Gamers are everywhere. Earphones in; heads down with their phones clasped in their hands. They tend to sit in packs when they can. On long train commutes in Mumbai’s dense rail network, at playgrounds (the playing is all virtual), in schools, in offices, at restaurants, bars. They buck the stereotype too: these are not just teenage boys. India’s gamers are men in their mid-thirties and women in their mid-twenties. Even celebrities are doing it.
And most are playing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Although first released in 2017, when the mobile version of the multiplayer shooter game came out a year later, Indians went wild. Colloquially dubbed “PUBG,” the game, developed by South Korean Bluehole Inc., quickly went viral in the digitally evolving market that is India.
An estimated 50 million gamers there actively play PUBG; 73.4% of those opt for the mobile version. Among the youth, this is no surprise. India has the cheapest mobile data plans in the world (an estimated 468 million Indians had smartphones in 2017; that number is expected to double by 2022.). Furthermore, the game’s popularity has led to several gaming competitions, whose prizes reach as high as $14,000 to $200,000. In a country where the average person earns $140 a month, this is a staggering amount of money—not to mention the most for any online gaming competition in the country.
Beyond “hardcore” gamers though, PUBG is something of a popular culture phenomenon. The Indian version of the game’s Instagram page has 1.1 million followers (in comparison to 4.5 million worldwide). Such is the game’s reach, it was even banned in certain districts of the state of Gujarat in January 2017 under recommendation from the Protection of Child Rights, which suggested that children were addicted and that they were suffering academically. At least ten university students were arrested; once the ban was lifted, police cautioned they were concerned about the “extreme use of the game.”
An estimated 50 million gamers actively play PUBG; 73.4% of those opt for the mobile version.
In a few cases, the “violent games lead to violent lives” theory has arguably been proven true: one boy beheaded his father for snatching his phone. A PUBG-addicted college student murdered his family.
The online battle royale game is still thriving, however. As India explores the unchartered waters of online gaming laws, it is clear that gaming culture is here to stay.
Fast-food chains have popped up to serve hungry PUBG players: Jaipur has Player Unknown’s Belly Grounds, Vijayawada, PUBG Shakes; Khadkali, Hotel PUBG Cafe; Pune, PubG Chicken Dinner. The list is long. And PUBG has infiltrated Indian culture beyond food: Themed birthdays and even themed weddings. A wedding went viral because the groom played Pub-G during the ceremony. A nineteen-year-old woman from Gujarat filed for divorce on the grounds that her husband didn’t let her play PUBG.
As the ongoing PUBG Mobile Tour whittles teams down for the $200,000 grand-prize, one thing is certain: this influx of gaming has changed social perceptions of what it means to be a “gamer”. Women gamers are abundant (more so than men). And college students can afford to pay their tuition thanks to campus gaming tournaments.