Give ‘em a clue

February 6, 2022

A lack of awareness among parents regarding video game ratings and adverse effects of excessive screen time are part of a larger problem

Give ‘em a clue

With a global and official acknowledgement of the existence of a ‘gaming disorder’ among the young worldwide, there has been increased discussion and research on the link between violent video games and rise in crimes related to individuals emulating content from these games.

Calls to ban online video games such as Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, also known as PUBG, have been circulating after a boy killed his entire family in Lahore after expressing frustration at repeatedly losing online matches.

Bans on video games for excessive violence or disturbing depictions are not uncommon. Several countries banned DOOM in 1993 for featuring blood and gore. DOOM was later named by the infamous Columbine shooters as an ‘inspiration’. Video games such as Condemned: Criminal Origins, GTA and POSTAL 2 among others courted controversy long before viral games such as PUBG were even a thing. While these games were banned, the ban did not stop people from being able to play them; nor did they inspire every minded player to commit homicide.

To teachers and educational institutes, playing PUBG Mobile is a social activity amongst students at best, and an administrative nuisance at worst. Sahar Farooq, a teacher at MQ Foundation High School in Lahore, expresses her frustration surrounding the proliferation of the PUBG. “Phones are not allowed at school as they are a major source of distraction. With students playing more games on their phones, there has been an increase in rule-breaking as their phones need to be confiscated if they use them openly. There have been instances of class disruption as children play games in the middle of a class,” she says.

Games such as the PUBG and Fortnite have led to more aggressive behaviour amongst students, causing fights and conflict in schools. Sadia Nauman, a lawyer and a mother whose child studies at Aitchison says, “Video game addiction and the resulting issues related to poor concentration and class disruption are common problems discussed at parent-teacher meetings. My son has told me that there have been scuffles at school over lost video game matches.”

Part of the problem is a lack of awareness amongst parents regarding video games, age ratings, and the adverse effects of excessive screen time. Sadiq Ali, a salesperson at a popular gaming store in Lahore says: “I see parents come in with their children to buy them video games. Some of these kids pick out games that are obviously inappropriate for them, but parents don’t even bother to look at the age rating or read the cover before buying.”

If you look at the cover of a game, and the description at the back, it can give you a general idea regarding age appropriateness and content. It requires under a minute to absorb that information, even less if you Google and look at a few gameplay images.

Sania Nadeem, a teacher and a mother of a teenager, has been particularly rattled by the Lahore family shootings. “I have started keeping a strict watch on my children’s online activities and video games after recent events” she says. “I looked up videos of people playing the PUBG on YouTube and they were disturbing. The depiction of violence is very realistic with several ways to kill player’s characters and there’s excessive blood and gore,” she adds. According to her, the PUBG is highly inappropriate for young audiences and parents need to be more aware of their children’s interests. “I encourage parents to research the content that their children consume.”

Maliha Ather, a senior headmistress at Crescent Model School, explains that video games alone are not to blame for behavioural issues and poor decision making. She says there are often other factors at play. Having worked with thousands of children and their parents, she says, “While problematic content such as violence in video games is an issue in itself, it is further exacerbated by children’s dependency on screens, and parents who perpetuate this dependency. Excessive screen time and media consumption has become a severe problem, especially during pandemic restrictions, as children had little to do besides watching shows or playing games on various devices.”

Ather tells The News on Sunday that screen dependency has led to a sharp drop in concentration, in addition to stunted social and motor skills, especially among younger children. She says that parents tend to rely on excessive media consumption as a crutch to keep their children occupied and to prevent them from throwing tantrums, which she believes is a short-sighted solution.

“Children are now finding it harder to engage with their surroundings. If it doesn’t move or make a sound, they are not interested in looking at it. Reading books is now a major struggle for them. I have seen toddlers struggling to pick up and play with toys such as building blocks because sitting in front of a screen is more familiar to them. These children are re-enacting behaviour from their homes that is being taught, whether on purpose or inadvertently, by their parents.”

Based on conversations with parents and teachers alike, negligence and lack of awareness emerge as common patterns. Yes, children should not be exposed to a game as violent as the PUBG, and that is exactly why it is rated for people aged 17 and above. The responsibility to enforce the restrictions lies with parents, guardians and caretakers. Banning in Pakistan is akin to spitting on a dumpster fire – futile and ineffective. A simple ban will not address the underlying issue of screen dependency or how parents use technology as a crutch, nor will it slow down people from accessing the game. It will probably fail like the TikTok ban, and the YouTube ban several years before that. Increasing awareness regarding age ratings, and a greater interest and vigilance on part of the parents will do far more towards shielding impressionable minds from harmful content rather than a blanket ban.

The writer is a staff   member

Give ‘em a clue