He was only 16.
Jamie Njenga, a Form Two student had been playing the online game Blue Whale Challenge whose last challenge, the 50th, demands that one commits suicide. He won the challenge, by losing his life.
Playing the bizarre game on his smartphone, Jamie became the latest casualty of the online game said to have claimed more than 200 lives of teenagers across the world so far – 130 of them in Russia.
Blue Whale Challenge, which is said to be brainwashing young gamers into killing themselves, is one of the most popular online games now. One can access it if they endorse certain hashtags and get involved in some groups.
After the gamer signs up for the game, he or she is assigned an administrator who provides them with a daily task to complete for 50 days, of which they must send photographic proof of completion. These tasks are initially simple enough, such as watching a horror movie or waking up at odd times but eventually they are told to inflict harm upon themselves. However on the 50th and final day, they are asked to kill themselves. Those who get cold feet are threatened that the administrator possesses all their information and would bring harm to them or their loved ones.
According to investigation reports, before his death, Jamie even went online to search for articles on how to commit suicide, reports one of his cousins confirmed to journalists.
“After going through his phone history we found that he had ‘Googled’ how to tie a rope for committing suicide,” said the cousin who did not want to be named.
The cousin also said that prior to taking his life, Jamie, his mother’s only child, had sent out messages to a few friends asking them to remember him and that they would meet in heaven.
“When police came to the scene, they found the body hanging from a rope on the balcony of the family house. There was no suicide note but we were informed that he was influenced by some online game. The body was then taken to the mortuary,” said Nairobi police boss Japheth Koome.
The death happened around 3am, Thursday.
The mystery surrounding the Blue Whale Challenge is deep. Some claimed that it is an application-based shadowy suicide challenge game that hacks into users’ phone and cannot be deleted. Others believe it is an online social media group, which simply pushes people to kill themselves.
In the 50 days of a gamer’s play, one is taken through horrific tasks, which include self-harming, watching horror movies and waking up at unusual hours. The challenges gradually get more extreme after every stage.
On the 50th day, the controlling manipulators behind the game reportedly instruct the youngsters to commit suicide.
“This is a new thing that calls for parents to keep abreast with their children’s online activities,” said the Nairobi police boss. The online game pokes new holes on the censorship debate, a hot-button issue in the gaming world and other online entertainment content that is proving hard for the government to regulate.
It is an international problem pitting online games developers, content regulators and teenagers against each other. It is a social problem that is proving too hard for the community to handle.
The issue complicates matters the more for the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB), the media watchdog that has been on what seems to be a fruitless warpath with online content such as Netflix, the streaming service subscribed to by over 80 million members worldwide.
When Netflix begun operating in Kenya early last year, KFCB condemned it as a moral threat and a national risk.
“In this era of global terrorism, including broadcasts over the internet by terrorist entities, vigilance is the price of safety and prevention,” KFCB said in a statement released to media houses.
“As Kenyans, we therefore need to ask all the right questions about the unregulated arrival and future of Netflix in the country. We need to ponder its implications in light of the ongoing war on terror by questioning the manner and nature of Netflix’s introduction of services in Kenya.”
Since then, very little has been said about Netflix, which continues to be consumed by entertainment lovers across the land even after KFCB wrote to Quartz in what turned out to be another online content tag of war.
“We cannot be a passive recipient of foreign content that could corrupt the moral values of our children,” KFCB chairman Jackson Kosgei told Quartz over the Netflix matter.
Joris Evers, a spokesman for Netflix wrote: “We empower consumers to make smart viewing choices by providing details on the titles on Netflix, including ratings and episode synopses. We also provide parental controls.”
And as KFCB hit a brick wall after the Communications Authority ruled that the streaming of Netflix service did not require a broadcasting license, as it is an Internet TV network, not a traditional broadcaster, Netflix continued to make in-roads across the country.
The Communications Authority moved its major focus to content on mainstream media and banned discussion of sex during peak listening hours, with a warning going to the popular Maina Kageni and Mwalimu King’ang’i hosted Classic FM Breakfast show.
But here are other games that pose a risk to the users.
If you haven’t heard of RapeLay, it simply means what it suggests. It puts a gamer in the shoes of a sexual predator and tasks him or her with stalking and having sex with a mother and her two daughters by force. The insanely controversial game developed by Japanese studio Illusion was released in 2006 and almost immediately kicked off a firestorm of bad emotions before it was banned in several countries after release. It is illegal to sell it in Argentina, Indonesia, and New Zealand.
This was a production by Rockstar Games, a studio that has courted controversy with the Grand Theft Auto games, to great success. However, when they dipped a toe into the brutal world of snuff porn with the Manhunt games, they got a little more than they bargained for. The first game in the series saw government pushback in New Zealand and other nations, but the second – which amped up the gore and brutality to previously unseen levels – really got hammered.
Manhunt 2 was “refused classification” in the UK – basically meaning it was too screwed up to even get a rating.
While it’s certainly logical that governments would have problems with the anarchic GTA games or the over-the-top carnage of Manhunt, what could be so awful about Bully, the company’s classic 2006 tale of an English schoolboy trying to navigate the social structures of boarding school?
Ask the government of Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost province of Brazil, which brought the hammer down on Bully shortly after the game was released. Their argument was that setting the game in a school would be “potentially harmful” to teenagers. A fine of 1,000 Brazilian reals per day can be levied on anybody selling or even owning the game.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2
Mexico has never seen a nationwide ban on any specific video game, but one title got regional authorities so pissed off that they managed to forbid it from being sold. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 isn’t just an insanely long title, it’s also a well-reviewed tactical shooter. Unfortunately, the game’s opening mission doesn’t paint the city of Ciudad Juarez in such a good light.
Your tactical team works with Mexican authorities to clear out guerrillas in the city streets, engaging in brutal firefights. The mayor of Juarez wasn’t terribly popular with a video game painting his city as unsafe (despite the rampant real-world drug violence there), and convinced the governor of Chihuahua to order the seizure of any copies of the game in the state and forbid it from being sold.
Many games push the envelope of bad taste, but none push quite as hard as the Postal series. The long-running sandbox titles put you in the shoes of an ordinary Joe trying to run errands only to be driven into a violent, homicidal rage (often by Gary Coleman), and their anarchic sense of humour is definitely an acquired taste.
Grand Theft Auto
The GTA games have been the target of pushback all over the globe for their glorification of violence and mayhem, but only one country has taken the drastic step of banning every single title in the franchise. That’s Thailand, surprisingly enough. The country is not typically censorious of violence (although they do ban games with adult sexual content), but Rockstar’s cash cow is a special exception due to some real-life consequences.
In 2008, a young man named Polwat Chino hailed a Bangkok taxi and, when it was time to pay for his ride, instead pulled out a knife and stabbed the driver to death. When cops picked him up, Chino blamed Grand Theft Auto for his violent actions, saying “killing seemed easy in the game” and he needed the money to play it (many Thai people do not own their own consoles or computers and instead play at Internet cafes). The government responded by outlawing all of the GTA games in one fell swoop.