Although studies suggest there is no direct correlation, there are still steps parents can take to protect young gamers

‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ does not require a large amount of memory space on the phone or a high internet bandwidth, bringing it within the reach of youngsters in low-income countries. Photo: Mohd Rasfan / ESports

Rabeea Saleem

Mar 24, 2022

Video games have long been the poster child of everything that is corrupting young people, and have been blamed for inciting or instigating violence and antisocial behaviour. Last month, Punjab police in Pakistan approached the federal government with a bid to ban the popular online game PlayersUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG).

The move came after a teenage boy in Lahore murdered four of his family members, including his mother, “under the influence of the game”. Police said the teenager committed the violent act after he became “depressed” about repeatedly losing in the competitive game and being scolded by his mother for “excessive indulgence”.

This is the fourth such crime related to the online game in Lahore. Three young players committed suicide in the past two years, and in its report, police declared that PUBG was the reason for the deaths.

PUBG has also come under fire in other South Asian countries including India and Bangladesh. In June 2021, Bangladesh issued an order to ban “destructive and harmful” games such as PUBG and Free Fire, as they were cited to cause addiction among children. Similarly, India also temporarily banned PUBG over data-security issues owing to it being a China-based game, but the presiding judge also cited harmful exposure to children and their families as one of the reasons for the ban.

Video games are neutral; it is not the game, but rather the individual human mind interacting with the game that results in negative or positive behaviour

Asha Dullabh, clinical psychologist, ACPN Abu Dhabi

PUBG Mobile is notoriously popular in South Asia. The game doesn’t require a large memory space on the phone or a high internet bandwidth, bringing it within reach of youngsters in low-income countries. This is in contrast to multiplayer shooting games such as Call of Duty, which are mostly played on more expensive PlayStation and Xbox consoles.

A ban can be counterproductive

Arguably, one other reason for the enduring popularity of these games in developing countries is the lack of accessible recreational activities for youths, which compels them to overindulge in games that can be cheaply and even illegally downloaded. Banning such games without providing alternative avenues, then, is a band-aid solution and could lead to more maladjustment and mental health issues in already at-risk youths in developing countries.

Banning a game will only result in youngsters seeking it out with renewed fervour, say experts. Bloomberg

“I do not feel that a ban would have a long-term effect, rather it will result in more reactivity from society and consequently create more chaos,” says Asha Dullabh, a clinical psychologist at ACPN in Abu Dhabi, and founder and former director of Therapy SMART, a multidisciplinary family clinic, in Cape Town.

“Video games are neutral; it is not the game, but rather the individual human mind interacting with the game that results in negative or positive behaviour,” she says. “When one can’t get something freely in life, one would get more intrigued to acquire it, breeding more clandestine behaviour, and more secrecy and silence, which is a breeding ground for reactive behavioural responses, resulting in a counterproductive process.”

Excessive gaming is a maladaptive coping mechanism and banning PUBG ignores socioeconomic factors such as loss of jobs and economic hardships during the pandemic, which makes adolescents turn to video games as a means of escaping tense situations.

No proven link between video games and violence

Numerous studies have been conducted to examine the relationship between playing video games and violence among youth. The general consensus reveals a weak correlation that asserts that playing violent video games does not usually translate into violence in real life. Rather, people who play such games most likely already have aggressive tendencies that, even in the absence of such games, would play out and be channelled into other activities. This could take a platonic turn, such as signing up for aggressive sports such as kick-boxing, or a dangerous one, such as harming oneself or others.

According to a policy statement from the media psychology division of the American Psychological Association: “Scant evidence has emerged that makes any causal or correlational connection between playing violent video games and actually committing violent activities.”

Even so, around the world, after an adolescent commits high-profile acts of violence, it has become par for the course to speculatively link such crimes to video games or other violent media. Such unsubstantiated claims serve to distract society from more critical causes of violence such as poverty, inaccessible mental health services, educational or employment disparities and other socioeconomic factors.

Parents need to check which games their kids are playing and which are age-restricted … and choose more appropriate games that can enhance skills and their child’s psychological state of mind

Asha Dullabh

According to Dullabh, young people in developing countries are still being brought up within systems that focus on hierarchy, ladder processes, grading and order, which promotes thinking patterns of competitiveness, comparison, separateness and judgment.

“Most often they are being reared and guided by fear as well as criticism, both by others and themselves, they are being sermonised to behave in a way that makes others feel comfortable and in control, consequently eroding innocence, spontaneity and freedom of curiosity.”

Positive parenting is a must

When a direct linear relationship is presumed between video games and violence in children, it ignores a key factor: that children learn primarily through modelling and vicariously, which involves imitating and observing their primary caregivers. If parents and guardians are seen to be engaging in aggressive behaviour, their wards are most likely to follow it.

Dullabh says parents need to ask: “How am I inspiring my kids?” and to address any lack of human connection, and expression of vulnerability, empathy and compassion.

Parents also need to take interest in the nature of the games children are playing. “As there are age restrictions in movies, parents need to check which games their kids are playing and which are age-restricted. Parents can choose more appropriate games that can enhance skills and their child’s psychological state of mind.”

She further suggests that as youths have a false sense of empowerment and independence, which could breed a lack of psychological and emotional intelligence, they require guidance on how to filter and discern the experiences of the outer world.

So if banning a game is futile, how should parents deal with young gamers who go overboard?

Dullabh says we need to question whether the situation around violence in youth is perhaps a symptom of “unconscious parenting”. We need to be aware that parents and children are not only part of different human generations, but also different digital generations.

“Parents should manage time in the home more efficiently for themselves and children. A good sleep routine must be maintained in the household for all family members. Families need to connect more with nature and outdoor experiences. Parents need to look at themselves and what they are modelling, and lead by example.”

Rabeea Saleem is a clinical psychologist and faculty member at Institute of Behavioral Sciences, Dow International Medical College


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