All or Nothing? The Case for Regulated Online Gaming

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Government officials in Tamil Nadu had asked an independent panel to evaluate the possible link between gambling and self-harm in view of banning online games. Psychiatrists say mental health is a separate issue and deserves a serious, systematic approach.

University Psychiatrist Submits Report to TN Authorities

There is no direct causal relation between indulging in online gaming and committing suicide. This is the ultimate conclusion that an independent research into the matter has reached, shedding light onto a sensitive issue that has repeatedly been a matter of public debate.

The report was requested by Tamil Nadu authorities a few months prior in an effort to justify upcoming legislation seeking to ban online games for money. However, the study – carried out by a leading Gujarati psychiatrist – revealed that there could be no possible link between playing a baccarat game online and committing suicide somewhere down the line.

Dr Sandip H. Shah, Professor of Psychiatry and Dean of the Government Medical College in Godhra, Gujarat, is the author of the elaborate “Suicide and Online Gaming” research paper. It was further peer reviewed by Dr. Ajay Chauhan, MD, the Medical Superintendent of the Ahmedabad Mental Health Hospital.

On one hand, the study states that there is no data in the public domain which could justify claims of such a correlation. On the other, scholars puts the emphasis on the fact that suicide is a complex matter, with separate deep rooted personal reasons that require an attentive approach.

Regulation, not Sensation

The research was part of the efforts of an independent panel of experts summoned by policy makers in Tamil Nadu. Over the past year, they have been trying to introduce legislation to regulate online gaming. The TN government formally invited feedback from teachers, parents, youth, psychologists, consumer groups and NGOs, gaming companies and the general public.

Notably, psychiatric evaluations and market experts agreed that the best way forward is to establish proper regulation of the market, based on in-depth studies from the scientific community and best practices around the world. Moralistic statements and sensational media coverage of personal tragedies have never helped and have only led to miscalculated attempts at blanket bans on online games.

Dr. Shah’s research, the basis of psychiatric support to government officials, points out that rash legislation is usually the result of misinformation. The study repeatedly evokes the lack of any causal correlation between online gaming and suicide. It evokes the need to gather more data, before and after having legalized online gaming with precise rules.

A “rational” regulation should be supported by further studies from scientific and technical communities, he goes on. Even coincidences do not lead to proper conclusions of causation, while suicide prevention policies need to be based on statistics, case reports and broader strategies. Media reports into financial fraud and personal distress usually lead to ad hoc interventions which are never well thought through.

Indeed, the consequences of extreme bans have proven to push real-money games into the black market and online games into the offshore scene. Thus, Indian players are less protected and exposed to stress and more direct and indirect threats.

Researchers explicitly recommend collaborative efforts between regulators, gaming companies and the medical community. Those should lead to a set of responsible gaming practices, licensed operators in TN (and the Union as a whole), as well as more consumer protection through strict rules and requirements.

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