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 Table of Contents  
VIEWPOINT
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 35  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 227-230

Is the Blue Whale Game among adolescents just a media hype?


1 Department of Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
2 NWMH, Melbourne Health, Parkville, Australia
3 Department of Psychiatry, Medical College and Hospital, Kolkata, India
4 Department of Psychiatry, Karnataka Institute of Medical Sciences, Hubli, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission18-Oct-2018
Date of Decision29-Jan-2019
Date of Acceptance16-Feb-2019
Date of Web Publication15-Nov-2019

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Guru S Gowda
Department of Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Bengaluru - 560 029, Karnataka
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/ijsp.ijsp_96_18

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  Abstract 


Gaming addiction is an emerging public health concern among adolescents from all over the world. Blue Whale Game is an allegedly reported epidemic which involve self-harm of adolescents. Although there have been reported deaths of teenagers which were allegedly related to Blue Whale challenge game across the globe, there has been no confirmed case/evidence till now. This article throws light on the proposed hypothesis and speculation behind the suicide of teenagers and discusses public health interventions at the individual, family, and state levels.

Keywords: Adolescents, Blue Whale Game, India, suicide, world


How to cite this article:
Gowda GS, Das S, Yadawad VS, Kondapura MB, Chatterjee SS, Hiremath S, Math SB. Is the Blue Whale Game among adolescents just a media hype?. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2019;35:227-30

How to cite this URL:
Gowda GS, Das S, Yadawad VS, Kondapura MB, Chatterjee SS, Hiremath S, Math SB. Is the Blue Whale Game among adolescents just a media hype?. Indian J Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2019 [cited 2019 Dec 12];35:227-30. Available from: http://www.indjsp.org/text.asp?2019/35/4/227/271101




  Introduction Top


Adolescence is considered as a vital stage of growth and development.[1] It is characterized by rapid physiological changes, psychological maturation, and transition to early adulthood. Adolescence is influenced by a combination of social-cultural, biological, and various psychosocial adversities such as competitive examinations, working parents, interpersonal relationship skill deficits, and less time for prosocial activities.[2] Along with the rapid advancements in technology of graphics, lifelike images, virtual characters with increasingly attractive and challenging approach, online games have resulted in mental health problems in adolescents. One of upcoming major mental health concerns is gaming addiction, and it is considered as a serious public health concern around the world, especially in China, South Korea, and Asian countries.[3] It is also known as pathological gaming previously and is associated with internet addiction in many of them, considered under the broad rubric of behavioral addiction. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder–5 has not considered this as a psychiatric disorder, but it has been listed as a condition for further study.[4],[5]

Adolescents with gaming addiction exhibit all psychological features of dependence and is associated with negative impact on biological, social, academic, and occupational functioning.[6],[7] The Blue Whale challenge is not available as an application on the internet and the users get a link through social media chat groups. Blue whale is considered as an internet game that is sinister in nature and allures teens to complete daily tasks for 50 days. These tasks involve self-harm, watching horror movies and waking up at unusual hours for cite a few. On the 50th day, the manipulator behind the game reportedly instructs the player to end his or her life. It generally attracts the teens who are vulnerable as well as suggestible, to follow all the instructions which results in negative thoughts as well as untoward consequences.[8],[9] Philipp Budeikin, the inventor of the game, calls the victims as biological waste and claimed it to be cleansing the society. Most of the survivors reported they are “happy to die”.[10],[11]


  Is It Suicide Epidemic Or Just Media Hype? Top


[Table 1] describes the countries and reported deaths of teenagers allegedly due to the Blue Whale challenge game. They are Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Egypt, India, Italy, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia. Although there have been reported deaths of teenagers which were allegedly related to Blue Whale challenge game across the globe, there has been no confirmed case/evidence till now.[12] As per the statement given by Dr. Sameer Hinduja – Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice in Florida Atlantic University, on May 24, 2017, there was no proven link between Blue Whale game and suicide.[10],[11],[13] Overall, it gives an impression that media creating high sensation about Blue Whale challenge game and giving Hype than the real picture in the community.
Table 1: Countries and reported deaths of teenagers allegedly due to the Blue Whale

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  Speculation And Proposed Hypotheses Behind The Suicide Of Teenagers Top


  1. As per Eric Ericson's theory of cognitive development, many children/teenagers are in the phase of “Identity versus Role Confusion” during 12–18 years. Hence, in this phase, they get an opportunity for identity by becoming a champion in the Internet game. Moreover, a champion cannot lose the position either it takes away their lives – Moreover, a champion cannot lose the position since they end up taking their own lives
  2. The fight between the inner self and projected self is famous in psychodynamic literature. The gaming identity is the projected one which often takes the upper hand than the real self
  3. The temperament has a major role to play in such cases. Introvert, fragile, anxious, and dependent, sometimes emotionally unstable traits are often highly suggestible in nature. They follow the rules without much analysis
  4. Dissociated identity sometimes takes away people who dissociate themselves from the painful world into the world of games and social media
  5. The term “Werther effect,” named after the protagonist in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” was coined to describe the phenomenon that humans tend to copy behavior – whether healthy or destructive. Copycat suicide is an example of one of its most extreme forms which can be explained by social learning of other's behavior. Discussion about the suicide game, media coverage, discussion among peer groups, and everything have a role to take.[14],[15]



