With many parents oblivious, an online game has literally been taking the lives of teenagers across the world for the last few years and the game has reached Bangladesh.
The game, believed to have been developed in Russia in 2013, has become one of the most controversial online games worldwide and has been blamed for suicides of more than 130 teenagers, according to a report of the Hindustan Times.
The game “Blue Whale Challenge” gives a player 50 days, with one mission for each day, to complete all 50 levels. It starts off with innocent things like watching a horror movie at 4:30 in the morning but eventually moves on to horrifying missions, like killing an animal, self mutilation and talking drugs.
The game's final mission is “Jump off a high building. Take your Life”. And to make sure players follow, they are told that their parents would be murdered unless they take their own life.
There have been reports of children taking their lives whilst playing the game in Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, India, Italy, Kenya, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Spain, Turkey, US, and Uruguay.
In India the situation has become so bad that Russian Vice Consul Michael J Gobartov had to tell the High Court and the government of Tamil Nadu recently that the Russian government was willing to help India control the Blue Whale Challenge menace.
The game was reportedly developed by 21-year-old expelled psychology student Philipp Budikin. He was arrested in 2016 for inciting at least 16 schoolgirls to kill themselves through the game. He confessed to the crimes and is now in a Russian jail.
Budikin said he thinks of his victims as “biological waste” and told police that they were “happy to die” and he was “cleansing society”, according to a dailymail report.
The Daily Star was able to talk to a young man who had played Blue Whale Challenge up to level 29.
The youth, requesting not to be named, said he got the link to download the game from an American website and learned about the game from the closed Facebook group called “cyber 71”.
The game is not available on Play Store or App Store so he had to side-loaded the application on his android phone.
While playing the game, he had to do different kinds of tasks daily, like watching psychedelic and scary videos the game curator sent him.
He said as he started to climb up the levels, he was given missions like carving certain things on his arm with a razor, going up to his roof at 4:20am, piercing his hand with a needle, and doing drugs. He was asked to photograph himself completing the missions for proof, which were sent to the game curator.
The youth said he stopped playing the game after level 29 when one of his friends attempted suicide in Mymensingh.
The friend was on level 50 and he was asked by the curator to take his own life, said the youth.
“Primarily, I was scared of stopping [playing the game] as the game curator had warned that if I stopped playing then they would kill my parents,” he said.
Some give in.
Apurba Bardhan Shorna, 14, allegedly committed suicide in her Central Road home on October 5.
“We are suspecting that Shorna might have committed suicide while playing the game,” said her father Subrata Barman.
“I will definitely file public interest litigation (PIL), so that no one dies like this.”
Atikur Rahman, officer-in-charge of New Market Police Station, said Shorna's family filed a complaint that she committed suicide after being a victim of an online game.
However, there are several Facebook accounts with disturbing images and the apparent Bangladeshi owners of the account claim to be playing the game.
Earlier this month, a 15-year-old boy of a government school in Jhunjhunu of India was spotted by a school teacher playing the game, according to a Hindustan Times report.
The report said the boy was scared of receiving psychotherapy as the game administrator told him that they had all the details of his family and if he stopped playing then they would kill his parents.
The school had to assure him that his family would be safe.
While the quick and timely intervention of the school probably saved the boy in India, many parents here in Bangladesh have little idea as to what their children are doing online.
Shaheen Ur Rahman of Dhaka said that his 12-year-old son loves to play online games on his tablet PC and that he never asked what kind of games he plays.
“Sometimes, I hear my son screaming in joy after he wins in a game but I never ask what kind of game or which game,” he said.
Asked about the Blue Whale game, Shaheen said he had not heard about it but he would try to know if his son was playing it.
Shawkat Ali Chowdhury, a contractor of Sylhet, said he was not aware of the “whale game”. “My son plays online games locking his door … but now I will investigate,” he added.
Shamim Hossain of Dhaka, however, said after he had learnt about the Blue Whale game, he stopped giving his phone to his 13-year-old son.
Many parents of children in Dhaka schools have been on Facebook expressing their concerns. Some said they had been checking their children's phones.
Regarding the game, officials of the cyber security cell of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) said they have received no reports of anyone killing themselves because of the game.
Nazmul Islam, additional deputy commissioner of social media monitoring team of the cyber security department, told The Daily Star that they have so far heard about one case in the capital on October 5 but were yet to get any proof.
The game link is originated in the dark web by encrypted messages and it was difficult for them to look out for it, he said.
The home minister told the media on Monday that he has asked the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) to probe the extent of the game spreading in Bangladesh.
Nazmul said, “We inform the BTRC about the game and they suspend or block all those links that have information about the Blue Whale game, whenever it is found.”
“We will now try to go for offline campaigns to create awareness among the parents about the games,” he said.
Muntasir Maruf, assistant professor of psychiatry at Shaheed M Mansur Ali Medical College, told The Daily Star that without actually seeing the game it was difficult for him to comment on it. He, however, said children get addicted to online games as they do not get quality time from their family members, and because playgrounds have been disappearing.
Most parents are busy and do not give enough time for their children, he said. “We need to spend more time with family members and create friends in real life and provide playgrounds for them to play in … ,” he added.