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  • Nishi Upadhyay

The Big ‘Ban’ Theory

On 2 September, the Indian government banned the popular video game PUBG along with 117 other mobile apps.  “Are you upset because PubG got banned? You should go to Pakistan.”  “You are anti-national.”  “How can you be concerned about a video game when our soldiers are dying on the border?”  Said the cacophony of Indian media and “Prime Time” shouting matches on the eve of these bans. 

But is this ban born out of a feeling of patriotism and prevention from security threats, or is it just another claptrap to distract Indian citizens from real issues? The fundamental question is the troubling moral dilemma— is it correct for the Indian government to ban products from a particular host nation as an economic strike or is it unethical in light of the norms of our globalised world?

The proponents of the ban have some simple arguments. The addictive nature of the game is bound to harm the mental and physical health of the player. The ‘Blue Whale’ game and news of players dying while playing PUBG have been instrumental in shaping this narrative. Next, the economic impact of banning PUBG and 117 other Chinese apps. This is pegged to unleash an economic turmoil in Chinese IT sector, provided that India is one of the largest markets, and a blanket ban will result in widespread losses. Finally, these 100+ apps were a potential threat to India’s security as they allegedly had access to data of many users, including sensitive data. But another reason that is often not cited is misplaced anger. With China and India being at loggerheads with each other due to the border feud, the Indian populace has developed a resentment towards China and Chinese products. This means that we will do whatever to ‘hurt’ China, irrespective of the effectiveness of the action. To draw an analogy, it is like screaming to yourself in anger or throwing your made-in-China 44 inches, full HD TV out of the fifth-floor window of your building.

Contrary to that, the globalists and rationals, also provide some reasonable arguments.

Firstly, PUBG does not store any sensitive data; it only has access to the player’s username, country and game progress. Moreover, PUBG has claimed that the servers that hold information of Indian users are located in India and not in China. Thus the argument that PUBG transfers its data to China is shockingly unaware and must not be given the authority to pass on half-baked facts. Further, the game was developed by an Irishman and is owned by a Korean company called Blue Hole. TENCENT, a Chinese company and the primary target of the Indian wrath, only owns 10% of the company’s shares. After the ban, TENCENT only lost 2% in its shares. Thus, the economic doom argument stands on wobbly ground.

Moreover, it is Korean Blue Hole and Indian gamers that emerge as losers from this policy decision. PUBG started a massive revolution of gaming and streaming as a career in India; they not only held many high-budget gaming competitions but have also supported and sponsored a lot of streamers. PUBG is in turn responsible for pumping money into the Indian gaming industry and creating employment. This reality of the gaming industry begs another question and reflects something completely different.

Here we must also pay heed to the painful crystal clear fact that banning a product doesn’t magically solve the problem, rather often makes it worse and feeds black marketing. Let us take the example of the USA and their drug ban. The ban resulted in deaths of thousands of people and did very little good as drug supply didn’t stop but just became more brutal and conspicuous. Much to the contrary, Switzerland devoted its resources to helping the addict recover instead of cutting the supply lines. In both of the cases, the supply is being cut despite very high demand, resulting in illegal industries. Although it is fallacious to draw a parallel between drugs and games, the primary act of banning and the consequences remain the same. Any kind of ban leads to psychological reactance. So the natural reaction is to look for alternate modes to regain freedom, often resulting in flouting rules. This is human psychology. People will eventually find ways to fill the vacuum PUBG has left, be it through Call of Duty, Fortnite or pseudo-patriotic desi version Fau-G. The fact that the nationalists have launched an Indian version called “Fau-G”, itself stands contrary to their argument of preventing youth from indulging into addictive and self-harming games.

Government intervention in solving problems that require individual action and responsibility is unnecessary. Furthermore, the ‘ban’ culture as a quick fix to everything is extremely authoritative. This leads us to the question- shouldn’t the affairs of individuals be dealt at an individual level without state intervention? Modern political thought is woven around the idea of individual agency and no state intervention in particular matters. Especially governments like the Indian government which can’t even manage their own responsibilities properly—and have the enormous confidence to tell individuals what and what not they can do. Restrictions are a far better democratic alternative to banning. For example, PUBG Incorporated puts limits on the number of hours a player can play in a day. The ultimate responsibility lies on the individuals, not the government. We need to separate the state from the individual, because as it has become abundantly clear when it interferes it messes up.

Finally, the most depressing aspect of this action—lack of resistance and criticism. Not because people don’t find anything wrong with it, but rather because public figures like gamers and online streamers, who are actually affected by this decision are silent. Since the move came under the garb of national interest, the opposition is also stifled in the name of ‘national interest.’

The actual explanation is relatively simple; old government officials have some stiff beliefs on how an individual should live. They are using their power to enforce it at the expense of democracy, and it’s self-evident by the fact that the game was banned in Gujarat (illegal to play in public places), although the reason wasn’t a security threat. In simple words, there are obviously some presuppositions about the gaming culture that led the higher officials to take this decision and use its partnership with the Chinese company as a reason. For most people banning pubg is a bold masterstroke. At the end of the day, it’s just an age-old gimmick to make the gullible citizenry feel nice and distract it from real issues.

Today in a move to reverse Indian government’s decision, PUBG officially announced that it is severing ties with TENCENT in India. Further, TENCENT no longer has the right to publish the mobile version of the app, and the Korean parent company will retain these. The question now is, will the Indian government undo the ban? If yes, the politically rife battleground surrounding the issue goes stale, and possible Indian alternatives to the game will fail at market capture. If no, then the question of the motive of banning in the first place will be raised, was it a masterstroke to cause damage to the Chinese economy or a cloaked way of controlling citizens? In the end, the Big ‘Ban’ Theory for the Indian audience seems to be cleverly designed to distract us from the larger reality. In the end, Indian politics is no different from a game, one being played by fools and distracted kids, except the distracted kid here, is the average Indian voter.

By Nishi Upadhyay

The featured image appeared in on 25 May 2020.


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