The online gaming industry is one of the major sunrise sectors of India. Online gaming emerged in India in the mid-2000s with PC and console gaming platforms, but since the Covid-19 lockdown there has been a rapid surge in the gaming industry. Increase in smartphone penetration along with better internet connectivity, rising disposable income of Indians, large youth population and easily available online payment methods are some of the factors that fuelled the fast expansion of the online gaming industry.
The Indian gaming industry is likely to grow from ₹22,972.936 crore in 2022 to ₹41,023.1 crore in 2025 at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 28-30 per cent. It is expected that the number of gamers in India will increase from 42 crore in 2022 to 50 crore by 2025. In fact, with 71 per cent of urban population engaged in casual or professional games, India ranks among the top 10 gaming countries in the world. As per a latest study by Statista and Kepios, India holds 8th position amongst the top-10 nations which tweet the most about gaming. India has even produced three major unicorns in the online gaming industry, namely, DreamSports, Games 24x7 and MPL.
Online gaming in India has the potential to be a multi-billion-dollar industry, but it comes with negative fallouts as well. In some cases, overindulgence in online gaming has resulted in addiction, causing change in lifestyle, priorities and routine. As per the State of India Gaming Report 2022, the average Indian gamer spends around 40 minutes a day playing casual games, and in FY22 the average time spent on mobile games was 8.5 hours per week.
The World Health Organization, on May 25, 2019, officially voted to include ‘gaming disorder’ as a behavioural addiction under the International Classification of Diseases. According to WHO, someone is affected by gaming disorder if he/she suffers with an inability to stop playing even though it interferes with other areas of one’s life, such as family relationships, school, work and sleep for at least one year. Often online gamers face the ‘Passivity Phenomena’ where their behaviour is controlled by external factors and if they are stopped from playing these online games, they become aggressive.
As per the data published in the Indian Journal of Community Medicine and Public Health 2020, about 3.5 per cent Indian adolescents suffer from Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD). The rate is 0.5 per cent higher than the global average. Indian studies show that 8 per cent boys and 3 per cent girls suffer from IGD. In December 2022, LocalCircles conducted a study where 65,000 parents from 287 districts of India were respondents to the questionnaire. The results showed that around 40 per cent of the parents admitted that their children of age group 9-17 years are addicted to videos, gaming and other social media.
India will have to quickly ramp up its de-addiction infrastructure to protect the youth from the harmful effects of online gaming. This must also be supplemented with a massive public education programme in both rural and urban areas.
Ensuring that these people get rehabilitated in society is also equally important. But financing the infrastructure gap and mass mobilisation campaigns is not the government’s job alone; it should also be the responsibility of gaming companies . The joint initiative of plastic producers and the government in fixing companies’ responsibility in eradicating plastic from waste is a case in point, and should be emulated. The government could similarly engage with gaming companies and work towards ‘building de-addiction infra’ as part of the latter’s extended responsibility.
Severe cases of addiction to online gaming are pushing many into a debt trap and, as a result, to suicides as well. On April 6, 2023, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, the nodal ministry for “matters relating to online gaming” notified the amendments to IT Rules 2021 to provide more clarity and better regulation on the online gaming sector.
Several State governments have also come up with laws against betting and wagering. Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana have established digital de-addiction centres
The government has made significant efforts to protect society from the menace of online gaming, but the impact of these needs to be assessed. Although digital de-addiction centres exist in the country, whether they have the required capacity to tackle the massive challenge needs to be assessed. Is there any official record of the number of addicted people in various districts/States of India, and are they available in the public domain? Is there data on gaming addicts who went for counselling or to de-addiction centres and have been successfully rehabilitated? These vital questions remain unanswered.
Creating awareness on addiction and child abuse due to online gaming particularly amongst adolescents, and professional counselling for the addicted youth to disengage from compulsive gaming are some of the probable solutions to the social problem of gaming addiction.
This must be done by the government with the help of gaming companies, NGOs, counsellors and other stakeholders working at the ground level. Parents and teachers must also participate by helping adolescents set healthy recreational limits and channelise the potential of India’s youth in the right direction.
The writers are Executive Director and Research Associate, respectively, at Pahle India Foundation
The government has made significant efforts to protect society from the menace of online gaming, but the impact of these needs to be assessed.