India and the world have been abuzz with apps and games such as TikTok and PUBG that have permeated into the popular culture over the past year. These apps and games burst forth into fame and people took these up like hotcakes being sold out. PUBG or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is a battle royale game that is available on PC, consoles and most importantly on smartphones. TikTok, on the other hand, is a social media app based on user generated video content.
To speak plainly, PUBG Mobile which released last March, proved to be an extremely exciting game for smartphones topped with exciting visuals, clean mechanics and innovative concept. TikTok enabled just about anyone to be a video creator. And as is the fate of anything that becomes popular very quickly, using and playing these were termed ‘a fad’, a term that hardly ever conveys positivity.
With the news and media highlighting certain negative stories on PUBG Mobile where people who played the game went through mishaps, things began to escalate. A man from Kashmir was reported to have played PUBG too long and had a psychological breakdown, while another man apparently left his pregnant wife and children to focus playing the game. These stories were speculations at best with no basis towards the claims. Parents complained that their children were missing their studies because they spent too much time playing the game. This escalated the situation where it was banned in a college in Vellore first and then in the state of Gujarat in India, followed by countries such as Nepal and now Iraq.
Parents and authorities did support and act over these claims with the reasoning that the game involves guns and violence and hence inspires aggression. Having said that, none of the bans were backed by rational thought or method to back them up. If anything, they just seemed to be a knee jerk reaction based on speculation. Several recent researches including one at the Oxford university that show that games are hardly ever the motivator for aggression, instead they may even have the opposite effect on players.
To impress on the fact that games that involve violence or shooting are hardly catalyst in promoting aggressive behavior is that there have been games such as Counter Strike and Dota that are decades old with millions of players worldwide, but these never attracted bans of the sort. Of course there have been questions of whether they promote violence, but that is where the researches came in. As for the aspect of PUBG being an addictive game, that can’t even qualify as an argument, because gamers who play games such as Counter Strike and Dota 2 regularly play 10-12 hours a day, because that is the kind of dedication it needs to get better at the game. If parents really want their children to not play a mobile game for too long surely there are better ways to do it than asking the game to not exist, and one of those ways could be imposing a smartphone curfew. The real problem here is that parents are more likely to want a game banned than impose restrictions on their children because this deems the authorities as a blaming figure for the children rather than they themselves.
The arguments are similar when it comes to TikTok which has been deemed a sleaze app which apparently only has cringe worthy content by the populous that support banning and removing it from the app stores. The order for removal of TikTok from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store by the Madras High Court was worded as an app for inappropriate content. TikTok is a social media app, and if this contains sleaze or inappropriate content then how is the extremely popular Instagram, Facebook and even Twitter better off for that matter. The internet is full of inappropriate content and one app cannot be the be all and end all of this situation. As for the accidents that have happened because people were recording TikTok videos, this is a very thin argument which falls flat when countered that selfies have killed more people than either of these two apps combined. And yet we have popular figures, heads of states taking and promoting selfies by taking them all over the world. We must question then, why isn’t there a widespread ban on selfies? More importantly, one of the biggest and most important pitches for all the billion dollar smartphone companies are better front cameras for selfies.
The result of banning PUBG and TikTok that we recently saw in India, could only be counteractive as all bans always have. Banning an app or game does not stop their idea or what these represented, and its reaction would never be a positive on from those that will be deprived from it. There will always be other games, social media apps and what could essentially have been a ‘fad’ would gain more prominence in its abstinence. But what is most important is that this is a gross imposition and curb on the freedom of choice and representation. Like the present statement from the Supreme Court of Nepal which stayed the ban order on PUBG rightly stated, “Since press freedom and freedom of expression are guaranteed by the constitution, it is necessary to prove that such bans are just, fair and reasonable, and the actions of the authorities concerned are wise and logical… if the ban was allowed to remain in effect, it could adversely impact people’s rights to freedom.”
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Extreme measures such as bans would almost always incite extreme results, and these should not be promoted when there are better alternatives to tackling the situation. The authorities could always reach out to the developers and work towards certain reasonable restrictions that could be implemented in the app – a good example would be how the Chinese government worked with game developers last year.