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Online games: Literally pushing one off the edge

Online games like Neknomite, Passing out challenge, Aerosol Challenge, besides others that involve participants undertaking dangerous tasks have been around for some time. However with the Blue Whale Challenge these games have once again come under the scanner. What makes these games so addictive and why are teenagers drawn to them, are some questions that crosses the mind. NT KURIOCITY speaks to students, teachers, parents and experts to find out more

Maria Fernandes|NT Kuriocity

Technology we all know is a mixed blessing. From enriching children’s education to better entertainment for youngsters, the list of positives is long. However there is also the dark side; one that parents cannot always protect their children from. The untold dangers which are constantly connected with these appliances are difficult for them to track round the clock. Over the last two months, The Blue Whale Challenge, an online game that prays on teenagers and which has been linked to teenage deaths from Russia to America, has come to the attention of the sub-continent. The game is designed in such a way that over 50 days the player/participant is given around 50 escalating self-harm tasks and culminates in suicide. Everyone it appears has by now heard about it.

“I heard about the game over a month ago from my 11-year-old son and it really scared me,” says Thereza D’Souza, a parent. Fear, shock and anger are some of the reactions that parents have. “It is horrible what the world has come to. I just can’t understand youngsters and the games they play,” adds another parent. “How can anyone invent a game like this? What pleasure does anyone get knowing they are responsible for another’s death?” asks a horrified teacher, Manisha Rao.

The deadly online game has been removed by top internet platforms like Google and Facebook in accordance with India’s IT ministry but the underlying question that still persists is why do some children participate in such fatal games?

“In my opinion, the stress of competition and peer pressure are the main cause,” says 23-year-old Stella Pereira. “I mean look around and you will find that most students have such a burden due to their studies and the fear of not getting the expected scores or colleges of choice.” 22-year-old Samaresh Naik believes it is ego that leads youngsters to get involved in such games and says: “If you know that your friends are playing these games, you don’t want to be left out. It may be dangerous but the thinking is, if they can play it why not me? Also if you are nominated for a challenge like this, you lose face if you don’t take it up. A blow to the ego is not something anyone likes especially youngsters.”

Vidhut Naik, a student believes it is the addiction to these games that causes the problem. Most games are addictive because of the challenge involved, says Prakash (name changed) a 25-year-old gamer: “The constant competition, ranking boards, level boards, etc, drive you to do and be the best amongst others. Once you are in it, there is no coming back and you strive hard to achieve the next level, the next goal.” As a student Prakash use to play a minimum of 5-6 hours a day but now that he has a job has reduced the time drastically. Another gamer says: “Some online games really make you feel like a hero even though in real life you may be a mediocre average person. In the virtual world, you become a lord and people follow you and look up to you and that is rewarding in a way.”

Besides the addiction to these games, the stress of performing according to parental expectations has also been named as one of the reasons, youngsters get sucked in. “Parents are also to be blamed,” says a very disgruntled teenager, “I can tell you from my personal experience that parents push their children so hard that it becomes difficult at times and games like these help relieve tension and are thrilling as well. Of course I never played it but I understand where the need to indulge comes from.” “When the stress of college coupled with other problems gets too much, you need someone to talk to and with my parents both working and having hardly any time, the internet is a very good substitute; a real stress buster,” adds another teenager.

A school headmaster believes that the education system too is at fault and says: “The system is dysfunctional and not in conformity with the economic structure of the country. The emphasis on literary education continues with outdated syllabi, untrained teachers and examination system. The students are thus no better equipped and disciplined to face the hard realities of life. This causes stress and of course they do things like participate in games like Blue Whale.”

According to experts, teenagers are more vulnerable because the virtual world allows them to act freely, without the restrictions prevalent in the real world which seems to give them an adrenaline boost. “According to me, what attracts youngsters to games like these is the thrill factor. Youngsters want to do things that give them a thrill, it could be drinking, unprotected sex and so on,” says psychiatrist, Melwin Chagas Silva. Psychologist and counsellor, Godeliva Gomes adds, “Teenagers are vulnerable and prone to seek validation. There are some teens who have low self-esteem and rely heavily on the right image and peer approval and hence are ready to take these risks.”

Both Gomes and Chagas Silva believe that parents and teachers play an important role in making children understand the dangers that lurk the internet and the games therein. “Parents need to keep a close watch on their children and their activities. It is no doubt easily said than done, but it definitely is imperative that there is open and smooth communication between parents and their children.” Gomes adds, “If teenagers or students appear lost or depressed, parents and teachers must take serious and immediate action to get them involved socially and divert their minds. They also should make the child understand how valuable he/she is to the family as well as the society.”

The internet is an uncontrolled and uncensored entity, which makes it hard to control all activities that young adults may indulge in but providing them with psychological and emotional support in a non-judgemental way will go a long way in helping them stay out of trouble or get out of it.

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