only when he gets a break.
For some, like Debashish Sinha, PUBG is a way of overcoming adversities in life.
Nonetheless, PUBG remains a virtual trap for the young generation and players are susceptible to its ill effects. In March this year, a teenager in Jalandhar reportedly withdrew Rs 50,000 from his father’s account to buy a PUBG game controller as well as weapons for the online game.
In another incident, two youths playing PUBG near a railway track in Maharashtra’s Hingoli district were mowed down by the Hyderabad-Ajmer Express. In Gujarat, more than 10 youths were arrested for playing PUBG.
In some less life-threatening and criminal incidents but with serious social impact, a 19-year-old woman in Gujarat has sought divorce over her addiction to PUBG.
In April, the Bombay High Court directed the Centre to review the content of the menacingly popular game and issue regulatory directions if it was found to be objectionable. The court issued the directive while hearing a public interest litigation seeking prohibition on PUBG in schools.

Several players in the city say the game has high level of abuses during communication among players. Some are also tricked into helping other players but ends up getting killed. Instances like these, say the gamers, encourage a violent streak in them and “sometimes it may even escalate dissolving the thin line between virtual and real”.
However, in Meghalaya, neither the police department nor the cyber crime cell has received any complaint against the ill effects of PUBG or crime related to it and hence they are against creating unnecessary havoc in the state by banning the game or putting restrictions. The department, however, is ready to take action if anything escalates beyond legal boundaries.
While there are arguments for banning the game, many players across the country, including in Shillong, have a different take on it.

Is banning a solution?

John admits that when he was a regular gamer playing six to seven hours a day, it affected his social life. “Besides, you have to spend a lot of time staring at the screen. That made me feel lazy and my eyes would hurt,” he adds.
However, he is against banning the game but usage of the same can be limited for each player. “Banning will immensely affect gamers and this may lead to legal violations.”
Nepal has already banned the game in the country citing adverse effect on children. In China, Tencent Holdings Ltd stopped its test version of PUBG for a more patriotic video game that has regulatory approval to generate revenue.
One gamer says banning only PUBG will make no difference and the government has to ban the entire gaming system.
Sinha feels restricting live and voice chats among players will reduce the ill effects to a great extent.
In a recent official statement, the World Health Organisation labelled excessive gaming as a disorder and announced that the member states would adopt the 11th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems with ‘Gaming Disorder’ to the section on addictive disorders. The revision will come into effect on January 1, 2022.
“We are living in a democratic country where the freedom of choice is bestowed upon us. Instead of PUBG, there is a need to ban many other things which may prove really harmful for the society,” argues Diengdoh.
Despite such directives and arguments, gamers remain undaunted. Many players say they will shift to other games like Call of Duty if PUBG is banned in the state. “It is not about joining a bandwagon or addiction. If players want to leave the game, they can always do that. But there will always be some who will continue the game,” says a PUBG enthusiast.
There are suggestions from some quarters that a Digital Detox Day should be observed once a week but city-based psychiatrist Raaj Konwar says that will not solve the issues related to the game because “it is human nature to seek anything that provides pleasure to the mind”.
He points out that two main issues need to be considered in order to address the problems related to the game and the gamers.
“First, the main attraction of the game needs to be looked into to be able to understand what triggers the mind of the gamers to get so immersed in the same for a prolonged period of time.
“Second, if a student who plays PUBG and at the same time performs exceptionally well in academics, then we should ask whether he is really addicted to the game. Now, the question arises whether playing PUBG for hours at a stretch should be considered an addiction,” the psychiatrist explains.
According to Konwar, PUBG is only one platform that is booming today but at the same time other game developers are figuring out ways to decode what can actually trigger the minds of people.
“For instance, PUBG offers a platform in real time to kill without actually killing. The brain circuit of humans is wired in such a way that it always seeks for shortcuts. In the case of PUBG, killing people online in real time without the necessary years of training and licence to kill has permitted this circuit to depend on such bypasses leading to addiction. PUBG is a global platform with millions of players. Can such a platform be replaced with something more pleasurable and productive in terms of academics, sports, health and other activities,” he wonders.
While arguments and counter-arguments continue, the battleground only gets wilder and bloodier and the virtual soldiers continue to fight till the end.

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