Bhopal: A question that was put to Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an education conference in Delhi two months ago is now being asked again by hundreds of worried parents at counselling helplines in Madhya Pradesh.
During the annual "Pariksha Pe Charcha" in January, a mother had asked Modi to share tips on how to distract his ninth class son from online games. To this, Modi asked, "Yeh PUBG wala hai kya? (Is this the PUBG issue?)” The audience, caught by surprise about the prime minister's awareness of the hugely popular smartphone game, broke into a loud round of laughter.
With the exam season setting in, counselling helplines of Madhya Pradesh Board of Secondary Education (MPBSE) are now flooded with calls relating to the widely-popular mobile game PUBG or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
PUBG has become a rage among school students, college-goers and the youth. The frenzy for the game has reached such dangerous levels that authorities in some cities in Gujarat were forced to ban the game. Similar demands have been raised in other states.
Ever since MPBSE’s helpline, which offers help to children who tend to become anxious, depressed or suicidal was launched on 1 January, every fourth call the counselors get is related to online addiction of PUBG, Facebook, TikTok and WhatsApp. MPBSE data shows that there have been over 5,000 such calls so far where parents ask counsellors for remedial measures to get their wards out of the virtual addiction so that they can focus on studies before the crucial board exams.
Hemant Sharma, director of the school exam board’s counselling department, said the calls they get on the helpline show how online gaming is killing young minds and turning them away from their families.
“Parents approach us seeking ways to keep children away from the game. The only way is to either take the smartphone away or uninstall the game. But both the situations could lead to dire consequences as the child might end up feeling defeated before the multiplayer virtual community. The real-time multi-player function of the battle game is the biggest reason for addiction as there is no end to it. Every other person is racing against each other,” Sharma explained.
In Chhindwara district recently, a 26-year-old PUBG addict had a narrow escape from death after he mistakenly drank acid instead of water while playing the game. He had to go through a life-saving surgery involving the opening of his intestine. The hospital staff reportedly claimed that the man did not leave the game even during hospitalisation.
Launched in 2017, PUBG is now a rage globally. The player vs player action game, in which 100 or more players fight to remain alive amid the planet's depleting population, has been downloaded over 200 million times all over the world. As of December 2018, Tencent reported that PUBG has 30 million daily active users.
The game starts with a plane from which the players make a parachute drop and start searching for weapons, armour and other equipment to kill other players and defend themselves from the attacks of others.
After finishing a round, players can gain in-game currency, depending on how long they survived. The aim is to kill every other player and score a “chicken dinner”.
A counselor said that earlier, they used to get distress calls related to apps or surfing addiction from cities such as Indore, Gwalior, Jabalpur, Bhopal or Ujjain. However, this year, most of the cases related to PUBG have been coming from rural areas.
Counselors have little experience
The counselors, too, seem to have little experience in dealing with gaming addiction issues as most of the time, the advice they end up giving is to keep the student away from smartphones or games and try diverting him or her towards study material.
“We have uploaded a lot of online study resource material and parents should try to divert their wards towards studies,” Sharma suggested, adding that till date, over 20,000 calls have been received and as the examinations are nearing, the number of average daily calls is crossing the 300-mark.
Interestingly, though the helpline has been set up only for students of Madhya Pradesh, calls are also coming from other states like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Bihar.
Bhopal-based psychiatrist Dr Satyakant Trivedi says parents have been approaching him with cases of online addiction. “I have been doing counselling with medication, but the best cure is abstinence and healthy engagement,” he advises.
Calls for PUBG ban growing louder
Mandsaur MLA Yashpal Singh Sisodia had even raised the issue of PUBG in the state Assembly seeking a ban on the game due to its adverse effects. Sisodia had filed a call attention motion in the Assembly, but the question was not discussed.
Sisodia said he got complaints from parents who say their kids are playing PUBG till as late as 3 am. Most of the affected students are studying in class six to nine.
The addiction is not just adversely impacting their academics, but also leading to debilitating effects on mental and physical health of students due to improper sleep and other associated changes, the lawmaker said. Sisodia demanded that the Madhya Pradesh government should ban PUBG immediately.
The state government has not yet issued an advisory on PUBG.
Modi’s reply to the distraught mother in January’s education conference had reflected the complexity of the issue. He had said, "This is both the problem and the solution. If we want our kids to turn away from technology, then they will be left behind in a way.”
(The author is a Bhopal-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com)
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Updated Date: Mar 17, 2019 16:40:07 IST