Drug Abuse

Game on: Meet Kashmir’s online warriors who use PUBG as a weapon to fight drug menace

After taking the world by storm, online multiplayer game Player Unknown’s Battle Grounds (PUBG) has found strong roots in Kashmir where boys and girls can be seen glued to their screens, playing this highly engaging game. But while many curse the makers of the game for wasting their time, a group of young men in Kashmir are using it as a weapon to fight the drug menace.

It might sound bookish, but scores of troubled households in Srinagar’s Hyderpora were indeed waiting for Godot lately, for an immediate course correction of their wayward children.

Snubbed by the ‘sleepy’ authorities, the parents badly wanted to contain the growing substance abuse among their young ones. But while Godot lived up to the reputation by not showing up, some locals took it on themselves to set the house in order.

These young addicts would prefer to have more screen time, besides going high on drugs. Keeping the same thing in mind, a group of Kashmiri PUBG players decided to get tackle the menace using mobile screens.

PUBG is an online multiplayer battle royale game developed and published by PUBG Corporation, a subsidiary of South Korean video game company Bluehole. The players play the game on laptops to get better control on it. Many among them own triggers to get two extra fingers to play. 

The game requires at least 4 team members to start the battle. While teenagers play it continuously, the adults fix a particular time frame for it. 

From Hyderpora, the social crusade group against drugs, donning the online warrior fatigues, includes Musaib, an Engineer; Younis, an MBA; Yasir, a factory owner; Kaiser, a Physical Education teacher; and Adil, an aspiring Chartered Accountant. 

They formed a Whatsapp group and started keeping a close eye on addicts in their area. They get their numbers through various means, add them in the group and introduce them to the game with a hope that they would get more addicted to the game than to drugs. 

Once the idea clicked, the already anxious parents of these addicts showed some reluctance towards the growing game addiction. But for the larger good, they ultimately agreed.

“Playing PUBG is akin to have tea, lunch and dinner,” says Younis, a group member. “We fix the time as the kids studying or people in jobs would be able to finish their work and then play the game.” 

The Whatsapp group, namely PUBG Room Hyderpora, has around 60 members at the moment. As hunt for addicts is on, the group’s strength is likely to soar in coming times.

“We enter a room in PUBG after fixing play time on WhatsApp,” Younis says, “on an average, 60 players come regularly to play at 9.45pm.” 

The game starts at 10 pm. They play 40-minute long matches, multiple times, before going to bed. “Some among us are married, they leave earlier,” Younis says, “but on Sundays, we get to play more.”

While many believe that PUBG is simply wastage of time, Younis says, there’s nothing negative about it, if played properly. “You’ve to choose between the two negatives here and weed off the wickedest one,” he says. “In this case, PUBG addiction is far better than the drug menace.”

As a game, PUBG is already popular in the valley that a radio station Red FM recently held a PUBG Tournament. But it has its pros and cons, too. 

It might be a social crusade for Hyderpora online warriors, but many term it a spoiler, which’s now affecting productivity, and relationships. 

“I was so addicted to it that I couldn’t focus on my work,” says Haider, a Srinagarite. “I would get irritated by the calls while playing, as attending calls mean your player dying in the game.” In this process, he happened to sour some of his friendships.

But the madness for the game doesn’t stop there. 

When Sajida first heard her son talking, in the dead of the night, she grew restless. His conversation was audible, making him sound militant: Move faster. Throw the grenade. Throw it now! 

“My heart sank,” Sajida, a homemaker from Beerwa, Budgam, says. “I thought he is involved with militants. I ran to his room and saw him glued to his phone screen and earphones plugged in.” It took her some time to understand that he was just playing a video game, where one can voice-chat with other players.

But the online warfare doesn’t end with the grenades and guns alone. 

As the game is now entering bedrooms, it has already created a lot of other issues. In many areas, the haunting nocturnal silence of Kashmiri neighbourhoods has been replaced by shrill war cries now.

“Recently when I was sleeping in my room, I heard a man telling someone: ‘Climb the roof and spot a man’,” says Irfan, a banker, whose sisters were sleeping downstairs. “I thought someone had come to attack me. As soon as he screamed, ‘There he is! Shoot!’, I ran to my sisters’ room and narrated the story to them. They asked me to go back to sleep, as our crazy neighbour was playing PUBG!”

But the notable part of the game is voicing the signature street sentiments. 

Many profiles hold the name of stone-pelters, and militants, who yell in anger, raise anti-India slogans and pitch freedom songs while overpowering their opponents.

But for Hyderpora Online Warriors, the motive remains different, and perhaps, best, in the times of “growing drug menace”. 

They’re combating a real life menace by engaging the addicts in virtual world.

They consciously set the timing of the game at the usual ‘snorting’ time for these addicts. These boys usually get drugs on a high price, and without a prescription.

“A very alarming percentage of teenagers in the area are taking drugs,” Younis claims, based on his native insights. “We have seen people dying of an overdose or moving around in a state that is not normal. So, yes, we are trying our best to somehow influence these addicts by engaging them in a game.”

The substance abuse starts with meds, tablets, weed and syrup that they call “coke” and at an advanced level, they use syringes. Behind the addiction, Younis says, is impatience and escapism. 

“People try not to think about their life issues,” he says. “They try to escape. Be it relationship issues, family or societal issues; they try to escape and find refuge in drugs and become addicts. We want them to play the game to escape, rather than to take drugs and become addicts.”

After initial success, the group is now planning to swell its base operations. They’re in talks with the area counsellor for getting Al-Hyder complex ground, where they want to engage people in sports. 

“PUBG has come at a good time,” says Younis. “And it does not impact study or work, as some wants us to believe. We had this Gujarati guy namely Ajay who used to play with us. He vanished for a month. When he returned, he told us that he was preparing for IAS exams, during which he had fallen sick. Instead of taking rest, he felt good playing the game, again. What I’m trying to tell you is, it all depends upon the gamer.”

But back home, people have many different motives to play the game. “I play PUBG,” says Musaib, a group member, “to overcome the mental trauma instilled by the Kashmir’s protracted political turmoil.”

A free mind is a devil’s solace, he says. “At an individual level, I cannot do anything about the deaths in Kashmir,” he turns sullen. “But yes, I can channelize my anger here.”

To attract more people, the working players in the team have decided to contribute money and keep a price for winners. 

After winning, a message flashes on the screen: Winner… Winner… Chicken Dinner. The group has now decided to take winners to restaurants for refreshment. 

All this effort might not take the larger drug monster of Kashmir by its horns, but the group’s Game over Drugs campaign is likely to inspire many people in the place known for the Domino Effect.


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