The Aerosol Challenge, a 2014 game, involved teenagers spraying themselves with deodorant at a distance of just a few inches from their skin, to see who could endure the pain the longest. It left some children with horrific burns.
In the Pass-out Challenge, young adults would choke themselves to the point of passing out in an attempt to reach an euphoric high—recording it all to post on social media.
The Fire Challenge saw people spraying themselves with flammable liquid and then setting it aflame, all for an online laugh. Neknominate had them drinking increasingly potent combinations of alcohol—this too led to some deaths. The Blue Whale game, the latest, sets tasks over a 50-day period, the last of which is jumping off a high-rise.
During Roman times, gladiatorial shows were a show of strength and violence. The Middle Ages turned execution into spectacle. Now, it’s online games like Blue Whale, says Shubha Madhusudhan, clinical psychologist, Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru. “We have always had narcissistic personalities, sadists and psychopathic deviants in our society,” she says. The internet has just made it easier for all of them to connect with the vulnerable.
But what makes online gaming so addictive?
A spiral of challenges and achievements
Most games are addictive because of the challenge involved, says Mehul Shah, a 24-year-old gamer who can understand the need to complete tasks, even in an extreme game like Blue Whale. “There’s constant competition, ranking boards, level up, which drive you to be the best amongst others. Once you’re in it, there’s no coming back and you strive hard to achieve the next level, the next goal.”