By Kiran Butt
LAHORE, Pakistan (AA) – Saad*, 18, was found hanging from a ceiling fan at his residence in southwestern Pakistan earlier this month.
His brother says the teenager committed suicide after missing a task on a famous online video game.
Over the next few days, three other youths reportedly committed suicide across the country for the same reason, triggering a debate on the psychological impact of the online games.
Following the incidents, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), a state-run regulatory authority, which was already pressured by a series of complaints from parents, slapped a ban on several online games. But the ban was quickly lifted as activists argued this was an attack on freedom of expression.
"I cannot face people to tell them why my brother did that," he told Anadolu Agency.
"The whole family, and even his friends are in a state of shock. We never expected that kind of extreme step from a brilliant boy like him," he said.
Investigators are trying to unlock the teenager's social media and email accounts in an attempt to ascertain circumstances that propelled him to take his own life.
"These types of violent games must be banned forever to save our children's lives. They are simply igniting violence among our youths," he said.
– Psychological impacts
The Pakistani authority has also issued a final warning to TikTok, a China-based video creator application.
Arthur Cassidy, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society, said that cases of growing attachment to gaming devices among children, which subsequently leads to suicide or self-harm, are on the rise across the world.
"Winning always attracts the children which manipulates them. The manufacturers of video games surely know how to make these apps addictive," Cassidy told Anadolu Agency.
The World Health Organization has also classified the phenomenon as gaming disorder.
PTA spokesman Khurram Mehran said the decision to block the online games was taken after the authority received a number of complaints from different segments of the society against "immoral, obscene, and vulgar content on these social media platforms".
"The authority is not in the favor of blocking these platforms but we are abiding by the law to take any action against the content, which violates the community guidelines," Mehran said.
– Booming industry
Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry was quick to jump into the fray urging the courts and the PTA to "stay away from moral policing and [a] ban approach".
"Such bans on internet-based apps will destroy Pakistan's tech industry and development of technology," he said in a tweet.
Usama Khilji, a social media activist, said: "What the government needs to do is provide a conducive environment for e-sports in Pakistan, which is a booming global industry and Pakistan has a lot of exceptional talent of gamers."
The PTA has reported a 15% increase in internet usage since the government imposed a nationwide lockdown in March in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
"People are watching online content more than ever as they have nothing to do during the lockdown. Online gaming platforms are even turning into international level tournaments with huge investments," the PTA spokesman said.
Local e-sports organizers see the ban as a threat to the country's fledgling e-sports industry.
Hasnain Ali, founder of E-sports Pakistan, an online gaming platform, said: "We have organized eight tournaments to date of online gaming and each tournament costs a total of 2.5 million rupees [$15,000] and the highest prize which a person won was 500,000 rupees [$3,000]."
"Banning these apps will simply destroy the already fragile tech industry. Many students play these tournaments and even bear their education expense with this," Ali told Anadolu Agency.
This is not the first time social media applications have been banned in Pakistan. YouTube was blocked in Pakistan in 2008 for three years.
According to a US-based market intelligence firm Sensor Tower, TikTok was the second most downloaded app in Pakistan in 2019 with 16.3 million downloads between Jan. 1 and Nov. 16.
Sadaf Khan, co-founder of Media Matters for Democracy, said: "Before banning these social media applications government should take this into consideration that not only individuals are making money from it but these are big contributors to the digital economy."
* Name changed to protect privacy