Technology

Should the government tell kids what to play online?

  • Nepal doesn’t have laws to ban games like PUBG, and legal experts say the move banning the massively popular game on Thursday is a slippery slope.
- ARPAN SHRESTHA, Kathmandu

Apr 13, 2019-

 

In a 2010 interview with New York Times, the late Steve Jobs responding to Nick Bilton’s question if his kids loved the iPad said, “They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

Coming from the Apple co-founder who gave the world some of the most innovative and iconic tech products, his response sent out shockwaves.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, too, in an interview last year with The Mirror talked about how there is a limited screen time for his children, which helps them get to sleep at a reasonable hour. “We didn’t give our kids cellphones until they were 14 and they complained other kids got them earlier,” the billionaire bookworm said.

In an open letter, Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg wrote after the birth of his second daughter in August 2017, he emphasised the importance to make time to go outside and play. He also hoped that his daughter will read Dr Seuss.

All three tech billionaires who have had so much impact in the way we use technology in our lives have but one single parenting advice on children’s use of technology — limit children’s exposure to technology.

The case for limiting children’s exposure to technology is not new. From the dawn of radio, telephone, cassette player and walkman to cable television, PCs, gaming consoles and the internet, parenting has never been easy.

In the age of super-fast smartphones, social networks, online gaming and constant connectivity, parenting now comes with an added challenge — digital parenting.

On Thursday, Nepal Telecommunication Authority directed all internet and mobile service providers to ban the massively popular PUBG, an online game which has a 16+ rating for strong violence.

The directive came following a public interest litigation hearing at the Kathmandu District Court on Wednesday when the Metropolitan Crime Division of Nepal Police seeking a ban on PUBG said that the game has a negative effect on the behaviour of children and youth and their studies. The permission to ban the game came the same day.

According to the division chief SSP Dhiraj Pratap Singh, the litigation was a result of complaints from parents, schools and school associations regarding the effect of the game on children. “We also held discussions with psychiatrists before filing a litigation  and seeking permission to ban the game,” Singh had earlier told the Post.

But advocate Babu Ram Aryal who specialises in cyber law says the ban is reflective of a hazardous and potentially slippery slope for democratic values and that the country actually lacks laws on banning content such as PUBG.

“This is an issue about good digital parenting and introducing policies on technology usage in schools. The ban is completely irrational and illogical and paves way for political control,” Aryal who is closely studying the PUBG ruckus said.

“The litigation which claims consultations with psychiatrists is also abstract and offers no details.”

On Thursday afternoon when PUBG,  the award winning  player versus player shooter game broke the Nepali internet sphere, it inspired a range of memes and exchange of opinions on social media as concerns over the game that it is addictive, and has negative effects on behaviour of children and youth and their studies were dealt with a stern government intervention in the form of an outright ban.

The ban, according to Singh makes the game illegal and anyone found playing the game will be arrested including internet and mobile service providers if they failed to comply with the directive, but he is unaware of how the young already know how to figure out a way to bypass the ban or other similar games that is available to download.

“We investigated for a month. Once the ban is implemented, they can’t play the game,” he said.

“If there are other similar games, we will deal with it.”

But no sooner had the ban been announced, critics were quick to point out that the gaming issue had more to do with teaching children how to have a healthy relationship with technology and that the regulation is pointless as there is a whole range of battle royal genre games to choose from beside PUBG.

“This [the ban] is unnecessary. I have been playing PUBG for some eight months now and do one or two rounds after work,” said software engineer Manas Shrestha. “Perhaps the government could introduce the six-hour per day limit that PUBG is testing in India if addiction is really a problem.”

The ban on PUBG too could easily be bypassed by using a virtual private network, which would instead raise online security issues according to marketing technologist Anil Ghimire.

“Nothing on the internet can be stopped. The understanding of the authorities on these issues is low. VPN would consume more bandwidth and we would be spending more money and time,” Ghimire, one of the widely followed tech blogger said.

“There are other socio-economic factors that is largely ignored. If the game was really dangerous, it wouldn’t have achieved its cult status across the world, would it? Young people smoking in cafes is more dangerous than that.”

On Friday, as this went to press, PUBG is still openly accessible and it is not clear how the ISPs will implement the ban but according to technology experts, PUBG will remain accessible unless the PUBG servers impose a restriction on virtual private network.

There is also bound to be an increase in traffic as young fans and adults, figure out a way to engage in PUBG or other online multiplayer battle royal games at the comfort of their bedrooms and in complete privacy.

But concerns that games such as PUBG is addictive and has negative effects on behaviour of children cannot be ruled out completely, according to child psychiatrist Dr Gunjan Dhwonju, who occasionally plays PUBG in his spare time.

“Children should not be exposed to violence in any form be it in television, movies or games,” said Dhwonju, who added that gaming for some children could actually be a way to cope with their anxious feelings.

“All this boils down to good parenting. Parents cannot shy away from their responsibilities to monitor their children’s activities. PUBG is a rated game. They should allocate screen time for their health and safety.”

Technology usage is bound to increase as technology takes big leaps. The gaming industry today is an internationally recognised sport and continues to evolve as tech companies offer cutting-edge digital experience and attract young fans.

“There was Farmville, Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Pokemon Go and so on. Banning something randomly is a knee-jerk reaction and does little to actually solve the problem,” Dhwonju said.

Published: 13-04-2019 08:36

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