The emergence of the deadly Blue Whale Challenge (BWC) or the suicide game has taken the real and virtual worlds by storm. The game, which penetrates through social media networks from secretive groups, has claimed hundreds of lives worldwide. It is also increasing its penetration in India. The game was initiated in Russia and has spread like wildfire through social media. Though the initiator has been arrested, the game is still being continued by secret administrators through social media. The BWC encourages young vulnerable teenagers to take part in absurd tasks like waking up in strange hours, visiting a railway track, cutting one’s hand or lips, scarring the outline of a whale on their hands and finally jumping off a cliff or a high rise which leads to suicide. There are around 50 tasks that a participant is expected to complete before the final challenge. Despite knowing the fatal outcome, teenagers are joining the game. Addiction to the virtual world through mobile phones, computers and the internet is leading to an alienation from the real world, making them vulnerable to mental and physical health issues. Psychiatrists and councilors are of the opinion that the youth are being pushed to such destructive games due to depression. According to data published by The Quint, about 63,000 suicides occur annually in the age group of 10-24 in India.
Involvement in virtual world
A poll conducted for Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organisation focused on helping children, parents, teachers and policymakers to negotiate media and technology found out that 50% teens feel that they are addicted to their mobile device.
With increased penetration of internet usage, the risk of internet addiction also rises. A report from the Indian Journal of Public Health stated that India will soon be the second-leading country after China, in internet usage. Internet addiction in adolescence can have a negative impact on identity formation and cognitive functioning. It may also lead to poor academic performance and engagement in risky activities and inculcate poor dietary habits.
Psychiatrists believe that internet addiction leads to disproportionate amount of time being spent on the internet. The activity becomes all engulfing and the addicted user cannot be disengaged. Cases of gamers often forgetting to respond to physical drives are common. It starts affecting the mood and leads to poor mental health and is associated with detachment from family. People who are depressed get attracted to certain websites which throw at them deadly games as ways to deal with their depression. Constant involvement in virtual world results in reduced creativity, and significantly hurts long-term memory. A report by the Indian Council for Medical Research states that 12% of individuals using internet in the country suffer from internet addiction disorder (IAD).
As per a research study done on students of Ludhiana from Class 9 to 12 by Mind Plus Retreat, Ludhiana, 56.6% of children had mild internet addiction, 37.73% had moderate, while 5.67% were diagnosed with severe addiction. According to Param Sidhu, ward manager of Mind Plus Retreat, “One of the pointers of internet addiction is that it is more prominent among single children. Also, students who use broadband internet connection are more prone to internet addiction. Students who use internet more for leisure and entertainment purposes are also more likely to become addicted than the ones who use it for educational purposes.”