The petition contended that children were becoming addicted to such games and that parents were left with little supervisory power due to the migration to online classes.
Distress Management Collective, a New Delhi-based NGO, has asked the government to set up a censor board for real money gaming and violent games. After this, it filed a petition praying for the Delhi High Court to instruct the government to implement the demand. DMC wants the government to “constitute a regulatory body with experts who can trace games that are violent in nature or where money is extracted for playing,” which would “suggest changes to the developers of violent games and should also be given the mandate to give age ratings for each game.” MediaNama has reviewed a copy of the petition.
It’s worth noting here that arguably the biggest major mobile game marketplace operating in India, the Google Play Store, already obtains age ratings from the International Age Ratings Coalition. Major game marketplaces already show age ratings.
Why this would be a censor board instead: Even the Central Board of Film Certification only “suggests” changes. However, the CBFC is justly known as the censor board because, without compliance with its suggested cuts, films cannot release in theatres. A “regulatory body” set up by the government cannot function if it does not have the power to regulate, which in this case translates directly to censorship of games (“suggest changes to the developers”) when the need for doing so is felt. Anything less would be an advisory body, not a regulatory body.
The court on Wednesday ordered the government to first deal with the NGO’s initial letter to it, sent on July 9, before going into the arguments of the case, Live Law reported.
Why it matters? Demands for regulation of content are a pile-up in India. It happened with streaming video, where an initial petition against Hotstar in 2016 over the years turned into a pile-on of petitions that were transferred to the Supreme Court and started getting parliamentary attention; this host of events eventually culminated in the Information Technology (Intermediary Liability and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. And so it may well be for video games, which may be the next front in the media regulation battles of India.
- Difficult to supervise digital time: “As classes are now online so parents are not in a position to reprimand children for being with a mobile phone, like they did in the past,” the petition argued. “Violent online games […] reward violent behaviour, with points or advancement to the next level,” the petition said.
- Games need regulation: The petition said that DMC is “very well aware that online gaming sector is a sunrise sector and it has the potential to propel a second software revolution in India, and is therefore not at all in favour of banning online and offline games. The Petitioner like some gaming federations and the Niti Aayog believes that there is a need to regulate online games.” It added that “the Hon’ble Madras High Court also recently expressed concern on the negative influence of online games on the lives of Children,” referring to a case earlier this month where the Chennai-based court admitted that children were addicted to devices, but stopped short of ordering the government to do anything.
- Children getting addicted: Citing reports of children getting addicted to video games, the petitioner said, “There is a need for Schools to give emphasis to counseling sessions and periodic session regarding the drastic effects of getting addicted to online gaming. The petition also intends to bring to the fore the role of Cyber Cell to tackle the menace of online game addiction and resultant monetary exploitation in some cases.”
“Online game addiction is considered to be a major factor behind low self-esteem, a preference for solitude and poor school performance among students now days. It is herein relevant to mention that most parents blame violent online games as the reason for the rise in aggressive behaviour of their children at homes.” — DMC letter to Ministry of Women & Child Development, attached to the petition
- PEGI ratings example: “It is worth noting that countries like UK and other European Countries classify each games on the basis of Pan European Game Information (PEGI) ratings,” the petition said. PEGI is a self-regulatory body, set up by the Interactive Software Federation of Europe, an industry body representing video game companies.
Real money gaming varying by state
As for the petitioner’s other demand, to regulate real money gaming, that is not a new ask, and state governments have started taking steps around the subject too. Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh have banned real money gaming altogether. Other states welcome or regulate real money gaming:
- Nagaland has a licensing system for games of skill, even if they involve real money
- Sikkim continuously updates its gaming laws to regulate stakes-based gaming, but allows real money gaming with games of skill
- Meghalaya has legalised games of skill as well as games of chance
The Supreme Court, as well as high courts, have held that “games of skill” don’t constitute gambling, which most states prohibit or tightly regulate. This has led to states casting their nets wider by banning or regulating “online gaming” in its stead.
- Karnataka Govt To Bring In Law Regulating Online Gambling, Betting: Report
- Gujarat HC wants state govt to act on online gambling and rummy apps
- Dream11 swats away Rajasthan HC challenge, court lends credibility to self-regulation body FIFS
- Plea in Kerala HC seeks ban on online gambling, particularly rummy
- Uttar Pradesh Law Commission Proposes Online Chance-Based Gambling Ban
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