In this post, Remya Ann Mathew writes about children as consumers of technology by discussing the example of the online multiplayer battle game, PUBG.
The internet and the way children use it has been discussed as a phenomenon that has emerged in the past few decades. There have been arguments about how the internet can be seen as a space where children exercise autonomy as they explore this space on their own apart from school and home. It needs to be recognized that the internet is no longer the domain of the privileged few with the coming of mobile technology. However, the children who use it come from varying backgrounds and there are inequalities in their access to and the way children use it.
In trying to understand internet usage, works such as those by Daniel Miller (2016) is relevant. He has sought to study social networking sites within various countries by taking into consideration how their real-life impacted the virtual and vice versa. It is important to take note of how the virtual has an impact on the actual world and therefore it needs to be studied trying to link the two and understand the points of rupture.
The intermeshing of the real and the virtual happen not just in social networking sites but also while playing games online. There are also works such as that of Crawford et al (2011) that recognize online games as an important aspect of the everyday lives of people. They argue that online games do not just have economic repercussions but also social and cultural significance outside of the game. In this piece, I attempt to understand how the popular game PUBG impacts social interaction among children.
PUBG or Player Unknown’s Battleground is a game that can be played on mobiles, personal computers, and also gaming consoles. While the desktop version of the game needs to be bought with money, the mobile version of the game is free. This has resulted in a large number of people opting to play the game. The game is part of the battle royale genre and is such that the players have to collect supplies, ammunitions, and kill the other players in order to survive on a map that is constantly shrinking. The person who lasts the longest is rewarded the ‘chicken dinner’ (Statesman, 2019).
The desktop version of PUBG was launched by a South Korean company and the mobile versions of PUBG mobile and PUBG Lite were coded by a Chinese firm. So both South Korean company Bluehole and Chinese company Tencent share profits from the sale of the game. On 2nd September 2020, the government of India has banned the game. This has led to many gamers left searching for other similar games and await for the ban to be over. PUBG is also trying to make a comeback in India as there is a huge market in India for the game (Ranjana. 2020).
With the coming of the mobile phones and also being confined to their houses due to the pandemic; there was increased usage of this game. There was pressure from various interest groups to ban this game as those who played it showed an addictive tendency to the game. There have been cases where children have committed suicide or behaved violently towards their family members when they could no longer play the game.
The addictive nature of the game PUBG, the nature to play more, to win more becomes part of the psyche of the game. The game is also violent and the sole purpose of the game is a fight for survival ensuring that others are killed. The competition to survive becomes central to the game and the method seems to be to destroy others. While this can lead to multiple observations about the negative sides of this game, it can be said that this is only a game and should be taken in the spirit of a game. Games of this kind such as racing games, games that glorify war, etc have been around for quite some time. However, this game has captured the public imagination and has led to many youngsters playing the game. The game can be downloaded on a smartphone without paying money. Smartphones are easily made available across different sections. This is one of the reasons it has become so popular. In this article, I look at some characteristics of online games, taking the example of PUBG.
The nature of the PUBG game is such that in India, there were several children playing this game without their parent’s knowledge. Across different sections of societies, parents do not have the knowledge or wherewithal to handle their children’s online usage. Parents and teachers worry (Wasko, 2010) about navigating the use of technology as there is no guidance on what is valuable or not for their children. However, new possibilities are emerging in family interactions as they interact with technology which needs to be explored.
It is no longer tenable to think of gaming as something restricted to a laptop or a mobile phone. There can be networks across different parts of the world. There is also an increasing connection that can be made between the online and the offline. Interaction with parents and real-life friends could be limited and can take negative forms when they are not allowed to play this game. The real and the online life becomes intertwined. Children and parents are not used to this and are learning to adapt to this new situation without any prepared roadmaps for such a scenario.
One of the characteristics of the game is its commercialization. The desktop version of the game is bought with money and there can be in-game purchases even in the mobile version. There has been an incident reported in the news about a teen who used his father’s savings of up to 16 Lakhs for the purpose of the game. A scenario where children linger between knowing certain things and yet have no responsibilities means that ‘money’ becomes something that can be squandered without attributing value to it.
