Egyptians are debating a blanket ban on risky online games following the suicide of an Egyptian politician’s 18-year-old son, who is reportedly one of the latest victims of the dangerous online game “Blue Whale Challenge.”
Ahmed Badawi, a member of the parliamentary Communication and Information Technology Committee, told Al-Monitor that he made an urgent statement to parliament Speaker Ali Abdel Aal on some dangerous online games — such as Blue Whale Challenge, Bloody Mary and Charlie Charlie Challenge — that have gone viral in recent years and attracted the attention of children and teenagers, pushing them to use violence and commit murder and suicide. These three games involve acts that can quickly turn into mass hysteria, panic, violence, self-injury or even suicide.
Badawi said that several other deputies, namely Tariq al-Khawly and Said Taima, also support his demand for banning dangerous online games. “Such games threaten the Egyptian national security by targeting youths who represent the future of Egypt,” he said.
The calls in parliament follow the death of the son of former parliamentarian Hamdy El-Fakharany and the sympathy and outrage many Egyptians felt.
Fakharany’s daughter noted in an online post April 3, a day after her brother’s suicide, that Khaled had been under the influence of the Blue Whale Challenge, a game available online and previously on both Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.
“My brother participated in the ‘Blue Whale Challenge’; we found papers with drawings and signs from the game. I beg you not to take part in this challenge. Do not try to act tough and try it. No one was as strong as Khaled or as pious, but he accepted the challenge and lost,” Yasmine wrote.
Khaled was not the only recent Blue Whale Challenge victim in Egypt. On April 9, the Alexandria Security Directorate confirmed that a female high school student tried to commit suicide by consuming rat poison after playing the game.
Deaths related to this online game have also been reported in other countries. On May 11, 2017, Philipp Budeikin, one of the administrators of the Blue Whale Challenge, pleaded guilty to inciting suicide. By then, the application had reached 20,000 people in Russia alone. Several newspapers have reported that 130 teenagers in Russia had committed suicide, but this number cannot be confirmed.
However, the game can still be downloaded and the number of victims continue to grow in the United States, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt.
Neuropsychiatrist Gamal Farwaz told Al-Monitor that the game’s inventor studied psychology and has been able to influence many young people between the ages of 16 and 30 and convince them to take part in the game. He exploits these young people’s curiosity and search for a challenge in the first stages, prepping them for later stages that involve destroying the nervous system and cognitive centers. Farwaz said that the challenges of waking up in the middle of the night for several nights in a row or taking drugs destroy the gamers’ willpower, and strengthens the game master’s influence, which leads them to accept the final challenge of committing suicide.
Farwaz wants to raise awareness among Egyptian families, schools and clubs about the importance of keeping a close eye on the youth and strengthening communication opportunities that allow teenagers to comfortably reach out to their parents and teachers.
He added that communication is key for protecting children and teenagers from the dangers of information technology, and some parental control needs to be exercised to protect them.
Engineer Walid Hajaj, a freelance information security expert and the founder of Hackers Hunter Facebook page, disagrees that games can be banned effectively.
It is impossible to prevent the downloading of dangerous online games even if they were deleted from official online stores, he told Al-Monitor, noting that this could only happen by coordinating with international companies providing internet services.
Khawly noted that the parliament is currently considering issuing a law to fight cybercrime and impose sanctions on Egyptian sites that promote such games. He said that the law will oblige the government and competent authorities to follow specific steps in communicating with international companies providing internet services in order to block risky online games.
Yet Hajaj pointed out that pursuing these games through international internet providers will not eliminate such games because this process takes time, during which many people could download and start playing them.
Yasser Abdul Aziz, a former media relations consultant for BBC World Service Trust in the Middle East and North Africa, told Al-Monitor, “Media outlets play the biggest part because they are well placed in raising awareness about dangerous games on a large scale. It would be wrong to avoid addressing such games in the media for fear of introducing them to teenagers. On the contrary, professional and objective practical coverage is able to keep the youth away from these games by exposing their health and psychological risks.”
Neuropsychiatrist Mohammed al-Shami believes that the first step should be the treatment of psychological disturbances in Egyptian society before any other dangerous online games are made available. He told Al-Monitor there needs to be a preventive strategy instead.
“In its first stage, the Blue Whale [game] challenges the player to use a razor blade to draw a whale on his or her arm. Accepting this challenge alone is proof that the person is not mentally stable to begin with; they are often people who feel despair and depression and are subject to marginalization. They are looking for a sense of self-worth and victory by overcoming the challenges of the game, no matter how dangerous,” he said.
Shami pointed out that the game’s inventor exploits the abundant number of mentally unstable teenagers.
World Health Organization statistics indicate that one person around the world commits suicide every 40 seconds, and that one in every 10 people around the world is suffering from depression and requires medical intervention.