After a young, talented girl committed suicide in Dhaka, the addictive yet fatal internet “game” called Blue Whale came to our notice. By now, almost everyone is aware that, within the web, lurk predators and perverts, and seeming innocent sites can swiftly lead users towards a path of deviancy.
The name Blue Whale sounds innocuous -- one may be forgiven for wrongfully taking this to be a game about sea creatures and oceans. The name -- which, again, sounds totally harmless -- was possibly chosen deliberately to ensure that guardians and parents do not suspect that their children are being slowly pulled into a vortex of aberration.
After the death of a young girl in Dhaka, there have been several other episodes where young folk’s unusual behaviour was brought to the notice of school authorities as well as the law. In all of these cases, some link to the game has been found.
Excitement lures towards death
The game is addictive because, by exploiting the solitude of a player and possibly detecting any underlying sense of depression, it brings out the rebel within. At the crossroads of adolescence, every young person develops an inner desire to try something new, something which falls beyond the “safe and approved” category.
A latent drive to defiantly disregard the diktats of parents is something we experienced too. For us, it was flouting embargoes on reading and clandestinely devouring Masud Rana books, or bunking classes to watch a film, or to take a peek into adult magazines behind the bushes.
Today, that teenage rebelliousness wades into murkier waters because we do not know what the vast world of the internet, with countless dysfunctional sites, can lure the modern-day youth to.
Blue Whale starts like many other such challenges -- asking the player to sit on the roof, walk alone outside after midnight, watch horror films, etc. All these are relatively safe with a little bit of thrill thrown in.
However, the main danger begins when the initial challenges thrown at the player takes an interval to feature a chatting session with one of the game’s administrators.
This is when the slow indoctrination begins.
The player is slowly sucked into a whirlpool from which there isn’t an easy escape. The deep web is replete with games that promise excitement beyond the ordinary
Once a youngster’s inner phobia is discovered, the game’s next stages take sinister turns. If a child has dormant depression then this mental condition is exploited step-by-step.
By the time the player reaches the final stages, his/her mind is riddled with angst. The game becomes addictive near the later stages, when the administrator sometimes stops sending new challenges, intensifying the player’s craving to go to the next level.
Reportedly, a mentally disturbed young man was arrested in Russia for designing this macabre game, though arresting him does not put an end to it because administrators are possibly spread across the globe, silently vitiating young minds.
Blue Whale’s possible evolution
The court in Bangladesh has already issued a directive for banning the game. However, one feels that this perversion will perpetuate in others forms.
In the Blue Whale game, one certain challenge is to use a sharp object to draw a whale on the arm, which, so far, has been the first factor for detecting possible players.
There is a chance that detecting a global crackdown, the game’s administrator may change the name altogether to something totally different, like “pink butterfly” or “magic unicorn” or something else that sounds sugary and innocuous.
Instead of asking for a drawing on the arm, they may demand it on an area which is concealed most of the time. Or, they may simply dispense with this challenge, supplanting it with something that will make detection tough.
The reality is, in such games, the player is slowly sucked into a whirlpool from which there isn’t an easy escape.
The deep web is replete with games that promise excitement beyond the ordinary.
We have detected only one. And rational thought states, if there is one, that there has to be many others.
Close monitoring plus family openness
The government has banned the game, parents and the police are now on high alert, but this is just a palliative measure, not a panacea.
Unless our families shed the archaic credo where certain social issues are taboo, progress in dealing with the anxieties of the youth will be slow.
The consequences will be devastating, to say the least.
Adolescence is a period when the young mind is at its most vulnerable.
At the crossroads of adulthood, a million complex ideas collide, questions abound.
For the young, a bunch of irrational social restrictions only create a fertile platform for deviant ideas to germinate.
Some are inexorably pulled into dark obsessions while others develop illogical paranoia over perfectly normal matters.
The Blue Whale phenomenon is just one manifestation of a highly flawed social outlook where we deliberately sideline adolescent issues, turning a blind eye to the need to have open discussions with youngsters.
To ensure the young are not being exploited, their trust needs to be won first. Imposing absurd restrictions, cutting that privilege will only alienate them.
Unfortunately, the affluent plus educated families are at risk because in these settings exist a pernicious academic plus success-oriented pressure on young minds.
Teenagers become the vessels of their parents’ ferocious competition with others.
As for their sons or daughters, they sometimes neglect the fact that to make their parents happy, many children have strangulated dreams which made themselves happy.
When we kill a desire, we sow seeds of suppressed frustration -- something which dysfunctional games look for.
Blue Whale is a wake- up call.
Let’s try to understand the young and refrain from placing on them our likes and dislikes. It’s time to stop making an academically sparkling but psychologically haunted generation.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist working in the development sector.