Last month, a 14-year-old boy in Mumbai plunged to his death from his home and the incident sent shockwaves to the society as well as the internet community as the death was associated with an online social media game called the Blue Whale Challenge.
This suicide wasn’t a one-off case. The game, which was reportedly designed by a 22-year-old Russian convict, Philipp Budeikin, has taken more than 130 lives of teenage girls and boys globally.
The game provokes the player to complete endearing tasks for 50 days and the final task is won when the player kills themselves. Each of the tasks has to be filmed to be shared as proof.
The tasks involve watching a horror or psychic movie, cutting self with blade, needle and inflicting self-harm in other ways.
According to leading mental health experts, teenagers are susceptible to such online games as it gives them a sense of freedom which isn’t available in the real world, giving them an adrenaline high.
“Teenagers generally take these risks because they are vulnerable and prone to seek validation. Also, it makes them feel like they are a part of something that is bigger than them,” Samir Parikh, Director of Department Mental Health & Behavioral Sciences at Fortis Healthcare, New Delhi, told IANS.
“It has been observed that some teenagers have very low self-esteem, and rely significantly on peer approval. For them, the external environment becomes a source of inspiration, which is why they are willing to do anything to (project) a certain image,” said Sameer Malhotra, Director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket, New Delhi.
According to experts, even if someone decides to play the game out of curiosity to test it out, they’re drawn into it due to the design of the game psychologically manipulates the player into continuing.
“People who are drawn to play such games may themselves be going through psychological issues like lack of focus, interest, feeling inadequate or incompetent. Such individuals are lured towards challenges which give them a sense of purpose while defying the socially accepted norms which they may have failed,” said psychiatrist Jyoti Kapoor Madan from Paras Hospitals, Gurugram.
Teenagers dealing with adolescence are already under a lot of pressure as they’re learning about new responsibilities, more about themselves and the society. This leads to the rise of a rebellious nature where they’re prone to acting against societal norms and that’s a naturally occurring phenomenon.
This game just sort of capitalises on the same psychological fear of teenagers — as it is they’re in a vulnerable state emotionally — and presents itself as an opportunity to defy the norms and act rebelliously.
The creator of the game said in an interview that the main reason of this game was to ‘cleanse the society by provoking people who think they are not worthy of being alive to commit suicide’.
The internet is a large place where one can roam around freely and parents need to be made aware of the perils that the web holds. It’s a force which is as enabling as it is destructive.