Previously published in Radiance Viewsweekly
This article looks at the attempts of the government to regulate the eSports and online gaming industry. Will it address the question of gambling, addiction and violence? Presently, the industry seems happy with the rules framed by the government but many say there is a long way to go. The debate about whether online games are based on skill or chance is intertwined with its regulation and it is important to address the various apprehensions and fears surrounding online gaming that are sapping the energies of our youth on an enormous scale. The issue also needs to be analysed through a moral prism and not merely its commercial utility. ESports and online gaming would then need an overhaul and not mere regulation.
The online mobile gaming industry in India was worth $1.5 billion (Rs 12,000 crores) in 2022 and it is expected to grow to $5 billion (Rs 40,000 crore) by 2025. According to most surveys, online gamers spend about one to two hours daily playing their favorite games. While gaming refers to all video games played on various devices like mobiles, PCs, and PlayStations, eSports are online games that are played competitively in the form of tournaments and leagues. Online card games like Rummy and Poker are categorized under gaming and not eSports. In 2021, India had around 6 lakh eSports players and a turnover of Rs 970 crores which is expected to grow at a rate of almost 30% per year. According to industry experts, India’s online gambling industry is as large as $60 billion (Rs 4 lakh 80 thousand crores) but most of it runs through illegal networks. Given the enormity of the time and money involved in this industry, calls for regulation were natural and the government took applicable steps in that direction.
A seven-member inter-ministerial taskforce suggested that online gaming be regulated by the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) while eSports should be overseen by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS). MeitY has proposed to regulate online gaming by imposing due diligence requirements including a self-regulatory body, a mechanism for grievance redressal, and a mandatory KYC process for users. These proposals shall be incorporated as amendments in the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. The government is keen to facilitate and encourage the online gaming and eSports industry as it views it as part of the startup ecosystem and an important component of the goal of a trillion-dollar economy. The industry has generally welcomed the move for regulation as it paves the way for greater clarity over the rules of the game and the first point of contact. This is expected to aid innovation and inhibit illegal activities. However, there exist many challenges and hazards to overcome in the eSports, online gaming world. Much to its chagrin, they have become inextricably linked with the realm of gambling. There are several reports of people losing large sums of money while wagering (betting) during online games. Numerous incidents of people committing suicide have also appeared in the media. Not accounted for is the enormous valuable time spent by our youth on these activities in the name of sports and recreation. Addiction to eSports and online gaming and the associated health and safety hazards are rarely highlighted by our business-friendly media.
If there is one book that every parent should read then it is “PlayStation Nation” by Olivia and Kurt Burner. It chronicles the saga of how we are losing some of our brightest young minds to the addiction to video games. The book quotes UCLA psychiatrist Carole Lieberman to understand the addictive nature of gaming, who says, “So the brain not only is seeing images and getting stimulated, but it’s also practicing a response. When the person is exposed to these violent media stimuli and it excites the psycho-neurological receptors, it causes the person to feel this excitement, to feel a kind of high – and then to be addicted to whatever was giving him the high.” The book reveals that a game developer disclosed, “video games are all about the dynamics of adrenaline and the easiest way to spike someone’s adrenaline is to make him think he is going to die.” Some of the questions posed in the book to parents are:
1) does your child play almost every day.
2) Does your child play for long periods (3 – 4 hours at a time)
3) Does your child play for excitement?
4) Does your child get restless and irritable if he/she can’t play?
5) Does your child sacrifice social and sporting activities to play?
6) Does your child play instead of doing homework?
7) Does your child seem to be losing interest in real-life activities? If the answer is yes to more than four questions, then the parents should be concerned about their child.
An article in the Harvard Health Publishing portal run by the Harvard Medical School says that excessive online gaming and eSports lead to overuse injuries (due to repeated use of muscles and tendons) that may become permanent if they remain untreated. “Gamers thumb” occurs when tendons that move the thumb become inflamed. Gaming leads to obesity in teens because of reduced physical activity and increased food intake. It is reported that the increased food intake is because the signals that indicate satiety (fullness) get impaired or the mental stress in gaming triggers the reward centers that demand more food. Vision problems are common in gamers. Eyestrain, headaches, poor concentration and even occasional seizures are common among those playing these online games and sports for long hours. Some of the common negative effects of online gaming are poor sleep hygiene, exhaustion, depression, suicidal thoughts, social anxiety, poor emotional regulation and interpersonal conflict.
Some of the most popular online games are full of violence. Although empirical studies rule out any relation between gaming and real-life aggression and violence, the moral aspect of the decriminalizing effect related to violence is not measured. Research has indicated that there exists a strong correlation between exposure to gaming and sexist attitude to women. The most popular games depict women as passive, kidnapped princesses to be rescued or sex objects to win and use. They are portrayed in a sexualized manner and scantily clad. A New York Times report in 2019 talked about how “Video Games and Online Chats are Hunting Grounds for Sexual Predators” and criminals making virtual connections through gaming and social media platforms. The global casinos and online gambling industry is worth $279 billion (Rs 22 lakh crores) in 2023. The number of gambling addicts, destroyed homes, incomes and lives are too large to contemplate. The cost of the loss of productive hours to these games of skill and chance will easily run into trillions of dollars. The problem with our times is that people obsess about the spectacle and ignore its function. Such blatant waste of time and resources is justified in the name of personal freedom, innovation and an “industry supporting the economy”. The Quran instructs the Prophet ﷺ that if he is asked about intoxicants and gambling, he should – “Say, “There is great evil in both, as well as some benefit for people – but the evil outweighs the benefit” (2:219). In another verse (5:90), the Quran says that gambling is the handiwork of Satan. Online gaming, eSports and gambling requires a complete overhaul and not mere regulation. A genuine national debate could be a first step in assessing its pros and cons.
Gaming and Gambling
- The eSports and online gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry that has taken the world by storm with millions of our youth addicted to it
- The government of India welcomes the industry but is trying to regulate it in a bid to control some of its apparent problems
- Gaming is problematic on many counts – violence, sexism, addiction, health hazards, safety concerns, depression, anti-social behavior and psychological problems
- Online gambling as games of chance is also spreading fast & sapping the energies of our youth
- The challenge of online gaming should be addressed by looking at it through a moral prism. This may require its complete overhaul.