Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan wrote these lines in 1963 for his song The Times They Are A-Changin’ but he may as well have been talking about the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority’s temporary ban on the game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) more than half a century later.

The authority has asked for public opinion till July 10 before it makes a permanent decision but even a temporary ban has caused an uproar among the gaming community. This is the first time a game has been banned in the country.

PTA claims the game is being linked to “cases of suicide” and “is addictive, wastage of time and poses serious negative impact on physical and psychological health of the children.”

There are several major arguments against the PTA’s approach:

  1. Policing free time
    It is not the job of any governmental authority to determine what activities are a “wastage of time” because once that starts, all leisure and entertainment activities can be policed and banned for being unproductive. How a law-abiding member of society spends her or his free time is none of the State’s business.
  2. Ripple effect
    By banning one game, the PTA is paving the way for the suspension of other violent games.
  3. No small deal
    The popularity of PUBG across the world and in Pakistan should not be underestimated. It has over 600 million global downloads on mobile alone. That is nearly three times Pakistan’s entire population.
  4. Our freedoms
    By trying to ban PUBG, the PTA is stepping on the personal freedoms of a no-longer insignificant section of society: its youth. What is more worrying is the PTA’s authoritarian tone. This way of speaking alienates young people, who should feel that their government has their best interests at heart and cares for their opinion. As it is the government just pays lip service to the needs of young people. If you don’t believe me, just try looking for a clean open park with no boundary walls or gates, open spaces, skater rinks, playgrounds, sports fields. The space where young people can go, meet, enjoy themselves has been shrinking physically in Pakistan.
  5. Addictions
    Gaming addiction is a real and serious problem. The WHO classified it as a mental illness in 2018. It has even been fatal in some cases. But it is difficult to answer the question that games are definitively bad for us. The PTA’s decision is based on a lack of confirmed research.
    Gaming, like almost every other activity known to us, is only good in moderation. Cross that line and there can be dire mental, social, physical and financial consequences. But the WHO also claims 2.8 million people die each year of obesity. Yet few people would sign up for a system where the government decided what everyone eats or banned oil. Instead, such a system would horrify people because it would attack a person’s freedom of choice.
  6. Violence
    There is still the argument that games promote violence but there is research that both agrees and disagrees with that statement. A majority of games is based around either killing or sports but most people who play these games know that they merely provide a distraction from the real world and are just mindless fun. Games such as The Sims and Goat Simulator also exist, yet few people have started families or gone on goat-like rampages across cities after playing those games.
  7. Benefits
    Another problem with the PTA’s approach is that it mirrors the general view around video games in the country: they have no benefit.
    Even if PUBG’s entertainment value is ignored, there is more solid research on the advantages of playing games than there is on disadvantages.
    Research has shown that playing games has several benefits. Those who play video games show improved coordination, memory, problem-solving, concentration, speed and even social skills. Some research even shows that those who play video games are better equipped to have lucid dreams in which the dreamer is aware of being in a dream and can therefore assume some form of control over it.
  8. Responsibility
    The PTA has said that it has banned the game because of “recent media reports” and “numerous complaints” rather than because of any research. This is just a convenient way of passing on the responsibility to someone else.
  9. E-sports
    The PTA’s decision is damaging to the country’s budding e-sports scene. It has seen the emergence of Pakistan’s Tekken star Arslan Ash among other players. Several of the country’s best PUBG players have expressed concern at not being able to compete in events due to the temporary ban. The people who play other games professionally or aspire to will also have second thoughts about their career choices.
    Instead of helping or supporting these talented players, the government has decided to actively hold them back.

When the PTA’s members do make the decision about a game that they almost certainly have never played and most likely will never play, it is important that they understand that The Times They Are A-Changin’.