Why the video game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) is causing controversy in some Arab countries

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Updated 08 July 2019

Why the video game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) is causing controversy in some Arab countries

  • The online game has become a global phenomenon, with many Saudi fans
  • But some countries are banning it due to its violent content and addictive features

RIYADH: Gulf states are joining the list of countries whose lawmakers are expressing concern over an online game with violent content and addictive features that has rapidly gained in popularity among both youngsters and adults.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), created by the South Korean company Bluehole, has become a global phenomenon, downloaded more than 360 million times since its release in late 2017.

Jordan’s Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) has blocked the PUBG site and warned that the game “had negative effects on its users.”

The TRC said in a statement last week that PUGB had been proven to “promote violence, isolation and self-centredness.”

Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council is also reported to be debating whether to ban PUBG.

Independent Arabia, a sister publication of Arab News, reported on Sunday that the Shoura Council was recommending a ban. It said Mohammad Al-Qahtani, a council member, had cited numerous complaints about the game.

Arab News contacted both the Shoura Council and the General Commission for Audiovisual Media but was unable to reach them for comments.

Often likened to the blockbuster book and film series “The Hunger Games,” PUBG pits marooned characters against each another in a virtual fight to the death, and has become one of the world’s most controversial mobile games.

PUBG became so popular in Jordan that the authorities had to issue a warning in December to government employees not to play it.


The image above shows characters from other controversial games

(L to R):

  • Assassin’s Creed - Faced backlash due to negative portrayal of Arabs
  • Grand Theft Auto - Criticized for extreme violence and objectionable scenes
  • Overwatch - “Gambling” aspect of loot boxes was considered un-Islamic by many
  • Destiny - Heavily combat-focused gameplay prompted calls for its ban
  • Fortnite - Violent assault of family members by streamer prompted serious concern

In April, a member of the UAE’s Federal National Council (FNC) called on the authorities to ban PUBG.

After receiving complaints from parents, Naima Al-Sharhan, head of the FNC Committee of Education, urged the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to block PUBG and similar games.

In May, Chinese tech company Tencent ceased offering the game, instead directing users to a newly launched and nearly identical program it had created.

PUBG is already banned in Iraq, Nepal, the Indian state of Gujarat and the Indonesian province of Aceh.

It was blocked in Iraq after the country’s parliament voted unanimously to ban the game for “inciting violence” in the war-torn country.

Psychologists in many countries say PUBG encourages violence and contributes to bullying among children, even though it is only rated suitable for users above the age of 16.

They say online games such as PUBG have a psychological influence on users the same way that drugs, smoking and drinking do, and could lead to behavioural changes.

This is the trailer to the game that's causing so much upset:

There is also concern that PUBG’s voice chat option could enable groups with criminal intent to groom younger users, or to harass them.

But Nawaf Al-Mussaed, a Saudi gamer, streamer, and video game podcaster, said there is no way PUBG can prompt violence in real life. “I don’t think the issue is with the game itself. It is parents who don’t supervise their kids properly,” he told Arab News.

“Parents need to be more careful with the media that their children consume, especially with media that is clearly created for and marketed towards adults. Games like PUBG aren’t made for children.”

Al-Mussaed does not think banning PUBG will be effective. “There are plenty of ways to circumvent these bans, and people in Saudi Arabia have been doing this for years. They’re already well accustomed to all the ways you can get around them. In the long run it’s not going to help at all.”

Cybersecurity experts echo his views, saying combat games such as PUBG and Fortnite are so addictive and brutal, blocking the site may not be enough. Determined players are likely to find ways to get around the block to get their fix.

They also say that despite the backlash, PUBG continues to update its game play modes and graphics to encourage young people to keep on playing.

A tournament held from June 15 as part of the Jeddah Season festival at the city’s King Abdullah Sports City attracted both male and female PUBG gamers.

“I am still a student and I spend most of my time playing PUBG,” Ahad Uz Zaman, 20, who won a PUBG match in a field of 50 people, told Arab News.

“My mom scolds me a lot, asking me why I play this game all the time so I am glad I could put my PUBG skills to some use and make her happy.”

Another participant, Lujain Mohammed, 29, said: “I have been playing PUBG for a year now, it is my first time participating in a competition.

“My video game addiction started when I was a kid. That’s the thing about video games — once you get addicted there is no way out, even if you are a grown up.”

This is not the first time an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) has stirred concern in Saudi Arabia.

In April 2019, Arab News reported that the popularity of battle royale type games, specifically those that encouraged players to spend real-life money on in-game items and advantages, were a cause for growing concern.

