The mind works in mysterious ways and there is something destructive about it. There is a new phenomenon that takes mind games to a whole new level, one which goes beyond the fiction in movies and books. What would feel like it was taken directly from the pages of one of Stephen King’s novels is actually an underground activity in the horrifying realms of the internet, something that even firewalls cannot protect us from. This is neither something you’ll find easily if you type in the Google search bar nor a blatant, in-your-face Facebook page. It’s got stronger roots than that, it is the “Blue Whale Challenge”. Those of us who’ve heard about it might have found it curious and also extremely confusing.
Prying on the vulnerability that comes with depression, this game controlled by a set of ‘curators’ mostly finds teenagers on social media to join the game warning them that once they sign up there’s no going back. We’re all familiar with trolls on the internet who ask for bank account details and addresses, but this is not that kind of a troll. This troll functions as your ticket to death. The game known as the Blue Whale Challenge draws on a strange metaphor for cetacean stranding seen among whales. This should be your first clue, but should the teenager accept it, they are offered a series of 50 challenges spread across 50 days which ultimately ends with them having to take their own lives.
This sinister game is said to have originated in Russia but has subsequently spread across the world, alarmingly fast with governments having no control over the admins of this platform. It’s like an odd game of whack-a-mole – when one site is shut down, others crop up underground. It’s not news to us that the internet is a garden full of weeds like this, but it’s the impact this game is having on vulnerable teens as young as 12 years old. While many may say quite confidently, “It’s the individual’s prerogative,” or, “How can they be stupid enough to fall for a game like this?”, it’s still hard for us to deny that the number of children around the world participating in the game is substantial. The manipulative psychology of this game is not something that can be easily understood by saying that young children are more susceptible to such games. An M. Tech. student at IIIT, Bangalore recently committed suicide and his death is being linked to the game.
The challenge is attributed to the ‘death group’ or ‘F57’ of the VKontake which has been found responsible for such suicides since 2015. In May 2017, Philipp Budeikin was arrested in Russia, as he was believed to be the founder of this deadly game. The psychology student admitted to inciting 16 schoolgirls to kill themselves and justified it by calling his victims, ‘biological waste’. Ilya Sidorov a postman in Moscow also admitted to being the creator of the game. The logic of this whole phenomenon is mind-boggling. When one looks at the list of 50 tasks, it is extremely hard to believe that young adults would be convinced by these challenges, some of which include; carving messages on your own body (and providing photographic proof of the same), watching psychedelic and scary videos all day long, isolating yourself from people and jumping off a building. It’s odd because if it did make one uncomfortable they would simply log out, or stop participating. For the game to have a real hold on the young adults it would have to be simply inescapable.
At the same time, what is even more disconcerting is the fact that it is not discoverable online, which would mean that the victims are either chosen or invited almost as they would be in a secret cult. We can tell ourselves that in situations like these it’s about self-control. But if one would put a link to the place where we could find this game, surely most of us would just want to see what it is or even to test our own self-control, would click on it not knowing about the repercussions.
If this is a real game that truly has taken many lives around the world and is not simply a farce like the “Charlie Charlie Challenge”, then we have a burning issue on our hands as a society where we’re playing games that convince people that their lives revolve around self-harm and death. Psychology is an extremely powerful tool and it gets more confusing when someone creates the “Pink Whale Challenge” as a happier opposition to the Blue Whale Challenge to attempt to undo the damage. A question that rises amidst the chaos is that, will the Blue Whale Challenge become a convenient excuse for governments and authorities to dismiss suicides, by calling it an unfortunate result of a very conveniently inaccessible game? And that is the part of this phenomenon that should worry us the most because if it does, the game will have to be kept alive as a conspiracy.
Why is it not enough to tell a teenager that they are more than enough and don’t need our validation? Why is it that validation has driven us to the point of insanity, a point of no return? The temptation to take one’s life is exceedingly strong these days and fierce nudges that come in the form of the Blue Whale Challenge just make it more obvious to us that there are too many unhappy people in this world and we are unable to do anything about it.