We cannot believe we are writing this. As per media reports which surfaced yesterday the Rajkot Police Department has arrested 7 youths for playing the PUBG online video game. Clearly things have spiralled out of control.
A contested public debate
PUBG entered the mainstream lexicon in which the Hon'ble Prime Minister on January 29, 2019 while interacting with the concerns of a parent referred to it jovially. He clearly indicated in his remarks that, "technology is a problem -- as well as a solution" and suggested patience and guidance as an approach for encouraging children to use their time productively. Alongside these remarks advisories were being issued by Child and Adolescent welfare bodies in some states including Delhi and Gujarat that the game was addictive and could cause negative impacts on children even beyond their academic performance.
It is important to take a step back this moment and consider the wider academic literature on the subject. The top three cited meta studies on Google Scholar on the general impact of gaming on adolescents indicate varying outcomes. Some even suggest benefits such as development and improvement of hand eye co-ordination (remember the old Atari's?).
Yes, we may be completely wrong in our inferences, but believe that this may be a matter for parental caution, and social debate but certainly not penal law. We explain the dangerous consequences of approaching this as a legal issue below.
Prohibitory Order on playing PUBG
The Rajkot Police Commissioner has issued a prohibitory order under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 on March 6, 2019. A Section 144 order under the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 is usually made to prevent illegal physical assemblies a breach of peace. While large numbers of online gamers do congregate and spend long hours in front of their smartphones or gaming consoles much to the annoyance of their friends and family such assemblies are rarely unlawful. It would be a stretch to call such activities as threatening public order.
Hence, we were surprised when a Kumar Manish posted this tweet:
Today, we have been able to have a rough translation prepared in English thanks to the help offered by Manan Bhatt.
From reading the prohibitory order, it is reasonable to infer that as per press reports, 7 youths ranging from the ages of 19 to 26 have been arrested for the breach of this prohibitory order. At this point we found ourselves bewildered and taken aback as this is seemingly a grave attack on personal liberty. We believe as the Hon'ble Prime Minister noted in his conversation that concerns on online gaming are better handled with the care and affection of a parent and teachers. Certainly not by creating fear of penal law, through prohibitory orders issued by the police and subsequent arrests. This is not only abhorrent to sensibility but offends our core fundamental rights as it lacks rationality and the reasonableness necessary in any restriction imposed by the State.
In the coming days we will be sourcing and authenticating information and taking steps including talking to a legal team based out of Gujarat. We hope to address this issue responsibly and meanwhile urge the Gujarat government to look into this matter urgently. We appeal to them -- jailing people should not be a game.
- United News of India, Police Nab 7 youths in Rajkot for playing PUBG online game (Mar. 13, 2019).
- Rough English Translation of Notification under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 issued by the Commissioner of Police, Rajkot (Mar. 6, 2019).