PUBG Indian boy
A boy plays an online game PUBG on his mobile phone. Image Credit: AP

Islamabad: Three suicides in recent weeks linked to the PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) in Pakistan has resulted in the temporary ban of the online game.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) said it received several complaints about the game being “addictive, a waste of time” and its potential negative impact on children’s physical and psychological health. At the same time, the PTA asked the public to send their feedback on the game via email before a court hearing on the issue on July 9.

Suicides linked to PUBG reported

In Pakistan, concerns over the impact of PUBG have mounted after 18-year-old Shaharyar was found hanging in his house in Lahore on June 30. He had apologized to his friend and PUBG partner in a suicide note and his brother, Shoaib, confirmed that Shaharyar was a PUBG addict. After the recent suicide, Inspector General of Punjab Police (IGP), Shoaib Dastagir wrote to the interior ministry detailing the devastating impact of the game on youngsters.

A similar incident had taken place in late June when 16-year-old Mohammad Zakarya reportedly committed suicide by hanging himself after missing a task assigned in the game. Local media reported that a mobile phone was found on his bed with the PUBG game still running. The father confirmed his son’s obsession with the game. “It was purely a case of addiction as the boy used to play PUBG game for several hours a day,” the police claimed. The police in a letter to the IGP said that excessive violence could trigger aggressive behavior; the addiction to complete missions causes agony and anxiety and results in depression and stress, the local media reported.

Ban sparks debate

The temporary ban sparked a debate on social media in Pakistan with many saying it was the right move. Salma Khalid Khan, a school teacher, said she wholly supports the ban. “I think it should be banned permanently. It’s a good decision by the government. The horrible and violent images in such games could have adverse effects on the young minds”, she said adding that she would “never allow her kids to play such games.”

Talking to Gulf News, Dr. Sarah Nadeem Zaigham, a clinical psychologist in Islamabad, said, “Too much screen time and exposure to violence will definitely have a damaging effect on the mental and physical health of people especially young children.” She encouraged parents to keep a check on the activities of their children as more kids are getting addicted to online games during the pandemic, which is causing anxiety and depression.

However, avid gamers voiced their concerns saying that banning the game is an extreme step and that “it’s just a game, nothing illegal.”

Azeem Haq, who has been playing video games for over 30 years, said, “I have played action games, adventure, sports, horror and all kinds games and I never felt sick or psychologically unstable because I know it’s just a game” adding that many extreme actions such crimes and robbery in the society are not linked to games but other social and cultural factors. However, he agreed that games might affect people differently. “I’d prefer my children to play video games instead of computer or mobile games so that I can easily keep track of their actions.”

Another gamer, Faheem Siddiqui, says “if a child goes to the extreme of killing himself, there must be something more serious going on in his life than a game.” He lamented that kids often divert all attention and time to games and gadgets when their parents don’t have time for them.

What is PUBG?

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is a game developed by a South Korean company in which players are sent on an island and have to fight for survival. The game was also briefly banned in a few countries including India, China, Nepal and Iraq.