Escape into danger

In the intoxicating melee unleashed by the Internet-of- Things-defined existence, the new real is in fact the virtual. Things, arguably, can’t get more bizarre; or can they? One casualty of virtual living is social skills, especially among the youth. Along with computers and video games, smartphones and the addictive games loaded in them contrive to snuff out the social skills of youngsters. Eventually, they lose a sense of community, and cocoon themselves in their own make-believe world.

Games on smartphones are easily replacing physical games and activities, studies suggest. When children and young adults succumb to addictive games, they tend to have lesser and lesser resources to invest in real-time friendships and social gatherings, leading to a breakdown of our very social fabric.
Also, youngsters’ virtual obsession, of which online gaming forms a major part (along with social media communications) is increasingly affecting recreational reading and focused study. But what’s even scarier is that some of those Internet games pose serious threat to their life itself, as is the case with the despicably horrible game Blue Whale, a nefarious psychological trap encouraging suicide.
While no incidence of Blue Whale game has been officially reported in the Sultanate, another mobile game — Mariam — is gaining popularity here and across the GCC. Reports indicate Muscat alone has over 1,500 Mariam players, who count among the 400,000-plus Mariam enthusiasts all over.
Online games promote escapism, and there is the added appeal of wider e-socialisation possibilities. The deeper problem with games such as Blue Whale is that they make the player “helpless” and submissive to the game’s instructor or master, who wields immense power to manipulate young minds and make them do horrific acts.
Being unreasonably submissive is not a good thing, you know. Submission is a complex topic in psychology. The entire human civilisation is made of two kinds of personalities: submissive and dominant.
Submissive personalities develop much deeper levels of sensitivity, while dominant personalities are great manipulators. The former types usually feel overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness, which is cleverly exploited by games such as Blue Whale.
Blue Whale deftly employs techniques used in the military to make people more aggressive, and also to break people’s resistance in prisons. The game works to reduce the player’s self-confidence to pathetic levels, and the acceptance of every challenge posed by the game further dilutes the player’s resistance and thinking abilities.
Meanwhile, what Philipp Budeikin, the 22-year-old Russian who created the Blue Whale challenge, said about it is quite revelatory. He said he designed the game to “clean society,” as people who participated in it were “biological waste.” Still youngsters are playing it!
A ridiculously submissive young generation can’t contribute much to nation building. Thus, this growing game addiction needs to be dealt with. We need to go beyond just awareness campaigns.
Significantly, even as we see quite a number of de-addiction centres that help people with drug, alcohol and sex addictions, do we have any dedicated facilities to take care of game addicts? Game addiction is yet to be recognised with a formal diagnosis, and there is limited funding for research, experts point out.
It may be noted that the Oman’s National Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) has warned against the dubious game, noting that it has allegedly encouraged high-risk behaviour among young children and teenagers that can lead to death.
On the other hand, the main accusations against Mariam, designed by a group of Saudi men, are that it can have a detrimental impact on the player, and can breach the player’s privacy by collecting personal information. The game also exerts undue control over the player, and stirs up issues of ethics and cultural values. Across the GCC, there is strong public demand to ban Mariam, some even calling it a satanic scheme. The Ban_Mariam_game hash tag is trending on social media in the region. The game is rated 9+ by iPhone app store for “Mild Horror and Fear Themes”.
However, the developers of Mariam deny the charges, and maintain it’s just a game for entertainment, and there’s no question of abuse of one’s privacy.
While each one of us is entitled to an online, virtual dimension, we can’t gloss over obsessive tendencies, especially the youngsters’ addiction to malefic online games. Because, what’s at stake is the future of a generation.

T V SARNGA DHARAN NAMBIAR