The most played game in India, PUBG with over 50 million downloads and 33 million active users, is among the 118 Chinese apps banned by the Indian government couple weeks ago. The official press release of the government said these apps “are engaged in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security state and public order”. But how did PUBG Mobile become such a phenomenon in the world in general and India in particular? Why we often hear the phrase, “Chal PUBG khelte hai” (Let’s play PUBG)?
Well, for that let’s have a quick view of the game which is under so much scrutiny of late. PUBG is an online multiplayer battle royale game developed and created by Brendan “Player Unknown” Greene drawing inspirations from the 2000 Japanese cult film Battle Royale and the Hollywood movie Hunger Games. In this Massive Multiplayer Online First-Person Shooter (MMOFPS) game, a player can enter the game individually or with a team of up to 4 players. The player along with 99 others parachute onto an island and scavenge for weapons and equipment to kill others while avoiding getting themselves killed. The available safe area of the game’s map decreases in size over time, directing surviving players into tighter areas to force encounters. The goal of the game is to be the last person or last team standing. In this battle of attrition, only the winner stands alone.
There are but a few who haven’t come across this phenomenon called PUBG, actively or passively. PUBG with all its humongous presence is the elephant in the room, too important to ignore. But how big is the phenomenon? People are buying phones ensuring that they support smooth PUBG gameplay. A recent PUBG Mobile Campus Championship saw 2.5 lakh registrants from across 1000 Indian colleges competing for a hefty prize money of 50 lakhs. The rising popularity of the game saw opening of several PUBG themed stores, cafes, restaurants, movie promotions utilizing the forum of PUBG throughout India.
But is PUBG only limited to just the mobile phones, lying innocently as a just another game at a certain nondescript corner of our screen? Or has it spilled over from the boundary of the mobile screens into our lives? Many horrific news related to the level of craziness and dedication towards the game, testifies to the latter concern. With this growing popularity of PUBG in India, there are news coming of how it is keeping youngsters hooked. How people are getting addicted to this phenomenon called PUBG. Recently a fitness trainer from Jammu began self-harming after suffering from emotional stress due to non-stop PUBG gaming for 10 days. A 17-year-old boy from Jind, Haryana died by suicide after his phone was snatched away by his parents due to excessive gaming. Two men were mowed down near the railway tracks in Hangloi district as they were busy playing PUBG! Another PUBG addict, absentmindedly drank acid instead of water while he was busy shooting and killing people on PUBG, though he was lucky as he was saved. It gets even more dangerous, a 19-year-old man from Delhi, reportedly killed his entire family for nagging him about his PUBG addiction. He ended up killing his parents and sister along with ransacking his house to make it look like a robbery.
PUBG started as just another battle royale game developed in a South Korean gaming studio, and has spread its tentacles managing to take over the mind and body of its players like a sinister octopus. The question naturally arises, why and how. Its creators have managed to play very tactfully to human psychology and playing to the gallery of the human mind, tapping its fundamental urge of evolution. Right from the beginning, the urge of struggle for existence, survival of the fittest, adaptability to unknown environments, and a need for finding satisfaction has been ingrained to human DNA. If we look at the gameplay and story plotline of PUBG, we’ll understand how PUBG is connected to our evolution by means of natural selection as proposed by Charles Darwin. The player along with 99 other players are dropped into an unknown world, supposedly an island. It’s much similar to a baby being born into an unknown world. In the game, the character has to find its way through the world in which it has been thrown into. With absolutely nothing at its disposal, the character slowly finds out survival kits, also known as ‘Loots’, much similar to the human skills which we acquire in life to survive in this unknown island called life. As the game proceeds, the character starts rooting out competition in its quest for becoming the last person standing. As Darwin in his ‘On the Origin of Species’ pointed out the ‘Survival of the Fittest’, in PUBG too, the player with the best adaptability to the changing environs of the game has the best chance of becoming the last one standing. After a certain interval, the gaming zone constricts into a Blue Zone and the player has to stay inside it to avoid getting eliminated. This challenging and changing gaming environment provides the player’s psychology with a challenge, where it continuously undergoes a ‘Struggle for Existence’. Much like the changing circumstances in our lives, where opportunities crop up from unknown places, humans just need to stay inside the Blue Zone of opportunity to root out the chances of getting eliminated in this relentless ‘struggle for existence’ called life. PUBG also tampers with the skill of adaptability of the players. Now and then it changes the gaming zone, each and every time making the game new. So, this uncertainty of the gameplay makes it more appealing to the players, and the brain of the players also respond similarly like adapting to a new situation in real life. There remains a constant fear of getting bombed, ambushed or killed in a gunfire in the game. So, a player is forced to pick up vital survival skills as one proceeds through the game. PUBG also gives a huge ego boost to its players, with its elaborate system of rewards in the form of Ratings Point, Experience Points gained if one plays the game regularly. Besides, it also tinkers with the fundamental human psyche of violence, which humans adapted as a defence mechanism to ensure its survival in the struggle for existence. The game allows a player an escape from reality in a make-believe world, where one can don a character and go on rampaging others, and in the way garnering temporary rushes of Adrenaline and Dopamine secretion which makes it even more absorbing. Human brains are hardwired to get ego boost in their quest of survival. This sets us apart as a species, which is not satisfied with only its mere survival, but its thriving existence. Thus, PUBG caters to that psyche and tactfully inserted in its gameplay elaborate rewarding mechanism, which culminates in the last man or last team standing reward of “Winner Winner Chicken Dinner” phrase. This ultimate reward is very similar to the elusive goals of success after which we humans tirelessly strive for. What happens if the Chicken Dinner in PUBG or the success in real life is achieved? Do we stop then and there, all satisfied and complacent? Well, we press the replay button to start another round in the game of PUBG and life, don’t we? Shouldn’t we be happy that we can’t do that now with the recent ban of the game?
-Aishik Bhattacharya (Opinion Writer at IndianFolk.com, Senior Research Fellow at IACS, Kolkata)
Picture Credits: realsport101.com