Nepal Makes Playing PUBG a Crime, But Is It Just a Scapegoat for a Larger Problem?
The Kathmandu District Court officially outlawed Playerunknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) in Nepal on Wednesday. The ruling forbids internet and mobile providers from streaming it and makes playing it an offense punishable by prison time.
This turn of events comes not long after India outlawed the game in select cities for a few weeks in March.
The rationale behind the ruling is essentially the same in both cases. Authorities and parents fear the battle royale game encourages violent tendencies in youth.
That explanation comes from the Kathmandu court. It's based on a complaint filed by Nepal's Central Investigation Bureau, which itself was inspired by complaints and reports received from the Teku Metropolitan Crime Division (MCD); Teku is a populous and prominent district in Nepal's capitol city Kathmandu.
The MCD allegedly received numerous reports from parents stating their children were becoming distracted and aggressive after playing PUBG. According to these reports, aggression usually took the form of throwing their mobile phones at someone or at the ground when asked to stop playing.
The MCD Chief and Superintendent of Police, Dhiraj Pratap Singh, said "When we consulted with psychiatrists, they also said that the violence in the game can make people aggressive in real life,” though didn't refer to any specific psychiatrists the MCD consulted.
Another concern parents cited was that children were less likely to focus on their studies and responsibilities at school and home.
However, the Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) provided a reason different from the Kathmandu Court. NTA director Sandip Adhikari said "We have ordered the ban on PUBG because it is addictive to children and teenagers."
Adhikari also said there have been no reported incidents connected to the game, seemingly contradicting the MCD's reports and official complaint.
In other words, PUBG isn't causing mass outbreaks of violent children in the city. The problem is actually on a completely different level.
Nepal's Little Angel’s College of Management said students became distracted and hyper while playing, but the primary concern noted was that students:
...informally complain about being late for college as they play the game all night. PUBG itself cannot be blamed. But because of lack of time management, it impacts people (especially young ones) negatively.
Nepali Sansar, a digital news site focused on Nepalese news and its relation to the rest of the world, spoke with Psychologist Gopal Dhakal about the problem. Dhakal said some psychologists had even received complaints of decreases in production from professionals who are playing PUBG.
He also mentioned the root of the problem lies in a lack of education from teachers and parents about time management and proper internet use.
Using a sensational problem to mask underlying, fundamental issues isn't completely unheard of in Nepal.
For example, last year, the country outlawed pornography as a means of addressing the rampant sexual violence problem plaguing its cities. It was a way to publicly acknowledge a facet of the issue without taking other action to correct attitudes against women or the numerous issues in the justice and social systems that mean cases of violence go unreported.
The internet issue goes further than it might initially seem. Nepal has recently seen a boom in its film and entertainment fields. Yet like many other countries, and even states in the US, economic increases from burgeoning film industries don't affect the entire population.
Most of Nepal remains very poor, though access to the internet has increased regardless. PUBG is a free-to-play game, and games offer a distraction from normal life. It doesn't take a large leap of reasoning to see how the two connect.
The lack of education about using new technologies isn't uncommon. In fact, a similar issue related to smartphone and social media use is a hot topic in Western society now. So it's difficult to see how banning the game can help people cultivate responsible digital habits and understand how to manage their free time and responsibilities more effectively.
Moreover, like what happened when China banned PUBG, people who want to play it will find ways to, and the perceived issues associated with the game won't disappear until the factors driving people to seek distraction without regard for how it affects their lives are addressed.