Regulation of Online Games in India- Need of the Hour!
-Dr. P. Sree Sudha
Online video gaming has become one of the world’s most popular leisure time activities among youth. Research has consistently shown that gaming can bring many positive benefits including therapeutic, medical, health, cognitive, and educational benefits. However, for a small minority, gaming can be problematic and potentially addictive. One of the most popular games at the time of writing is Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), a winner-takes-all team game inspired by the Japanese film, Battle Royale. More specifically, in each game, PUBG parachutes 100 players on to a virtual island where teams of four fight each other to death until only one team is left alive. It was officially launched in December 2017 and can be played on both gaming consoles and smartphones and has been downloaded over 100 million times on the Google Play. At present, the game has over 30 million daily active users globally and is very popular in India. A market research survey conducted among 1047 Indian gamers reported that PUBG was the most popular game (62%) followed by the games Free Fire (21%) and Fortnite (8%). PUBG is an online multiplayer battle game played in India. It is causing addiction in teenagers and adolescents and they refuse any kind of interruption while playing. We report a college student who committed suicide by hanging when scolded by his parents for playing PUBG on his mobile phone and whose parents would not provide the internet pack recharge for it. There have been other cases in India, inviting a discussion to prevent addiction with a law to regulate its use. This blog post aims to discuss controversy over regulation and ban of online games like PUBG in India.
Controversy over PUBG Game
PUBG and PUBG Mobile have been at the center of controversy not just in India but internationally as well. Numerous incidents with the game have portrayed it in poor light. Parents and others in India have even asked for a ban on the game. Despite its growing popularity, the battle-royale game has been banned at a few places. Countries like Nepal, Iraq have banned the game, while parents in UAE continue to demand a ban. The game was briefly banned in a few places in India as well. But the ban has since been lifted. Parents and teachers continue to seek a ban on PUBG citing its numerous ill effects on children. However, to alleviate the concern of the parents, studies have found that video games don’t really have any effect on people’s tendencies towards violence. There have been numerous studies that have come to this conclusion, and the most recent one took place in the Oxford University. Researchers claimed that their findings were opposed to the popular belief. However, based on media reports case studies of problematic gaming in India have been highly prevalent over the past few months, particularly in relation to PUBG gaming. The Indian print media has arguably vilified the game and has attempted to link the game with a wide range of negative psychosocial impacts. Few instances are: failure to write exams, running away from home, hospitalization, drinking acid, suicide attempt, death by train, suicide etc., It is also responsible for gaming disorder, which will be discussed in the following section.
PUBG Game is it Responsible for Gaming Disorder!
The word gaming disorder is defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behaviour (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) is the basis for identification of health trends and statistics globally and the international standard for reporting diseases and health conditions. It is used by medical practitioners around the world to diagnose conditions and by researchers to categorize conditions. Studies suggest that gaming disorder affects only a small proportion of people who engage in digital-or video-gaming activities. However, people who partake in gaming should be alert to the amount of time they spend on gaming activities, particularly when it is to the exclusion of other daily activities, as well as to any changes in their physical or psychological health and social functioning that could be attributed to their pattern of gaming behaviour. The inclusion of a disorder in ICD is a consideration which countries take into account when planning public health strategies and monitoring trends of disorders.
WHO released the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) in mid-2018. Studies suggest that gaming disorder affects only a small proportion of people who engage in digital- or video-gaming activities. However, people who partake in gaming should be alert to the amount of time they spend on gaming activities, particularly when it is to the exclusion of other daily activities, as well as to any changes in their physical or psychological health and social functioning that could be attributed to their pattern of gaming behaviour.
Why to Regulate Online Games like PUBG?
PUBG Mobile, for which China-based Tencent Games is the publishing partner, was banned in India in September, as part of the Indian government’s ban on 118 Chinese apps believed to be jeopardising data security of Indian users. Government of India banned PUBG this year under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act. The Government of India said the PUBG Mobile Application was engaged in activities that are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity, defence and security of the country. A similar ban on 59 Chinese apps was imposed in June, 2020 where one of the most popular applications, Tik Tok, was removed from the Google Play Store. In yet another unprecedented move, the Indian government has decided to ban 118 more Chinese applications, including the popular battle royale game, PUBG Mobile.
Recently the Crime Investigation Department (CID) of the Andhra Pradesh police had sought a ban on the website of “Playwin” which had allegedly been selling online lotteries banned in the state. As on date, online gaming, online gambling and lotteries websites are not complying with the internet intermediary compliances and cyber law due diligence requirements prescribed under the Information Technology Act 2000. Similarly, almost all of the online poker websites in India are violating one or other laws of India. Although online gaming market in India is booming yet regulatory compliances cannot be ignored. It seems online gaming and online gambling industry of India is not considering regulations while conducting their businesses in India. Even the banks, payment gateways and online payment merchants, mobile payment vendors, etc. supporting these online poker, online rummy, online card games and fantasy sports websites can be held liable for not following cyber law due diligence norms as they have blindly approved online payment option to these illegal and law breaking websites.
The Gujarat Police have banned PUBG by invoking Section 37(3) of the Gujarat Police Act, 1951 (The Act) read with Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which allows the State to take necessary steps to maintain public order. The Madras High Court also gave a ruling in the Case of Blue Whale Game it emphasized that the government has the social responsibility to act in such circumstances. It held that ‘Only when the officials and policy makers are alive to the problems of the society, decision could be taken to prevent this kind of cyber applications. The people are making cruel humour against innocent third parties. Even Television channels are also telecasting Tik Tok videos, which are also liable to be prohibited.’ The Court also emphasized on the steps that are being taken globally to counter the menace of cyber bullying of minors. It highlighted that US has already passed the Children Online Privacy Act. Therefore, it suggested that the Indian government also should enact a similar legislation.
From the above discussion it is evident that online game like PUBG game and other e-sports are responsible for psychological disorders among youngsters. It creates a constraint between personal relationships. Moreover, it also hampers the professional life of a person. Similarly, the youth waste their time and neglect their studies just to play this game. There are many ways to control this addiction. One must set a specific time for their gaming. Moreover, always identify and avoid triggers. Moreover, it is necessary to divert the mind of youngsters from the game and indulge in time with friends and family. Finally need of the hour is to create awareness among children and youngsters regarding value of the life.
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Dr. P. Sree Sudha,
Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University,
E mail: firstname.lastname@example.org