  Clinical Experience Top


The recent survey from North Karnataka reported that 78% of psychiatrists, 65% of pediatricians, and 47% of clinical psychologists were aware of the Blue Whale challenge game. Only 22% of the medical and psychology professional in the sample knew about clinical symptoms and signs to identify the children playing this game. The practitioners reported that they never encountered in the clinical practice about Blue Whale challenge-related problems either reported by parent or child.[9] Balhara et al. from behavioral addiction clinic evaluated one confirmed case of Blue Whale challenge, who completed six steps out of 50 when parent incidentally found and removed the game from the mobile. The team which evaluated the child for psychiatric diagnosis found that child had nonsyndromal depressive symptoms. This is the first case report from healthcare settings. The team came made certain inferences such as (a) “Blue Whale challenge” does exist and it has multiple steps and accessible through Internet-based platforms. The “tasks” may involve self-harming activities.[16] In our center, parents brought their young adult with recent self-injurious behavior. Parents reported that he might be using Blue Whale game and hence he attempted for suicide. After a detailed evaluation with the young adult, it revealed that he was suffering from severe depression for the last few months, and he attempted suicide secondary to ideas of worthlessness and hopelessness. When we interviewed a child about the Blue Whale game, he reported that he neither played the game nor was much aware of it. Overall, it gives an impression that the media is sensationalising the Blue Whale game and hyping the real picture in the community. Suicide due to severe mental illness or other reasons becomes wrongly attributed to blue whale game, hyping it further. However, if this is a reality, then it requires immediate public health attention.


  How To Go Ahead With It? Top


Warning symptoms and signs

  1. Depressive symptoms such as low mood, lack of interest, anhedonia, asociality, sudden outburst of anger, visible cut marks, and not carrying out daily activities
  2. Sudden increase in time spent on use of internet and social media websites
  3. Unusual and secretive odd behavior
  4. Suicidal gesture or thoughts.


Interventions

  1. Providing psychiatric counseling to child or adolescents
  2. Supportive work with the parents
  3. Addressing the child or adolescent's vulnerability, addressing the problems through individual therapy
  4. Life skill training to adolescents
  5. Informing appropriate legal authorities for necessary actions.


Preventions

At individuals' level

  1. Spending quality time with the children and adolescents by their parents, involving adolescents and children's in prosocial activities
  2. Life skill training to all children's and adolescent's through school mental health programs
  3. Regulating the time and website use
  4. Cyber/mobile parenting software installation may help in monitoring the children's dangerous cyber activities
  5. Identifying vulnerable child and providing supportive counseling and care by parents and teachers
  6. Seek appropriate medical/psychiatric care
  7. Inform your local police authority and seek their advice on the next safety measures.[17],[18]


At state level

In India, many reported cases of child suicide/attempt to suicide and self-harm were attributed to Blue Whale game as reported by media in 2017. In response to it, as a public health initiative from the Government of India, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asked several internet companies including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and WhatsApp to remove all links which direct users to the game.[18],[19]

Legal measures and implication

Cyber law is the law governing computers and the internet. In India, cybercrime comes under the Information Technology Act, 2000. There is no provision available to regulate and punish the persons involved in providing or using the online games, its addiction under Indian Information Technology Act.[20] As per recent opinion from a Cyber Forensic expert, Blue Whale cannot be considered as a cybercrime due to its non downloadability.[21] The Supreme Court asked the Government of India to ban the game, following which the government responded that since Blue Whale was not an application, it could not be banned.[22] Finally, in January 2018, Lok Sabha reported that after full investigation, there was no evidence that any death was as a result of playing Blue Whale game.[23]


  Conclusion Top


Blue whale game among adolescents worldwide is suggestive of a hype through the social media rather than an epidemic of suicides. State and society need to prepare enough to handle an epidemic of upcoming self-harming games through public health interventions at the individual, family, and state levels and legal measures.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
  References Top

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Pujar LL, Hunshal SC, Bailur KB. Impact of intervention on life skill development among adolescent girls. Karnataka J Agric Sci 2004;27:93-4.  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
Yadav IN. Impact of life skill training on self-esteem, adjustment and empathy among adolescents. J I Acad A Psych 2009;35:61-70.  Back to cited text no. 2
    
3.
Block JJ. Issues for DSM-V: Internet addiction. Am J Psychiatry 2008;165:306-7.  Back to cited text no. 3
    
4.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2013.  Back to cited text no. 4
    
