Tuesday, August 7, 2018

15-year old boy being treated for PUBG addiction, how big of a problem is it


PUBG Mobile is taking the country by storm. The game that was ported over from PC to Android and iOS devices by Tencent, has been downloaded over 50 million times since its release in December last year. 

The game’s popularity is tangibly visible as well. Everytime I log in to PUBG using my Facebook account, I can see anywhere between 15-20 people online at any given time of the day, even late at night. The premise is simple. You are one among 100 who parachutes down to a island scattered with weapons and other equipment. 

Once you land, you scramble for weapons and then kill everyone else in an ever shrinking map to be the last man standing. The game can be played solo, with two players and with a four-member team. Essentially, PUGG Mobile is the big push mobile gaming has been waiting for, but is there more to the excitement? Hindustan Times reported yesterday that a 15-year old boy is currently undergoing treatment for PUBG addiction.

 The boy would play till late at night and started missing school. He would have over 10,000 friends online and only a handful of them in the real world. The problem worsened when the boy was unwilling to recognise it as an issue. In fact, the World Health Organisation recognised gaming as a disorder in the International Classification of Diseases. The symptoms are actually quite common. Increased priority to gaming over other activities, and continuation of gaming despite negative consequences. In the case of the 15-year old boy studying in the 10th standard, all these symptoms were present. 

The proliferation of the internet-based services has given rise to habits like browsing social media feeds like a zombie without paying attention to what you’re seeing and compulsively launching the app to check what’s new. There’s binge watching as well that is a highly celebrated disorder. In fact, I was compulsively encouraged by my peers to binge-watch the eight episodes of Netflix’s Hindi Original series Sacred Games, which I eventually succumbed to over the weekend. That’s eight hours of screen time without interruption. 

According to a report published by The Independent earlier this year, an addiction therapist said “giving your child a smartphone is like giving them a gram of cocaine.” Essentially, spending time on Snapchat and Instagram is being considered to be just as addictive as drugs and alcohol and therapists are encouraging parents and school teachers to be treated as such. There have been reports about children as young as 13 being treated for addiction to digital technology. Over a third of British teens aged 12-15 has admitted they do not have a good balance between phone usage and other activities. Addiction isn’t just about substance abuse. It’s inherently a change in behavioral pattern that manifests due to a strong association with an activity be it gaming, drug abuse or even browsing Facebook. 

This addiction manifests in the form of social media validation. Users of social media have reported of feeling ‘stressed’ to post relevant status updates, photos and videos regularly and eagerly wait for engagement on them. Games like PUBG reward you with in-game goodies the more you play. You essentially start off with a pair of boxers and the more you play, the more well-dressed your in-game avatar looks. You can also customise other things in the game that’s used by all the players to prove your dominance. Furthermore, more and more netizens now stick to the online world to attain sexual gratification instead of indulging in physical intimacy. 

This more subtle form of addiction has had a ravaging effect on families. Dinner tables are no longer filled with discussion and laughter. More often than not, members of the family would either be engrossed in their phone while eating or binge watch a TV series which they have already seen quite a few times. Sleep patterns have changed as well. A study by researchers from the Bocconi University in Italy and University of Pittsburgh found that broadband internet users in the US now sleep 25 minutes less on an average. 

Tech addiction is not a new thing though. Earlier reports had also highlighted television addiction. But with the duo of high-speed internet and smartphones bringing connectivity to one and for all, accessible anytime anywhere, the magnitude of addiction have shooted off the charts. The same clinic that is treating the 15-year old boy for PUBG addiction said they used to get one patient a week. Now that number has gone up to 6-7 people a week.

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