Games such as Fortnite, Apex Legends and PUBG are all advertised as free-to-play. However, they provide players with the opportunity to pay real money for in-game cosmetic items, leading many in Saudi Arabia to urge the banning of the games as they are seen to encourage gambling.

Microtransactions in video games are real-money purchases a player makes within a game, either to progress or to improve the playing experience, for example by gaining new equipment or abilities.

Despite the name, these purchases can range in price from a few cents to $100 or more.

Lucky players who get a valuable loot box prize often share their good fortune on social media, which is a form of free advertising for the game that encourages other players to pay money and try their luck.

But the use of loot boxes is controversial, with complaints from gamers and the media that they offer wealthier players an unfair advantage and could lead to addiction.

The console game Star Wars Battlefront 2, for example, faced a huge backlash when it was released in November 2017. Players have to pay money to unlock certain features of the game, on top of the $60 for the game itself. One website estimated that the total cost of buying all of these features is $2,100.



Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

Updated 20 July 2019

Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

  • The TV images beamed from 320,000km away in space left viewers astounded but happy
  • The TV coverage influenced thinking and attitudes in the Kingdom just like everywhere else

DUBAI: It was a sleepy afternoon in Saudi Arabia, just days before the end of the school vacation, and Saudis had their eyes glued to their TV sets as they waited for live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Before July 20, 1969, the idea of a human walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction. However, almost overnight, sci-fi had turned into reality with a live broadcast showing American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s dramatic descent onto the empty lunar landscape.

Between science fiction and science fact, the live coverage of the lunar landing amounted to an unusual fusion of news and entertainment.

Saudi TV technicians bring the first live images of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing to
viewers around the Kingdom. (Supplied photo)

The historic images — beamed back to Earth more than 320,000 km away — left Saudi viewers astounded and confused, but mostly elated to be witnessing such an epoch-making event.

The event was covered live on television and radio stations in Saudi Arabia. Most Saudis and residents living in the Kingdom watched it on Saudi channels 1 and 3, owned by Saudi Aramco.

Hessah Al-Sobaie, a housewife from Al-Dawadmi, recalled watching the moon landing from her grandparents’ backyard as an 11-year-old.

“It felt weird watching a human walk on the moon,” she told Arab News. “I remember the endless questions I asked as a child.”

While most people were aware that going to the moon was risky, many Saudis believed that such a journey was impossible and all but unthinkable.


1. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission control room in Houston has been restored to its 1969 condition and regular tours
will be conducted by the Johnson Space Center.

2. NASA ‘Science Live’ will have a special edition on July 23 on board the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 capsule.

3. A summer moon festival and family street fair will be held in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from July 17-20.

4. Downtown Houston’s Discovery green will host a free public screening of the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary, with an appearance by NASA astronaut Steve Bowen.

5. Amateur radio operators will host a series of events on July 20-21.

6. The US Space and Rocket Center is staging a special ‘Rockets on Parade’ exhibition.

The Apollo 11 mission prompted discussions across the Middle East over the reality of what people saw on their TV screens. Some Saudi scholars found it hard to believe their eyes.

“I watched it, and I clearly remember each and every detail of the coverage,” Hayat Al-Bokhari, 68, a retired school principal in Jeddah, said.

“My father, Abdul, was 56 at the time. He said the landing was faked. He couldn’t believe or accept that a human could go to the moon.”

Khaled Almasud, 70, a retired university lecturer, was a student in the US state of Oregon at the time of the mission. “Americans were stunned and over the moon, happy with their national achievement. But many Saudis like me were either in denial or insisting on more proof.”

Since the beginning of the 1960s, King Faisal had been rapidly transforming Saudi Arabia, inviting foreign-trained experts to help build a modern country with world-class infrastructure.

Billie Tanner, now 90, lived in the Kingdom for many years with her husband, Larry, and their two children, Laurie and Scott, aged six and four. The family had just arrived in Saudi Arabia and headed to the Aramco compound in Ras Tanura in the Eastern Province.

A screengrab of video of the first lunar landing beamed toward Earth and shown on television worldwide. 

“We were going through a culture shock,” she told Arab News. “I wasn’t thinking of the moon landing, but we heard about it on the news from Dhahran.

“My kids tried to see the astronauts on the moon with their binoculars and said they could see them walking around.”

The Apollo 11 spaceflight has become a milestone in the annals of human history and science. Since 1969 space exploration has greatly expanded man’s knowledge of the universe, far beyond Earth’s limits.

The captivating live coverage of the moon landing inspired millions of people around the world, profoundly influencing their thinking and attitudes.

The people of Saudi Arabia were no exception.