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Taming The Blue Whale

Posted by Dr. Vani Iyer in Mental Health
August 21, 2017

While a documentary on whale hunting flashed our screens, my older friend shifted her focus elsewhere. She rushed to her son’s room. Seconds later, over a hundred discs fell off his study table. There were over a dozen pen drives too! Switching on the computer, she inserted them one by one. There was a sigh of relief each time she inserted a CD. However, I really didn’t know what she was searching for. I stood beside her like a puppy awaiting the orders of her master.

“I knew my son will not do this!” she spoke after the entire process was complete.

“Where did he get all these storage devices from?” I asked.

“Oh! You must thank Mr Engineer, his proud father. Each time he shows his report card, his father gifts him one. Some are really expensive, you know. He studies well to get this,” she responded.

“Honestly, what were you searching for all this while, aunty?” I asked.

She said, “Oh! It’s that Blue Whale Game. I am really afraid of it after reading newspapers on suicides. Reading all of it, I felt that some of the ‘symptoms’ prior to suicide matched with what my son has been doing off late. I haven’t entered his room in the last three years. His dad has no time for all that!”

I realized that the element of pride that usually appears on her face at the mention of her husband or son has vanished.

“Guess what, I have stopped using fish-based dishes in our menu. What if it makes him think of taking up that challenge? He is a very adventurous chap,” she continued.

“Aunty, in that case, you must check his phone too,” I replied out of concern.

“But, I don’t know how to operate a smart phone. He doesn’t keep his phone home. I have not even seen his new iPhone that was purchased last month when he completed Class 10 with CGPA 10.0,” she said.

“All right, I guess you must talk to uncle then. Few people take up the challenge to defeat its objectives and end up being victims later! Aunty, you must observe him. I am telling you because I have a brother too! of his age and I know what runs in their minds”.

Following this, I explained to her all that I know about the man-eater Blue Whale which has entered our cyberspace recently. I could feel her sense of guilt at the fact that she was uneducated and hence, had no say in any decision relating to the household.

“Aunty, why don’t you enrol yourself in a computer course in the city? You will be able to understand and deal with these issues in a better way. Why do you think the government wants us to be e-literate? As a mother, it will help you in raising your child”.

In the days that followed, attempts were made to tame the Whale and the most well-known method ‘ban the challenge’ was applied as a response to this concern. We are experts in elimination, we ‘eliminate or ban’ anything that hurts us. That’s the easiest solution. Isn’t it?

The second most favoured choice is ‘awareness’. We ensure that the whole world is aware of the side-effects of this challenge. Thanks to the far and wide reach of social media, it’s no more a cumbersome task.

What next?

We await another challenge that will take away a few more innocent lives. At least, this is how we tackle most of our problems.

As I left my friend’s place, I had several questions in my mind. Some of those were:

  1. Why does a school-going student need an iPhone?
  2. Why are rewards for achievements in school life provided in the form of game CDs?
  3. Why don’t parents enter their child’s study room?
  4. Why is it that we wait for a Blue Whale threat to realize the dangers of online games?
  5. If the Blue Whale takes a life, few months later, is it because of lack of awareness or the ineffectiveness of the ban? Who will take the blame?
  6. The Blue Whale is just a name. How many games like this are silently taking the lives of our innocent children and adults too?

My confused mind stumbled on the first page of a newspaper to find a child dressed up as an old man with a phone campaigning for a flash sale of a popular e-commerce site. Commercials in general, are mirrors to what our society wants. This is with special reference to luring our ‘demographic dividends’ to the products associated with the advertisements.

I believe that dealing with challenges like these must be a long-term goal because we really have no clue of the next move of the creators of such games. In this light, it is important to realize why we never had such problems in the past. More than the absence of internet, there were several engagements for kids until late 90s. From this perspective, the following long-term measures can be starting points to counter-attack these challenges.

  1. Revive our playgrounds and undertake challenges like ‘Gift-a-Chess-Board’ or ‘Gift-a-Football’ or ‘Gift-a-Tennis-Racket’ as a reward for academic achievements. Engage children in taking up games off-the-screen.
  2. Revive our library at home. Our kids have forgotten them.
  3. Please talk. Conversations always help. Show your love by spending time with your loved ones.
  4. Most importantly, train children to hear ‘No’ to anything that is more likely to do harm than good.

As I type this, my friend’s son who is right next to me talks about a ‘Pink Whale Challenge’  that makes its players do good deeds to the society.