December 4, 2023

It is time to ensure regulation of online gaming industry

One of the founding fathers of the United States of America, Benjamin Franklin, famously remarked, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” While the history of learning in India can be traced back to Vedic times when Shruti (which may be translated as ‘what is spoken’) was the medium for knowledge transfer, the usage of games has always been viewed as an important alternative mode of learning.

With the IT revolution in full swing, the online gaming sector (particularly in India) has seen remarkable expansion in recent years. According to estimates, there are currently over 300 million gamers in India. According to a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) research issued in 2021, India’s mobile gaming market would increase from $1.5 billion in revenue in 2020 to $5 billion by 2025.

Further, there are currently around 900 gaming firms in India, including Infosys Limited, Hyperlink InfoSystem, Fgfactory, and Zensar Technologies. The online gaming environment is appealing to individuals, particularly youngsters, since it immerses them in a parallel universe in which they may exercise control and enjoy themselves without leaving their homes. The gaming industry has seen another uptick with the emergence of metaverse and augmented reality.

However, it is important to remember that this expanded digital accessibility will provide its own set of challenges to the population. With the increased access and limited parental supervision, there is always a high chance of children falling prey to addiction in the online gaming space which may impact the mental health of children, especially when it crosses the mark of moderation. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had, in this regard, announced a plan to include “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition.

The access to tablets/laptops/smartphones as a part of online education, invariably increases the screen time which may lead to poor social skills and academics. Lack of a uniform regulatory framework, that distinguishes games of skill from games of chance, has allowed domestic and offshore betting and gambling platforms to operate with complete impunity.

Proliferation of such betting and gambling platforms has resulted in financial losses for users who have no recourse available to seek action due to absence of a national regulatory framework. The online presence exposes users’ identity, whereabouts and even financial details which raises serious concerns over privacy and data protection.

At the individual level creating separate emails for gaming, using VPN, having a strong alphanumeric password, using an alias name and using firewall protection or HTTPS protocols are ways to ensure privacy.

However, the online gaming industry within India lacks regulatory oversight. Well-regulated online gaming, in this respect, has its own advantages, such as economic growth and additional benefits. Further pertaining to the National Education Policy, its set of recommendations encourages online education in which the teaching experience could be made more enriching and interesting for students by adding quizzes, competitions, games, online trivia, and assessments to keep the motivation levels high amongst the students and ensuring their higher participation.

A task force set up by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has prepared a draft report of its recommendations to regulate the online gaming industry in India. Among others, it has also recommended creating a regulatory body for the online gaming industry.

Therefore, it is time for India to take lead in ensuring effective regulation of the online gaming industry while remembering the famous words of Sheryl Sandberg, as per which ‘Done is better than Perfect’.

(The author is BJD Rajya Sabha MP)


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