Iraqi youth frustrated with video game ban

Despite the largely negative reaction, some Iraqis said the ban was necessary to protect young people from becoming addicted to the games and to encourage healthier behaviour.
Sunday 28/04/2019
A boy plays the online game PUBG on his mobile phone. (AP)
Addictive and violent. A boy plays the online game PUBG on his mobile phone. (AP)

BASRA - Iraq’s parliament unanimously voted to ban violent video games, including popular multiplayer games Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, citing negative effects on health and culture.

“The impact (of violent video games) has spread virally among children, young boys and girls,” Sameaa Gullab, head of the parliament’s Culture Committee, said at a news conference. “(The games) threaten social life, security, morals, civics and education.”

Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had called for people to stop playing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), a South Korean battle game that has hundreds of millions of players worldwide, including a significant following in Iraq.

“What will you gain if you killed one or two people in PUBG?” wrote al-Sadr in a statement. “It is not a game for intelligence or a military game that provides you with the correct way to fight.”

His Sadrist alliance took credit for the parliamentary ban in a statement on its website.

While some Iraqis agreed that the government should curb access to “addictive” and “violent” games, many said the ban violated civil liberties and was a poor policy focus for a government facing critical issues such as extremism and dilapidated infrastructure.

“Banning this game (PUBG) is a ban on the freedoms of others,” said Dhargham Sabah Hussein, a 26-year-old information security specialist in Basra. “Whatever the reason or justification, I am against the ban because it is an attempt to violate private freedoms in a war-torn country.”

Ali Hani, a 24-year old barber in Basra, said it was ironic the government banned virtual fighting games while allowing real-life militias to operate unchecked.

“The government has banned virtual fighting games but allowed for militias to carry weapons and weaponise society,” Hani said. “I do not know how they [the government] think and plan! Will blocking the game solve Iraq’s problems?”

Others said that, instead of video games, the government should focus on issues such as reconstruction, unemployment and curbing illegal drug use.

“Instead of having a parliamentary session to ban video games, it is better to vote for decisions [that] will help displaced people or to discuss the construction projects and reconstruction of damaged areas over all Iraq,” said Baghdad resident Abdullah Ahmed Salal.

Haidar Emad, a veterinarian from Nasiriyah, said: “Drugs have spread throughout Iraq, wrecking younger people. So why there is no real action by the government to stop drug dealers?”

“What a shame that the government has allowed militias to carry the weapons but voted to ban virtual games” he added. “Families are responsible for keeping the games (meant for players over 17 years old) from their children, not the government.”

Ali Mahmoud, an unemployed 25-year-old from Basra, said unemployment was driving the uptick in online video games. “Instead of banning games,” he said, “the government should provide jobs if they care for the people.”

World Bank data indicate that 17% of young Iraqi men and 27% of Iraqi women are jobless.

Despite the largely negative reaction, some Iraqis said the ban was necessary to protect young people from becoming addicted to the games and to encourage healthier behaviour.

Ali Suhail Najm, an Iraqi living in the Netherlands, said he supported the ban because he felt the games pose dangers to youth and make them more undisciplined.

Basra human rights activist and mother of three Fatima al-Bahadili said she was also happy about the ban.

“It is intolerable for young people to be sitting behind the computer or fixing their eyes on phones the whole day,” she said. “This is my first time I support parliament with the decision to ban the games.”

It is unclear when the ban, which was voted on April 17, is to be implemented. The Iraqi Ministry of Communication said it has not received an official order from parliament to bar access to PUBG.

However, even when it is put into effect, tech-savvy youth are likely to quickly find ways to bypass the ban, said Hussein.

“It is not a technology-based decision,” he said.

Former parliament member Talib Abdulkareem al-Mimari said the issue illustrated politicians’ misplaced priorities.

“Parliamentarians agreed to ban PUBG in only one day while they did not agree to vote on many important issues of interest for Iraq or find drastic solutions to youth unemployment,” Mimari said.

“It is best to look at the reasons why young people and children play these kinds of electronic games,” he added, citing unemployment. “There is no support by the ministries for youth to develop their talents and skills.”

“It is unacceptable to ban video games like PUBG and it is a clear infringement on personal freedom,” Mimari said.