The popular multiplayer video game is in the spotlight after a game addict killed his entire family.
Popular mobile game PUBG again faces calls to be banned after a 14-year-old gaming addict shot dead his mother and three siblings in the Pakistani city of Lahore last month.
The boy told investigators he thought his family members would come back to life like the game’s characters who resurrect or spawn back after being eliminated during play. His mother often scolded him for spending hours on the game.
This week, Pakistan police asked the government to ban PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds). Internet service providers temporarily prohibited it in Pakistan in 2020 after three teenage suicides were traced to the game.
Suicides and deaths linked to PUBG have rattled authorities in neighbouring India as well. PUBG is a multiplayer battle royale game in which solo players or teams are parachuted onto an island where they fight to the last man standing.
“For players like me, PUBG is all about competition. It’s a test of our skills to see who gets to survive. The thrill of being on the top of 100 other people keeps you going,” said Taimur Zia, 24, who has played PUBG and similar video game Fortnite for years.
“This boy who killed his family was probably messed up. Yes, when we play, we play for six hours straight. A video game becomes kind of an escape, something to avoid socialising. But that doesn’t mean we are crazy.”
PUBG, owned by a South Korean company Krafton, was launched in late 2017. Within months it shot up the charts becoming one of the most downloaded games in the world.
The Lahore familicide occured around the time PUBG Mobile marked its first anniversary since installing dedicated servers to boost gaming speed for Pakistani users.
The company has aggressively marketed in Pakistan, hiring singer-musician Asim Azhar as its brand ambassador and collaborating with cricketing legend Shoaib Akhter on promotional campaigns.
PUBG has become one of the leading video games played in Pakistan, said Moazzam Kamran, business director at GameRED, a gaming service company.
“Though there is no specific data that identifies the number of active users in Pakistan, growing PUBG tournaments in Pakistan and corporate integration validate its popularity,” he told TRT World.
India is a major market for PUBG, which has become the highest grossing mobile video game in the world.
But the slew of negative reports pushed New Delhi to temporarily ban it two years ago.
There’s no shortage of depressing incidents traced to the game: in one instance a young man in Madhya Pradesh state mistakenly drank acid while he was engrossed in PUBG, in another a train ran over two friends as they were sitting on the tracks shooting virtual opponents, and a boy took his life when his parents refused to buy him a new smartphone.
Besides Pakistan and India, a number of countries including Bangladesh, Jordan and Nepal have imposed restrictions on PUBG in recent years.
PUBG Mobile doesn’t need a large memory space on the phone or a high internet bandwidth, bringing it within the reach of youngsters in low-income countries.
“The concept based on Battle Royale is well-liked and the game has very good gameplay and graphics. The developers constantly add new variations to keep the game novel and exciting to players,” said Dr Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioural addiction at Nottingham Trent University.
Popular multiplayer shooting games such as Call of Duty are mostly played on Playstation and Xbox consoles, which are expensive.
A number of studies have labelled PUBG as an addiction that young men and women might be using to cope with depression and anxiety.
In 2018, the World Health Organization listed gaming disorder as a disease in which people become obsessed with a game and end up neglecting their personal, family, educational and family obligations.
The continuous rise in PUBG Mobile’s revenue during the two years of pandemic fits with the explanation of experts who say more youngsters have taken to video gaming in isolation.
But Dr Griffiths, who has studied gaming addiction, said that extreme instances of suicides and murders linked with PUBG Mobile are an exception.
“There are millions of PUBG players and a handful of such cases. We've published a couple of articles on this but we've only published such cases because they are so rare, not because it keeps happening,” he told TRT World.
A blanket ban on the game is difficult to maintain, as seen in Pakistan where courts have overturned the government's decision.
Instead, authorities can try to introduce changes that make the game play a little less violent and intimidating, said Zia.
China, which has the highest number of PUBG players, has its own version. Chinese PUBG users don’t shoot each other as if on a real battlefield but instead practise during anti-terror ops. Players don’t die; they wave goodbye and vanish. Blood is bright green bubbles. In China, PUBG’s official name is Game for Peace.
PUBG is not the only battle royale game. Yet it continues to receive a large proportion of the bad press.
Kamran of GameRED says PUBG alone can not be blamed for violence.
“Globally, first person shooter games constantly get linked to controversies. But there are a host of reasons that are not accounted for which could include societal to psychological to even genetic causes that define a person and their associated actions,” he said.
“Instead we should observe the numerous positives that are seen with the growing Esports industry across the world.”
Brendan Greene, the PUBG developer, and the man behind the moniker PlayerUnknown, was not available for comment.