PESHAWAR: Blue whales don’t usually bite, but an eponymous game has begun hurting young people in Pakistan. Reports from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) suggest that people are playing the notorious suicide game, ‘Blue Whale Challenge’, and falling into its dangerous trap.
Dr Imran Khan, a psychiatrist at Peshawar’s Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH), told The Express Tribune that two young men from Mardan between the ages of 19 and 21 have approached him for treatment after suffering from depression while trying to complete the 'Blue Whale Challenge'.
According to Dr Khan, the young men had opted to play the game but as the ‘challenge’ progressed, the tasks became increasingly bizarre such as being asked to carve a whale into their arm, which prompted them to stop and seek medical help.
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“They realised that the game will harm them, so they decided to see a doctor,” said Dr Khan.
Because of patient privacy, Khan could not reveal the names of the men but added that one of them was an IT expert who was just checking if the game really was fatal or not.
The "Blue Whale Challenge" made headlines after a report claimed that at least 130 teenagers in Russia were instigated to take their own lives by closed social media groups.
The game, which is believed to be inspired from the blue whales who have been known to beach themselves on purpose, prey on vulnerable teenagers with low self-esteem. The victims are manipulated by group admin(s) or game curator(s) into a series of tasks over the course of 50 days.
In the beginning, the participants are given seemingly harmless tasks like watching horror movies, not speaking to anyone for a day or going out at 3am. This escalates into tasks such as self-harm and going without sleep. Ultimately on day 50, the game supervisor demands players to take their own lives.
The players are required to send videos and photos as proof that they have completed their tasks.
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“People start suffering from depression because game moderators warn the players that if they don’t complete the assigned tasks, their families would be harmed,” Dr Khan said.
The doctor added that most people who become embroiled in the ‘challenge’ have a history of mental illness.
He further said the patients he had met told him that they were worried the moderators had access to their cell phone data and may use it for illegal purposes.
A similar case of a 16-year-old girl who claimed to have played the game almost to the last task – killing herself – was also reported at KTH.
Dr Azaz Jamal of KTH’s psychiatric ward who treated the girl told The Express Tribune that she was tech-savvy and a regular computer user.
“She completed the tasks and at the end she was asked to kill herself or she would be killed,” Dr Jamal said.
He added that she sought treatment at the right time and was now becoming stable.
Dr Jamal said whoever was running the game was putting people’s lives in danger and urged the public to stay away from it and not click any suspicious links they received.
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The doctor also advised parents to keep an eye on their children particularly those who are fond of playing games on computers or mobile devices.
Dr Jamal urged people to seek medical help if they get trapped in the game and refrain from doing anything that could harm them.
The so-called game is not openly available for download on the Google, Windows or Apple app stores, said IT expert Kashif Ali.
According to him, suspicious links are shared in WhatsApp groups or other private social media groups. “Whoever clicks on the link, the game gets downloaded on their device and if they log in, their phone data gets hacked by the game administrator,” he said.
Ali urged the authorities to ban the circulation of such links and group moderators to remove any suspicious links shared in their groups.
Sickening “Blue Whale” groups have been reported in a number of countries including Russia, Ukraine, Portugal, Spain, Britain and France. Recently, reports have also surfaced from India where a teenage player tried to kill herself twice to complete the 'challenge'.
Correction: An earlier version of the headline wrongly read Peshawar instead of K-P. The error is regretted.