Return of banned games like BGMI, Free Fire bad for Indian kids’ overall wellbeing: Experts

Last Updated on September 6, 2023 by Urmimala Sengupta

New Delhi, Sep 6 (IANS) After almost several months of ban over national security reasons, a couple of Chinese games have returned to India in various formats and new avatars.

While it may bolster the online gaming industry, it has raised serious concerns about impacting the mental and physical well-being of children and young adults in the country.

South Korean video game developer Krafton’s Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI), the popular battle royale game that enthralled the country’s gaming community, relaunched in May albeit with a government rider where it would be closely monitored every quarter for additional factors, including user harm and addiction.

The game has reportedly received the official approval from the Indian government to continue in the country, amassing millions of young users.

BGMI has even roped in Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh to promote the game in the country.

Another popular banned game, Free Fire from Singapore-based gaming company Garena, has also made its return in the country, starting this week.

Prior to their suspensions last year, BGMI and Free Fire ranked among India’s highest-grossing Android apps.

Since its re-launch in May, BGMI swiftly regained its status as the leading Android app by revenue on the Google Play Store in India.

The games, before the ban, had received widespread criticism for its addictive nature and its negative influence on young players.

Their relaunch has once again reignited the debate on the harmful effects of excessive gaming.

“Strategic violent virtual games are known to cause a host of problems in young impressionable minds. They are associated with disturbed sleep wake cycle, irritability, disobedience, conduct problems, disrespectful behaviour, disturbed relationships, neglect of meaningful priorities of life, academic decline, decreased and unhealthy social interactions, unhealthy lifestyle and unhealthy communication styles,” Dr. Sameer Malhotra, Director and Head – Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket, told IANS.

The games can also lead one to “neglect of self care, lose meaningful purpose of life, distress and compulsive behaviours, impulse dyscontrol, anger issues, self harming tendencies, and somatic pain like body aches and headaches”, he added.

Video games are a source of entertainment and relaxation and have also shown to boost a person’s cognitive skills, creativity, communication and reflexes.

But studies report that their addictive nature stimulates some of the reward centres of the brain, resulting in multiple behavioural mental and health issues.

Dr Trideep Choudhury, Consultant Psychiatrist at Fortis Flt Lt Rajan Dhall Hospital, Vasant Kunj, told IANS that these games encourage the players to achieve different targets and once these targets are achieved by the individual playing the game, it brings a sense of self efficiency to the player and increases their self esteem.

“This reinforces the game playing behaviour in the adolescent who at this age are trying to find their identity. Thus these online games can bring a false sense of self efficiency, decreasing their interests and interactions in the physical world , which can negatively affect the development of social skills and other life skills,” he said.

Further, Dr Choudhury said being hooked to online games can also affect relationships with their immediate family members and affect their sleep and academics.

According to a 2022 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), online gaming also compels children to a sedentary life by reducing opportunities for physical activity is one of the main drivers of obesity — a precursor to several diseases including cancer, Type-2 diabetes, heart problems and lung conditions.

It is also the main cause of disability, the report said. In such a scenario, parents and teachers play crucial roles in protecting the children’s health and wellbeing.

Dr Malhotra advised parents and teachers to start by informing kids about the dangers posed by these games, encouraging open discussions to make sure youngsters feel comfortable sharing their online activities, and establishing clear limitations for screen time and gaming.

“Parents can use parental control apps and monitoring tools to keep a close eye on their children’s online activity, and teachers can keep an eye on students’ digital behaviour in the classroom. Teaching children to think analytically can help them analyse internet content, while promoting outside activities will help them balance their screen time,” he said.

However, educationist Meeta Sengupta said that it’s imperative to build good communication, trust with children while also helping them train in self control.

She advised parents and teachers to put in “psychological nudges in everyday practice” where you’re approving of the variety of kids’ actions rather than always disapproving.

“I see this as an opportunity to give respect to our children and help them build the child’s trust in themselves and in their own self control. “Every time the child puts down the game, say how wonderful you are that you were able to move away and do something that is equally making you even more happy,” Sengupta told IANS.

According to Nikita Tomar Mann, principal at Noida-based Indraprastha Global School (IGPS), with the entry of mobile video games in the market, many of which are revamped versions of the likes of PUBG, “there is a new challenge for the parents of growing children”.

“The adolescent children are the most at-risk age group as, with the bodily changes comes rebelliousness and defiance in following instructions. These digital challenges are here to stay and it is important that parents and students are regularly apprised of the negative and addictive nature of such video games through digital literacy sessions, highlighting case-studies etc,” Mann told IANS.

Imposing restrictions on usage will only lead to increasing curiosity and experimentation by children, which is likely to be more detrimental in nature, she emphasised.

(Rachel V Thomas can be contacted at [email protected])

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