The behaviour conundrum

An association has been found between exposure to violent virtual games and psychopathic traits

The behaviour conundrum

Addiction to online games amongst adolescents has become a matter of concern across the globe over the last couple of years. It has been found that 59 percent of Americans and 48 percent of Europeans play video games while 56 percent of young adult Norwegians (aged 16–40 years) play video games regularly. Among adolescents, the proportion of players is even higher e.g., 97 percent Americans aged 12–17 years play video games. Playing online games can be a source of improving social, cognitive skills. However, it can also negatively influence teenagers. Over the years, there have been several reported cases of violence where virtual online gaming has been found responsible, especially in the case of youth (due to their immaturity).

One of the main problems of online gaming is distraction from the real environment and extreme attachment to a fantasy world. It is believed that these games not only disrupt the intellectual ability of individuals but also harm the physical and psychological health of the youth. Additionally, an association has been found between exposure to violent virtual games and psychopathic traits with interpersonal-affective deficits. Other possible factors include taking it as more than a leisure activity, parental negligence, easy access to technology, personality traits and impact on academics and functional abilities, disturbance in sleep, anxiety related to passing levels with high scores to receive appreciation. After witnessing problematic and addictive patterns in the youth engaging in virtual games, this compulsion was recognised as a mental health disorder by the World Health Organisation.

The Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) has become the most popular gaming activity for the youth in recent years. Following international trends, the youth in Pakistan have also been trapped by this multiplayer virtual game, where players experience violent incidents and exhibit their shooting skills. This game is for people above sixteen as it involves user communication and digital purchases. However, the obsession with engaging in multiplayer online gaming is mostly noticed among the 13-25 years age group, and in boys. The increasing trend of violent behaviour has also been associated with excessive exposure to aggressive virtual games, which has fuelled the need to understand the possible effects that violent virtual games may have on young adults. Therefore, over the years, several studies have examined the effects of online game addiction on young people, especially the PUBG.

According to one study, the harmful effects of playing the PUBG include learning and copying aggressive behaviour, losing eyesight and interest in studies. Some other studies have revealed other negative impacts including headaches, insomnia, obesity, irritability, rage, drug abuse, the feeling of aggression, self-harm and suicide. It can also lead to sleep deprivation, social isolation, deterioration in cognitive abilities, physical and mental health. In the context of Pakistan, recently reported cases indicate that exposure to excessive violence activates aggressive sentiments and behaviour in players, where this game has become a matter of life and death for the new generation.

In 2020, three boys committed suicide in Lahore under the influence of this game. These three had been addicted to the PUBG and their family’s attempts to stop them from playing the game and/ or their failures within the game seem to have been the leading factor in their suicide. After this incident, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority temporarily banned this game but soon most players regained access to this game. In the last two years, there have been many reported incidents across the Punjab of players exhibiting hostility under the influence of drugs after facing defeat in this game. Recently, a boy supposedly addicted to the PUBG shot his mother and siblings. According to the police investigation report, the boy could not accept his defeat in the game and wanted to prove his skill of shooting (and killing) people. These incidents reveal the most dreadful effect of this game on the young generation. Now a petition has been filed before the Lahore High Court for a ban on the game. Additionally, the Lahore Police have proposed a complete ban on this game.

It is high time that strict action is taken to regulate these online games. Online games should be monitored closely not only by government institutions but also by parents. Some of the most dreadful incidents could have been prevented if actions had been taken at the right time. Many countries have acknowledged the potentially harmful effects of online games and banned this game. According to experts, addiction to online games can trigger aggression and substance abuse. The players can lose control of their emotions and commit heinous acts after losing a game. In Pakistan, the PUBG has influenced the youth more during the lockdown restrictions. People play online games as a coping strategy to handle stress and anxiety. It can become addictive as well. A study by Yarasani, Shaik and Myla (2018) has concluded that young male students addicted to online video games spend less time with their families and have severe behavioural issues with family members.

Studies have reported that the PUBG game addiction among the youth has increased significantly in recent years. There have been complaints about students’ misbehaving with teachers and peers from schools. The need of the hour is to establish some kind of mechanism that can review the content of online games before giving access to users. Additionally, awareness campaigns must be launched to sensitise parents and children about the potentially harmful impacts of these games (when it turns into more than a pastime), particularly for groups of teens who have extreme personalities and a tendency to adopt aggressive behaviour. All stakeholders (government, educational institutions and parents) should initiate campaigns to develop and encourage other healthy activities/ habits like book reading, physical sports activities and gardening, because having healthy and (socially, physically and mentally) strong youth is important for the wellbeing of any country. It is important to understand the social, human and financial damage people are facing because of this brutal game.

The writer is chairperson of the Department of Gender Studies, University of the Punjab, Lahore

The behaviour conundrum