While most people use this game for entertainment purposes, for others, the game becomes a form of ‘work’. It is possible for companies to hold tournaments for PUBG gamers leading to competitions and even prize money of up to one crore. The players can talk online with other gamers, make friends and even conduct transactions involving real or virtual assets. There were gamers who created content on YouTube and other social media platforms. This content is related to PUBG game commentaries and tutorials. In this way, they could earn by monetizing their channels with ads and earn millions of subscribers.
This method of creating money by uploading content on the game to social media platforms is something relatively new to the millennial generation. This means that children aspire to create money, to become famous through the game when they come to know about certain people who have been able to achieve this by playing the game. The very idea that there is a fan base for this kind of game stems from the mobile technology that enables people to play the game, to view ideas of other gamers, and look at those who have been successful in this game.
There is also advertising that is built into the mobile version of the game where there are rewards upon watching certain videos with advertisements. It is possible to obtain information about consumers, including data about children who use these websites. Wastko (2010) argues how it is ‘important to ask who is in control’ and also to take note of the ideas, values, and meanings that are represented in these games.
An increasing number of children are playing this game in India especially in urban areas. It needs to be remembered that children being allowed to play games requiring their free time and also in some cases money, is a relatively new phenomenon. Zelizer (1985) shows how the ‘priceless child’ has developed in the Western context. In India, this remains true of the urban middle class who ensure that their children only mingle with certain sets of people and live protected lives. This is so even amid poverty. However, the ubiquity of smartphones and the mobile version of the game has meant that an increasing number of children and youth have access to this form of environment.
Another characteristic of the game is the possibility of social interaction with real people within the game itself. On one side real-time friends can chat with each other as they play forming teams and compete with each other. On the other hand, people can play against strangers and chat with strangers with the common interest factor being playing the game. Social interaction becomes centered on the game. It is also possible to remain anonymous within the game.
Crawford et al (2011) suggest that ‘gaming and internet are socially and culturally created and located’. They argue how this usage will have consequences beyond online worlds. Relationships formed online can extend to the real world and the relationships formed offline can be taken online. They argue how the gamers bring with them to the game the social markers they carry in the real world.
Through looking at PUBG as a popular online game played by children, we have seen the impact it has on the family and the novel methods that each family must develop as they interact with this technology.
This article saw the commercial nature of the game and how it extends even to children. It is necessary to understand the game within the webs of real money. The article looked at the social nature of the game and thus the porous boundaries between online and offline worlds. The game has a huge base in India and it seems that the game would make a comeback maybe with one of the investors being Indian. In India, where most people use the mobile version of the game, there needs to be a cautious approach as there is no real roadmap on how to navigate such a scenario. This cannot be left merely to the parents or the teachers, but should also involve the government and private entities.
Crawford et al. 2011. The Social and Cultural Significance of online gaming. In Crawford et al. 2011 Online Gaming in Context: The Social and Cultural Significance of online gaming. Routledge. London.
Danby et al. 2018. Digital Childhoods: Technologies and Children’s Everyday Lives. Springer. Singapore
Miller, Daniel et al. 2016. How the world changed Social Media. UCL Press. London
Ranjana, Eshwar. 4 September 2020. Is PUBG a Chinese Game? The Answer is Complicated. Here’s Why https://www.thequint.com/tech-and-auto/is-pubg-chinese-or-korean-theories-over-games-origin-ownership-ban-india-china-tensions-explained#read-more Accessed on 22 December 2020
SNS Web, New Delhi, January 30, 2019 What is PUBG — the addictive online game everyone is talking about. https://www.thestatesman.com/what-is/what-is-pubg-the-addictive-online-game-everyone-is-talking-about-1502728696.html Accessed on 22 December 2020
Wasko, Janet. 2010. Children’s Virtual Worlds: The Latest Commercialization of Children’s Culture. In Buckingham, David and Tingstad, Vebjorg. Childhood and Consumer Culture. Palgrave Macmillan. London
Zelizer. 1985. Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children. Basic Books. New York.
Hi! I am Remya Ann Mathew, a PhD student in the department of Sociology, University of Delhi. Some of my interests include childhood studies, urban studies and subaltern studies. I can be contacted at email@example.com.