‘I forgot about the world:’ Afghan youth escapes in a video game

Kebul, Afghanistan – Rifle fire, haste and distant explosions. Rat-Fire Rat. Cars were flown with grenades. The young man was transferred.

This can happen any day in Kabul, where Targeted killings, Terrorist attacks And Intense violence The routine is done, and the city often feels as if it is under siege. But for Sufiullah Sharifi, his back firmly planted a dusty stumble in the Qala-e Fatullah neighborhood, death and destruction on his phone held the landscape-style in his hands.

“On Friday I play from early in the morning until 4 in the evening,” said 20-year-old Mr. Sharifi with a sly grin, as if he knew he was detailing the outline of a drug to a passerby. His left hand is depicted with a skull in a juster’s cap, a grim image offset by his Lancs and a not-quite-old-enough daemon. “Almost every night, it’s 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.”

The game is called Player-Familiar Battleground, but its millions of players worldwide, no matter what the language, refer to as PUBG (pronounced pub-g). It is violent. And it is being played widely across Afghanistan, almost escaping reality as the 19-year-old war grinds on.

In the game, the player falls on a large piece of territory, finds weapons and equipment and kills all, all of whom are playing the game against each other. Vijay translates to the standing of the last person or team. Which makes his growing popularity in Afghanistan because he can almost describe the state of war despite the ongoing peace negotiations in Qatar.

Afghan lawmakers are trying to ban PUBG, saying the war seems more elusive than ever, arguing that it promotes violence and distracts youth from their schoolwork.

But Mr. Sharif laughed at the mention of the proposed ban, knowing that he could easily circumvent it with software on his phone.

He said that he uses the game to communicate with friends and sometimes even talks to girls who play it. This in itself is a remarkable achievement as Afghanistan’s cell networks over the past several years have been able to provide the kind of data needed to play games like PUBG, let alone communicate with people.

Gaming centers in Kabul became popular in the years following the 2001 United States invasion, which overturned the Taliban’s ban on entertainment, including video games and music. But PUBG and other mobile games are making these staples useless because they are downloadable on smartphones, and for free, in a country where 90 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Sometimes, players pay a local vendor to download the game, a solution to avoid a limited and sometimes expensive data plan on the phone. Which costs less than 60 centimeters.

Abdul Habib, 27, runs a video gaming den in West Kabul, mostly football games. It is a closet-shaped room on the lower floor of a shopping center, with TVs, sofas and Playstations.

The shopping center has other gaming dens, separated by doors and different owners, but is associated with neon lights and a dimly lit atrium, where youngsters look for couch space and controllers at the front and back. A snack stand sells sausage sandwiches.

“If you can’t fight in a real war, you can actually do it,” Mr. Habib said of violent video games, including PUBG.

Mr. Habib rented his den for four years; Usually around 100 people arrive in a day. A mixture of children, teenagers, parents and mixed adults pays about 65 cents to play for an hour. But his business was hit hard in the first months of the coronovirus epidemic when he – and dozens of other Kabul gaming dens – shut down for two months. Then the fixation on PUBG was lifted.

Now it has popularity among others in Mr. Habib’s business and industry.

Abdullah Popalzai, 20, has his game center across the street from Mr. Sharifi’s house. It is a small shop, with garage-roller doors, a generator, four TVs, four playstations, and an old football table.

“I used to earn 800 fs a day,” Mr. Popalzai said. It is about $ 10. “Now I am barely able to eat bread and food for the family.”

Mohammed Ali sees PUBG as an escape. Leaning outside Mr. Habib’s den, the 23-year-old, Mr. Ali pointed to the headphones around his neck, bought specifically to play PUBG so he could disappear into the game with his friends.

“I’m too busy with the game to forget about the world,” he said. “It distracts me from the city, attacks, robberies, thieves and crime.”

The website PlayerCounter holds PUBG’s total of nearly 400 million players on phones, computers and video game consoles since its release in 2017. But aside from the actual evidence, it is difficult to say how many Afghans play. The game’s developer did not respond to an inquiry about the number of players in the country.

Anticipating a possible ban of the game by the Afghan government, a major cellphone provider tried to figure out how much its network would be affected.

The company said an official banned the game just after midnight one day and later lost 50 percent of its network data traffic. The official said that at that time there were more than 100,000 people playing the game across the country.

PUBG is not the first form of entertainment to pull ire from the Afghan government. Many Turkish soap operas in 2008 Flew through the air Because they did not align with “Afghan religion and culture”.

Between the once-oppressive Taliban regime of the 1990s and the development of the Internet and social media in the 21st century, Afghanistan’s government has long been on a thin line – trying to balance its religiously conservative population with democratic freedom Still working.

For Mohammed Akbar Sultanzada, chairman of the Afghan Parliament’s Transport and Telecommunications Commission, the problem with PUBG is not just its violence. He said that it has also invaded the already stressed, repeated threats and understanding classrooms in the country. PUBG was banned in Iraq last year for similar reasons.

“It can be really negative for children’s mental health,” said Charmaghz and local education activist Fresha Karim, a non-profit official in Kabul. “It seems to me that it encourages and normalizes violence and makes them a part of it.”

Outside influences, including education, are often disproportionate among Afghans, but the high degree of illiteracy has left the population vulnerable to just that. In the 1980s, the United States Distributed millions of text books To those Afghan children who perpetrated violence through lessons and pictures that talked about jihad and weapons of war as a way to help them learn the alphabet and basic mathematics.

But PUBG is not assigned to classes; It is played in desks and courtyards and on the side of the road when some children leave school. If the game is banned, many people say, they will just turn to virtual private networks and keep playing.

“If they don’t want people to be violent,” said Mr. Habib, the owner of Video Gaming Den, “they should stop the war on the battlefield.”

Nazim Rahim contributed reporting.

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