Should India ban front cameras on phones? Between 2011 and 2017, 159 people died in the country while taking selfies, the world’s highest in that period, according to an AIIMS study last year. While Indians still flood social media with selfies from all angles, some states are instead busy banning PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Mobile (better known as PUBG Mobile), one of the most popular video games of our time. There is no question that media exposure in any form can “incite" a certain kind of behaviour; interactive media, perhaps even more so. But does that justify depriving people of it? We must make a distinction between what’s designed to incite and what some folk get incited by. But arbitrary intervention has no time for nuances. Perhaps the worst example of an ad hoc ban by Indian authorities was that of Shaktimaan, a popular superhero. Actor Mukesh Khanna fought and won a case against Doordarshan in the 1990s after allegations arose that children had died performing dangerous acts in the hope that their fictional hero would save them.
As a game, PUBG is not extraordinary. It has 100 players fighting each other to death, armed with everything from a frying pan to a machine gun, and the last man standing wins. In conceptual terms, this may sound horrific. Yet, it’s just another game, like dozens of others, that offers the simulated thrills of battle victory. It’s not even the most violent game ever (to confirm, try playing Dead Trigger). Shorn of graphic appeal, its amusement value is no different from that of a squirt-gun fight on Holi. Granted, it does evoke aggression, but then so does almost anything that is competitive. If that is all we need to banish it from our midst, we might as well ban cricket as well (remember Eden Gardens?), or perhaps all sports. Another argument made is that PUBG Mobile is too addictive and this affects children’s studies. What would affect their studies a lot more, though, is getting arrested for playing the game—as several students indeed have. In any case, as the example of tobacco shows, addiction has never been cause for a ban in India. All said, no valid explanation has yet been offered for why playing PUBG calls for punitive action. On the contrary, PUBG Mobile is showing youngsters how gaming can actually be rewarding in financial terms. Children as young as 16 have won lakhs in contests simply because they are good at this game. E-sports are going professional worldwide, and this trend is catching on in India as well. As PUBG Mobile lends itself to team play, it can create professional gamers, an audience for on-screen action, and even generate revenues. In short, it is an opportunity.
Moreover, there is no evidence yet that virtual violence translates to real-world bloodshed. Even studies in the West that hint at such a correlation have not been able to confirm causation. Crucially, too, no video game is created with an intention to inculcate evil attitudes. Forced on the defensive, the creators of PUBG may have reiterated their commitment to a “healthy gameplay system", but they need not have. If the authorities still feel games are leading Indian youth astray, then it is for lawmakers to deliberate upon the matter and frame a response. Ad hoc action will not do. We didn’t ban phone cameras because it wasn’t the selfies that were killing people, it was the people.