RIYADH: Gulf states are joining the list of countries whose lawmakers are expressing concern over an online game with violent content and addictive features that has rapidly gained in popularity among both youngsters and adults.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), created by the South Korean company Bluehole, has become a global phenomenon, downloaded more than 360 million times since its release in late 2017.
Jordan’s Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) has blocked the PUBG site and warned that the game “had negative effects on its users.”
The TRC said in a statement last week that PUGB had been proven to “promote violence, isolation and self-centredness.”
Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council is also reported to be debating whether to ban PUBG.
Independent Arabia, a sister publication of Arab News, reported on Sunday that the Shoura Council was recommending a ban. It said Mohammad Al-Qahtani, a council member, had cited numerous complaints about the game.
Arab News contacted both the Shoura Council and the General Commission for Audiovisual Media but was unable to reach them for comments.
Often likened to the blockbuster book and film series “The Hunger Games,” PUBG pits marooned characters against each another in a virtual fight to the death, and has become one of the world’s most controversial mobile games.
PUBG became so popular in Jordan that the authorities had to issue a warning in December to government employees not to play it.
In April, a member of the UAE’s Federal National Council (FNC) called on the authorities to ban PUBG.
After receiving complaints from parents, Naima Al-Sharhan, head of the FNC Committee of Education, urged the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to block PUBG and similar games.
In May, Chinese tech company Tencent ceased offering the game, instead directing users to a newly launched and nearly identical program it had created.
PUBG is already banned in Iraq, Nepal, the Indian state of Gujarat and the Indonesian province of Aceh.
It was blocked in Iraq after the country’s parliament voted unanimously to ban the game for “inciting violence” in the war-torn country.
Psychologists in many countries say PUBG encourages violence and contributes to bullying among children, even though it is only rated suitable for users above the age of 16.
They say online games such as PUBG have a psychological influence on users the same way that drugs, smoking and drinking do, and could lead to behavioural changes.
This is the trailer to the game that's causing so much upset:
There is also concern that PUBG’s voice chat option could enable groups with criminal intent to groom younger users, or to harass them.
But Nawaf Al-Mussaed, a Saudi gamer, streamer, and video game podcaster, said there is no way PUBG can prompt violence in real life. “I don’t think the issue is with the game itself. It is parents who don’t supervise their kids properly,” he told Arab News.
“Parents need to be more careful with the media that their children consume, especially with media that is clearly created for and marketed towards adults. Games like PUBG aren’t made for children.”
Al-Mussaed does not think banning PUBG will be effective. “There are plenty of ways to circumvent these bans, and people in Saudi Arabia have been doing this for years. They’re already well accustomed to all the ways you can get around them. In the long run it’s not going to help at all.”
Cybersecurity experts echo his views, saying combat games such as PUBG and Fortnite are so addictive and brutal, blocking the site may not be enough. Determined players are likely to find ways to get around the block to get their fix.
They also say that despite the backlash, PUBG continues to update its game play modes and graphics to encourage young people to keep on playing.
A tournament held from June 15 as part of the Jeddah Season festival at the city’s King Abdullah Sports City attracted both male and female PUBG gamers.
“I am still a student and I spend most of my time playing PUBG,” Ahad Uz Zaman, 20, who won a PUBG match in a field of 50 people, told Arab News.
“My mom scolds me a lot, asking me why I play this game all the time so I am glad I could put my PUBG skills to some use and make her happy.”
Another participant, Lujain Mohammed, 29, said: “I have been playing PUBG for a year now, it is my first time participating in a competition.
“My video game addiction started when I was a kid. That’s the thing about video games — once you get addicted there is no way out, even if you are a grown up.”
This is not the first time an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) has stirred concern in Saudi Arabia.
In April 2019, Arab News reported that the popularity of battle royale type games, specifically those that encouraged players to spend real-life money on in-game items and advantages, were a cause for growing concern.
Games such as Fortnite, Apex Legends and PUBG are all advertised as free-to-play. However, they provide players with the opportunity to pay real money for in-game cosmetic items, leading many in Saudi Arabia to urge the banning of the games as they are seen to encourage gambling.
Microtransactions in video games are real-money purchases a player makes within a game, either to progress or to improve the playing experience, for example by gaining new equipment or abilities.
Despite the name, these purchases can range in price from a few cents to $100 or more.
Lucky players who get a valuable loot box prize often share their good fortune on social media, which is a form of free advertising for the game that encourages other players to pay money and try their luck.
But the use of loot boxes is controversial, with complaints from gamers and the media that they offer wealthier players an unfair advantage and could lead to addiction.
The console game Star Wars Battlefront 2, for example, faced a huge backlash when it was released in November 2017. Players have to pay money to unlock certain features of the game, on top of the $60 for the game itself. One website estimated that the total cost of buying all of these features is $2,100.