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Musetti A, Cattivelli R, Giacobbi M, Zuglian P, Ceccarini M, Capelli F, et al. Challenges in internet addiction disorder: Is a diagnosis feasible or not? Front Psychol 2016;7:842.  Back to cited text no. 5
    
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Pies R. Should DSM-V designate “Internet addiction” a mental disorder? Psychiatry (Edgmont) 2009;6:31-7.  Back to cited text no. 6
    
7.
Cash H, Rae CD, Steel AH, Winkler A. Internet addiction: A brief summary of research and practice. Curr Psychiatry Rev 2012;8:292-8.  Back to cited text no. 7
    
8.
Mukhra R, Baryah N, Krishan K, Kanchan T. 'Blue Whale Challenge': A Game or Crime? Sci Eng Ethics. 2017 Nov 11. doi: 10.1007/s11948-017-0004-2. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 29129013.  Back to cited text no. 8
    
9.
Mahadevaiah M, Nayak RB. Blue whale challenge: Perceptions of first responders in medical profession. Indian J Psychol Med 2018;40:178-82.  Back to cited text no. 9
[PUBMED]  [Full text]  
10.
Stewart W. Inventor of Suicide Game Blue Whale Admit Inciting 16 Girls Kill Themselves After Saying He's Cleaning Society. Available from: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/inventor-suicide-game-blue-whale-10394932. [Last accessed on 2018 Jun 01].  Back to cited text no. 10
    
11.
Stewart W, Jeffery Y, Hodge M. Blue Whale' Suicide Game Linked to 130 teen Deaths is Just Tip of the Iceberg in the World's Suicide Capital Russia. Available from: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/3002981/blue-whale­-game­-suicide­-russia-rules­-challenge­-social-media/. [Last accessed on 2018 Jun 01].  Back to cited text no. 11
    
12.
Wikipedia on Blue Whale Game. Available from: https://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Whale_(game). [Last accessed on 2018 Dec 15].  Back to cited text no. 12
    
13.
'Can't ban app-Based Games like Blue Whale', Centre Tells Supreme Court. Available from: https://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/cant-ban-app-based­-games­-like-blue­-whale­-centre­-tells-supreme­-court/articleshow/61722857.cms. [Last accessed on 2018 Jun 01].  Back to cited text no. 13
    
14.
Niederkrotenthaler T, Herberth A, Sonneck G. The “Werther-effect”: Legend or reality? Neuropsychiatr 2007;21:284-90.  Back to cited text no. 14
    
15.
Mesoudi A. The cultural dynamics of copycat suicide. PLoS One 2009;4:e7252.  Back to cited text no. 15
    
16.
Balhara YP, Bhargava R, Pakhre A, Bhati N. The “Blue Whale challenge”?: The first report on a consultation from a health care setting for carrying out “tasks” accessed through a mobile phone application. Asia Pac Psychiatry 2018;10:e12317.  Back to cited text no. 16
    
17.
FAQs Blue Whale Challenge–What Parents Need to Know. Available from: http://www.ncpcr.gov.in/showfile.php?lang=1 &level=1&sublinkid=1267&lid=1499. [Last accessed on 2018 Jun 01].  Back to cited text no. 17
    
18.
FAQs Blue Whale Challenge–What Parents Need to Know. Available from: http://www.unicef.in/Uploads/Publications/Resources/pub_doc148.pdf. [Last accessed on 2018 Jun 01].  Back to cited text no. 18
    
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Advisory on Blue Whale Challenge Game. Available from: http://www.meity.gov.in/advisory-blue-whale-challenge-game. [Last accessed on 2018 Jun 01].  Back to cited text no. 19
    
20.
Cyber Law of India. Available from: http://www.cyberlawsindia.net/. [Last accessed on 2018 Jun 01].  Back to cited text no. 20
    
21.
Blue Whale not a Cyber Game: Cyber Forensic Experts. Available from: http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/2017/aug/17/blue-whale-not-a-cyber-game- cyber-forensic-experts-1644118.html. [Last accessed on 2018 Jun 01].  Back to cited text no. 21
    
22.
Worley W. Blue Whale: Fears in India over 'Viral Suicide Game' Mount as 'Government Calls for Internet Giants to Ban Links to it'. Available from: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/blue­-whale­-suicide­-game­-latest­-news­-india­-online-viral-internet-google-ban-links-a7954786.html. [Last accessed on 2018 Jun 01].  Back to cited text no. 22
    
23.
No Evidence of any Death due to Blue Whale Challenge Game: Govt. Available from: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/no­-evidence-of-any­-death­-due-to­-blue­-whale-challenge-game-govt/article22359294.ece. [Last accessed on 2018 Jun 01].  Back to cited text no. 23
    



 
 
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Introduction
Is It Suicide Ep...
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