Lethal challenges

Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree writes about the intricate details linked to the ‘Blue Whale’ phenomenon

Blue whale game

Recently, a 15-year-old student of Class X asked his teacher, ‘Teacher, have you heard about this Blue Whale challenge? Try it, it’s really interesting!’. A few others in the class nodded in agreement with him.

This very student has admitted to his depression before. He had explained earlier that in gaming he finds a form of solace that keeps him going with his life.

This generation of teenagers who do not get the opportunity of playing real life games and sports much, has made online or computer gaming a part of their daily life, be it as a leisure activity or as a form of entertainment. The concerning factor about this gaming trend is that, not all the online games are to be trusted with the safety of children.

22523803_1272400176205638_1729984271_nPossibly one of the most notorious challenges among these is the ‘Blue Whale challenge’, also called the suicide game, by many people. Although claimed to be a hoax, this social network phenomenon was created and released in 2016 by Philip Budeikin, a 21-year-old student of psychology from Russia.

After he was arrested for provoking the deaths of 16 school-girls, Budeikin acknowledged during an interview after his arrest that his intention behind initiating this game was to cleanse the society off of ‘biological waste’. He further added that his victims were happy to die.

There may be a vague symbolism about the blue whale here, as the species beaches themselves prior to their death. In the case of the challenge, the player is the whale gradually moving towards his or her death.

It is believed by many that the challenge, which is similar to the Ice Bucket challenge and the Statue challenge, has claimed more than 130 lives in Russia alone. After wreaking havoc in many countries of the West, the challenge has been linked with six reported cases in India.

It is believed that the challenge has crept into our country as well. Some local media had reported last week about the death of 14-year-old Shorna, a student of grade eight from Holy Cross School, who took her life by hanging herself with the ceiling fan. It has been suspected that Shorna had died after playing this particular challenge.

A neighbour of the girl tells New Age Xtra, ‘I used to see her in the building. When in the elevator, she would never smile or talk with us. She was always sad. When her parents quarrelled, they could be heard a few buildings away. This may be the reason behind her depression.’

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This destructive challenge cannot be found online. There are of course, games that claim to be it, but these are not really the one. You cannot install it from a play store or apps store like the others.

The administrators or the curators of the game find their victims by themselves. They may be using online tracking systems to find out people active in the online gaming arena. It is believed that these curators study the characters of their potential participants before approaching them, they want to find out if they are vulnerable or gullible enough to be convinced to start playing the game.

School children who play online games, around the world and in our country too, are receiving invitations to play. Some, of course, terrified of dying, do not accept the invitation. But many are taking it as a challenge or as a rather interesting game to play.

Interested ones search for these curators online with different hashtags which eventually lead the curators to find them. Some say that friends and gaming acquaintances are also creating connections for others, which could be out of jealousy, as a result of cyber-bullying and for wanting them to be psychologically disturbed if not dead altogether.

22471566_1272400172872305_815540013_nSocial media sites like Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram have already taken precautions. They send a notice to anyone searching for this game on the platforms saying that this game could be fatal. Facebook and Tumblr offer psychological aid whereas Instagram sends a warning message. The glitch is, a user can always ignore these messages and carry on with the searches.

However the curator finds a player, once s/he starts playing, the curators create such an atmosphere for the players where they see no way to get out of it. Once the adventure is over and it starts becoming serious, they feel trapped.

The curators assign 50 tasks to the players over a time span of 50 days. Tasks like cutting F-57 on their hands with a sharp object, getting up at 4:20am in the morning, watching horror or disturbing videos daylong, listening to music recommended by the curators, cutting a whale on their skin, posting ‘#i_am_whale’ on social media, standing at the edge of a rooftop, cutting a lip, climbing a crane and finally, killing oneself by jumping off from a high building. The player must provide proof of having done the tasks honestly by sending them pictures or evidences otherwise, all the while the curators collect information about their life, whereabouts and figure out their psychology.

Players intending to leave the game, may reengage from an intrusive urge as well. If any player wants to stop, the curators start making serious threats, threats like killing the player if s/he doesn’t continue. At times, threats against their parents and loved ones are also thrown at them.

The game cannot be even uninstalled from the device once it is installed, it cannot be deleted. A student of standard eight, Anil (not his real name), expressed serious concern and fear regarding his elder brother, a fresher at a private university in Chittagong, who is living apart from the family, and recently started playing the game. As the boy wanted to stop, they made threats of hurting his sibling.

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Young people aged 12 to 22 are the main target group of this game, because this age group is the most vulnerable to manipulation and are the easiest to be convinced, to get addicted to the game.

What is then driving these teenagers to play this challenge, and eventually, to take their own precious lives?

In most cases, the victims are found out to be either depressed, didn’t have friends or anyone to spend time with, to share things with, disoriented familial relationships, no communication among parents, and the children being left alone to themselves with little or no creative and engaging activities.

It is imperative for parents, guardians or caregivers to be extra cautious about the children and look for unusual behaviours among them. Psychologists around the world pointed out the symptoms as the children start to withdraw themselves from family and social life, spend more time alone, become less interactive with family and friends, get lesser sleep, show more anger or gloom, may even develop an eating disorder or change in eating habit. It is recommendable for parents to take their children seriously when any such or other unusual behaviour is detected in them.

Guardians can do quite a lot to prevent their children from playing this deadly game. The foremost job is to communicate and understand.

Children feel restless when they feel miscomprehended, and resort to such games as a way out. Spending more time with them and not leaving the children unattended most of the time, is necessary.

It is but normal for both the parents to be busy, yet one should find an alternative caregiver when they are not around. Any Anthonia Baroi, psychological counselor and lecturer at BRAC University, says, ‘Parents should not be indifferent towards the children. Giving them less time along with providing them with smart technologies drive the young ones toward isolation.’

It is better not to give young children smartphones or allow internet access on their phones. The computer used by the children should be placed in a living room from where their internet activity can be monitored. Limiting their access to age-appropriate sites is also suggested to keep them away from harmful sites that can have a negative impact on their mind.

Most of all, the parents and guardians must maintain a healthy behaviour towards their children and among the adults. In most cases, disoriented family environment lead these children to depression and addiction.

Professor Md Mohammad Mahmudur Rahman, from the department of clinical psychology, University of Dhaka, says, ‘Parents must talk to them and let them open up. It is the parents’ responsibility to immunise them and motivate them to find meaning in life. If children have negative thoughts about life, the guardians should input a counter thought that would show positivity.’ As far as other caregivers are concerned, professor Rahman suggests that the school teachers can take a cautionary and communicative class with the students, which shall be helpful.

On being asked whether the game can be blocked in the country, chief technological officer Ehsanul Tanveer Rahman from NovoCom, says to New Age Xtra, ‘If the server IP address of this game can be traced, we can block the game country-wise. But manual users with such IP addresses cannot be found.’

Until the game becomes inaccessible, it still remains a serious threat for our children and young adults. General caution should be practiced in every family and on social grounds.