"The exclusivity and borderline anti-societal existence gave PUBG inhabitants a sense of community, identity, tribal loyalty," writes Anil Nair.
While I am not a great fan of multiplayer battle games, I confess that I was intrigued by the growing craze for PUBG. I’ve even come close to downloading it a few times, either out of curiosity, or to check some of the brand integrations in this pop culture phenomenon.
Although I never got down to participating in the virtual mercenary world, I did expect the inevitable take-down of PUBG in the light of the current geopolitical storm with our neighbour.
What was unexpected was the social slipstream that followed the decision of the government. Although I do not have access to a nationwide sentiment barometer, I can definitely feel the effect that this has had (perhaps more than the ban of another popular Chinese app – TikTok).
To understand this brouhaha better I turned to my resident expert on the subject - my teenage neighbour whose wisdom belies his years. He gave me a crash course on gaming in general, and PUBG in particular.
I listened to him in awe as he rattled off what sounded like near military acronyms; FPS, RPG, MMORPG, RTS & MOBA. The first thing that struck me was the presence of an underground sub-culture, a parallel universe completely alien to the older generation. This exclusivity and borderline anti-societal existence gave PUBG inhabitants a sense of community, identity and tribal loyalty.
Gaming has no geographies or boundaries; it is truly democratic and all that matters is one’s individual talent and the ability to survive and play another day. PUBG was one such game that allowed one to connect, converse and play with people from around the world any time of the day or night. The perfect refuge for any shy teenager with social adjustment issues.
My young neighbour spoke about the addiction and the peer pressure. The sheer lure of winning. The euphoric sounds of victory and the badges of performance egging one on to play, as if one were at a casino slot machine.
He then nodded to the politics behind the ban, acknowledging the role of politicians and their duplicitous behaviour. In the fact that they allowed these apps to enter the market and gain popularity in the first place, and then abruptly pulled the plug on them for electoral brownie points.
He believed that the ban would leave a void amongst those that depended on the game - youth with time on their hands, the working class for whom this was a distraction, introverts for whom it was an escape, children from less privileged backgrounds for whom fancy gaming gadgets were out of reach.
However, my all-knowing young friend is confident about the next big thing that is already out to fill the PUBG void (and that, he says, is the way of the digital era). Just then, I receive a news alert about a new game called FAU-G. It’s made in India.
(The author is CEO, VMLY&R India.)