Express News Service

BENGALURU: After a ban of nearly nine months, the popular mobile game PUBG is making a comeback to India under a new name – Battlegrounds India. If you are not into gaming, you must know that PUBG in India has a remarkable story.

Before PUBG, video games were restricted to urban, privileged kids. The primary reason for PUBG’s popularity is the spread of smartphones and 4G. While smartphones were looked at as an evil in the hands of children, the rise of educational apps made it necessary for parents to equip their children with smartphones. Little did the parents know that the children were using smartphones not to clear doubts, but to vanquish enemies. By 2019, PUBG was by far the most popular game in India.

The game was accessible, and the storyline uncomplicated. It didn’t require a high-end computer or smartphone, and could be played on most devices. While gaming was earlier restricted to urban kids named Nivaan and Ayaain, PUBG democratised gaming in India like never before. Streaming channels mushroomed and youngsters became influencers purely on the basis of their PUBG skills. In its own way, PUBG was the first video game where a kid from Saharanpur could compete and win against a posh kid from South Mumbai.

The lockdown unlocked the true reach of the game. Stuck at home, many (like me) who had never played a video game, got hooked on PUBG. Having played the game in its golden days, I remember meeting people from across the country on PUBG. I met youths from Kashmir who were using their WiFi since 4G was banned in their state. I met kids from Kerala who discussed their wonderful films while shooting at enemies. Kids would play the game on their parents’ phone, and couples would play the game together, leading to strange lines such as ‘Jaanu, please kill him for me, won’t you?’! PUBG was a little peek into the real penetration of smartphones in India.

The first real strike for PUBG was when Modiji mentioned it. As a parent complained about her child being hooked to games, Modiji asked ‘Yeh PUBG wala hai kya?’. That statement sent shockwaves across PUBG players in India. Gradually, reports began to trickle in. A kid in Punjab spent `16 lakhs purchasing virtual shoes and caps for his friends on PUBG! That’s one lakh more than the `15 lakhs we were promised when the Swiss Bank black money would be recovered. The final blow, however, was the report of PUBG being funded by China. Deep within, we all knew it was a matter of time.

Modiji is no stranger to making sudden announcements, and PUBG was banned overnight by the Indian authorities.  Hundreds of YouTube streaming channels shut down, people like me were robbed of the only interesting game to have spread across the length and breadth of the nation. A few gamers migrated to Call of Duty, but the new game just didn’t have the ‘Indianness’ that PUBG promised. Not to be outdone, an Indian gaming company announced a Made-In-India game titled FAU-G. But the game was dull – there were no guns, and the weapons were given names like ‘Lalkaar’!

PUBG returns this week as ‘Battlegrounds’ – the makers having washed their hands off all Chinese connections. The makers were smart enough to rename the game ‘Battlegrounds India’, just in case someone questioned their loyalties. I haven’t downloaded the game yet, but one gets the feeling the makers of PUBG could have taken a leaf out of Yogi Adityanath’s book and simply rechristened it as ‘Prabhujee’ – I doubt anybody would have had a problem!

Hriday Ranjan Writer, comedian

(Views expressed are the author’s own)

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