An alcoholic gambler selling off his wife to friends in Bhagalpur, an accountant swindling crores from the Vanchiyoor treasury in Travancore, a 29-year-old contract worker at ISRO, Thiruvananthapuram, hanging himself in a rubber plantation over mounting debts running into several lakhs and a 13-year-old boy from Amalapuram in Andhra Pradesh siphoning off lakhs from his mother’s account are a few real-life stories that show how deadly online gaming is becoming. During the pandemic lockdown, online gaming was like manna from heaven. From ludo to PUBG, poker to rummy, the exponential growth in users—India recorded an estimated 365 million gamers in 2020—aided by a high penetration of smartphones and affordable internet data plans, made the gaming industry the next big thing in the country. Industry bodies made rosy predictions—online gaming in India was set to grow from a Rs 90 billion industry in 2020 to Rs 143 billion one by 2022.
And then a slew of suicides, especially in South India, brought online gaming under the scanner. The proliferation of loan apps that charge hefty interest rates and shame people if they fail to pay up added to the complexity. With court cases highlighting how operators were luring people with celebrity brand ambassadors like cricketers Sourav Ganguly and Virat Kohli and actors Tamannaah and Rana Daggubati, besides advertisements promising tenfold returns, the ‘sunrise’ industry has entered a corridor of uncertainty.