Nepal | November 13, 2019

Curfew on PUBG: Better than banning

Biranchi Poudyal

Banning seems like a brutally imposed undemocratic move on the people. Instead the government should think of some limitation or specific restriction mechanism to control excessive gaming among the targeted group

Illustration: Ratna Sagar Shrestha/THT

The recent development of the smartphone culture has made mobile gaming one of the default leisure time activities across all age groups. Unfortunately, like many other addictive habits, some games turn out to be the cause of negative life consequences, like an impaired social relationship, decrease in professional or academic performance and sleeping/eating disorders. Due to such outcomes, problematic games nowadays have come under medical consideration as it’s included in Section III of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders under the name of Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD).

Lately, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) has become the most popular online multiplayer game in Nepal, and because of its violent content, there have been debates over whether this game should or shouldn’t be allowed for kids. Given that PUBG Mobile is essentially free on both Android and iOS, which are easily accessible for kids these days, many teenagers indulge in such gaming.

Recently, the government ordered a ban on PUBG, but a team of lawyers filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) at the Supreme Court against the government decision. The PIL was based on the ground that the permission issued by the Kathmandu District Court at the request of the Metropolitan Police Crime Division (MPCD) was clear violation of the fundamental rights of the people to use resources in a democratic country.

On top of that, there are loads of online posts from the public side against the government ban. And the Supreme Court has issued an interim order in the name of the government authorities not to implement the Kathmandu District Court’s permission to ban PUBG.

In this context, I think the government should consider both sides and find a middle way to balance the issue. Banning seems like a brutally imposed undemocratic move on the people. Instead the government should think of some limitation or specific restriction mechanism to control excessive gaming among the targeted group.

In view of the addictive potential of PUBG and increased gaming time, one policy solution for Nepal could be: limiting gaming availability by using a protection system like data cap. A data cap refers to a bandwidth limitation imposed on transfer of data over a specific network, usually imposed by the ISPs to limit customers’ usage of their provided data.

In the case of PUBG, it uses 40mb data per hour, and if the internet service providers were to offer a limited period for specific games, the playing hours can be controlled. With data being controlled and under limitation, the children will not be able to indulge heavily in online gaming. If children are provided with a limited time frame to enjoy such games, there will be less chance of addiction on a large scale. So either by forced government policy or by implementing a system like ‘selective shutdown’, Nepal can limit the children’s time spent on online gaming.

For more alternatives, our government can learn from restriction initiations adopted by other countries and develop a similar control mechanism accordingly. In 2011, the South Korean government forwarded the “Selective Shutdown Policy” to curb gaming addiction by limiting teen’s access to online gaming. This policy gives the right to the guardians to request the ISPs to prevent gaming access for certain hours. Similarly, in 2003, the Thai government imposed curfew on online gaming, requiring all game servers to be blocked between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Similar law was executed in Vietnam, and in China, the government is looking for ways to impose an age restriction on gaming through a face recognition system.

Nepal seems to be at a crossroads when it comes to the future of the internet and technology. Rapid development and availability of tech gadgets have raised some practical challenges that we need to collectively address as a society before it’s too late. It depends on our internet law and digital culture whether to let our future generation to use technology for better or for worse. It’s also important that general cultural factors and changes are taken into consideration when planning policy actions.

Just banning is not a rational solution, it’s also vital to consider the public response when planning any actions. Apart from legal issues, we need to see the practical aspect of any policy. The current initiation to ban PUBG has become a matter of public dissatisfaction and mockery.

Nepal is now running against time as we live in an entirely tech-based world where our morning tea begins with twitter feeds. Unlike decades ago, those things that were new to us have now become part of normal life. PUBG today is not just a game in Nepal, it’s a rampant phenomenon. Thousands of users’ response after news of its ban has already proven this fact. Besides, just playing PUBG does not implant violent behaviour in children or disturb their academic performance. Such negative consequences occur only when they overdo it or become an addict.

Metaphorically, the decision of the government was similar to imposing a ban on import-export to control smuggling. So the government policy should be directed at curbing gaming addiction, not restricting citizens from playing the game.

Poudyal is a researcher at Global Initiative for Vivid Empowerment (GIVE), a Kathmandu based NGO

A version of this article appears in print on April 25, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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