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- 04 Nov - 10 Nov, 2017
The lethal game called 'Blue Whale' involves brainwashing vulnerable teenagers over a period of 50 days, urging them to complete different tasks. These daily tasks start off easy – listening to certain genres of music, waking up at odd hours, watching a horror movie, among others, and then escalate to carving out shapes on one’s skin and self-mutilation, and gradually get more extreme. Eventually exhausted and confused, the victims are instructed to commit suicide. While tasks vary from curator to curator, the final task is always the same: suicide.
The players are required to send photos and videos as proof of task completion. Those who wish to give up or back out are threatened, saying that the administrator possesses all their information and would bring harm to them and their loved ones.
Originally initiated in Russia, the actual name of the game is Siniy Kit which translates as Blue Whale. According to one theory, the name comes from a song by the Russian rock band Lumen. Its opening lines are, “Why scream / When no one hears / What we're talking about?” and it features a huge blue whale that can't break through the net. Another proposition claims that the name of the game is a reference to the way some blue whales beach themselves on purpose and die.
The game is not available for download on Google Play Store or the App Store. However, suspicious links to the game are shared on the dark web or closed groups. By posting on social networks using certain hashtags or joining certain groups, people get spotted by curators or administrators who, after vetting the potential player, set up to 50 daily tasks leading up to the ultimate one, suicide. Once downloaded, the game hacks all data of the user which puts fear in the players’ mind that the game moderators will find them if they don’t finish the game.
The origin of the game can be traced back to the existence of ‘death groups’ on Russia’s most popular social media network, VKontakte, also known as VK, that were inciting young teens into committing suicide. According to reports, there were about 130 reported adolescent suicides in Russia between November 2015 and April 2016 and a majority of these children were part of the same death groups.
A Russian national, Philipp Budeikin has taken credit for creating the game. Police arrested him last November, and he has pleaded guilty to provocating the suicides of at least 16 teenagers. In an interview, when asked if he really pushed teenagers to their deaths, Budeikin said: “Yes, I truly was doing that. They were dying happy. I was giving them what they didn’t have in real life: warmth, understanding, connections.”
He further added, “There are people – and there is biological waste. Those who do not represent any value for society. Who cause or will cause only harm to society. I was cleaning our society of such people.”
He claimed that he created the game in 2013 under the name F57, combining the sound of the start of his name and the last two digits of his phone number. “Sometimes I start to think that I am doing wrong but inside there is a feeling that I was doing the right thing,” said the man who has bipolar personality disorder and grew up in an abusive household.
Anton Breido, a senior official from the Investigative Committee in Russia, reported: “Budeikin very clearly knew what he had to do to get the result. He started in 2013 and ever since he has polished his tactics and corrected his mistakes. Philipp and his aides, at first attracted children into VK groups by using mega-scary videos.
“Their task was to attract as many children as possible, then figure out those who would be the most affected by psychological manipulation. Those who stayed were given much stronger tasks like cutting their veins, to balancing on a rooftop, to kill an animal and post a video or pictures to prove it. Most children left at this stage. A small group that was left obediently went through all the tasks, with teenagers being physiologically ready to follow whatever the administrators told them, no matter how strange or scary the tasks,” he further mentioned.
The game thrives on vulnerability to self harming behaviour and suicidal thoughts among emotionally or socially marginalised adolescents and youngsters. The content of the tasks has negative affects like suicide ideation, eliciting anxiety, creating fear, inducing maladaptive thoughts etc.
Reports suggest teenagers take these risks because they are vulnerable and prone to seeking validation. Moreover, it makes them feel like they are a part of something bigger than them. The victims might begin the game out of curiosity, but they find themselves being psychologically manipulated into continuing with the tasks till they end their lives.
“There are unfortunately always online sites and activities in our society that are pro-suicide and increase risk, particularly for vulnerable individuals,” says Dr Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “This one is much more of a twisted version,” she adds, because “it manipulates young people into engaging in a game,” and they may not understand how it is increasing their suicide risk.
Apart from Russia, there have also been instances of suicides or attempted suicides related to the game in Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Colombia, Georgia, Italy, Kenya, Paraguay, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Spain, Uruguay, Venezuela, India, and now in Pakistan.
While there have been rumours and anecdotal evidence that the game has made its way to Pakistan, there have recently been reports in the media that prove the arrival of the horrific game.
Two female college students of grade 11 and 12 at Government Girls Degree College Pind Dadan Khan in Jhelum were expelled from the college after they were found to have been playing the dangerous Blue Whale challenge. The girls had wreaked injuries on their arms with a blade.
Dr Imran, who is a psychiatrist at Peshawar’s Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH), earlier declared that two young men from Mardan approached him for treatment after suffering depression while attempting to complete the challenge. A similar case of a 16-year-old girl who claimed to have played the game almost to the last task was also reported at KTH.
It is crucial to remember that adolescents falling prey to the game are already vulnerable on an emotional and psychological level. They are prone to depression, anxiety, suicidal intent and have low self-esteem.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), a charity campaigning and working in child protection in the United Kingdom and the Channel Islands, said in a statement: “Children should remember not to follow the crowd or feel pressured to do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.”
A spokesperson of NSPCC said: “Parents should talk with their children and emphasise that they can make their own choices and discuss ways of how to say no. Reassuring a child that they can still be accepted even if they don’t go along with the crowd will help stop them doing something that could hurt them or make them uncomfortable.”
Moreover, parents, teachers and friends should be vigilant and monitor internet usage, the actions and behaviour of those who are depressed, rebels, introverts, aloof, bullied etc. Any change in their pattern of sleeping, eating or other activities should be closely watched.
Rather than banning or restricting their child’s online activities, parents should address the root causes of vulnerability and talk to them about such online groups and what they contain. Parents and friends should create an atmosphere of conversation for the potential victims. One must acknowledge the worry and not dismiss them, as this will prevent them from having further conversations with you. •