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Friday, 25 September 2009

Facebook killers:Mafia Wars, a hugely popular game on the social networking site, is making college kids addicted to violence

Facebook killers:Mafia Wars, a hugely popular game on the social networking site, is making college kids addicted to violence. It’s all virtual of course, but experts warn of potential real-life damage
September 26, 2009 at 01:06:22 AM

There is a kind of undeclared war brewing on Facebook. If the gals, the metrosexuals and the left-field types have Farmville, then the macho types have their own Mafia Wars. Among college-going guys, Mafia Wars seems to be the most popular game these days. Well, if you think it is just brain dead hunks with Kalashnikovs going wham-wham, you are seriously mistaken.

This is adult stuff, and it pays to be creative and cunning. The guys who play it have a whole lot of underworld role models to pick from - sharpshooters and contractors to slumlords and proper dons - and the survival skills range from simple deceit and backstabbing to becoming life-long fifth columnists and managing a drug cartel or a gambling paradise.

And, boy, are the guys hooked! “This game is so addictive that I play this three times a day, for two hours each. Initially, I started off by learning the skill behind killing people by taking small mafia jobs.

I began my career in the game as an online killer by making some money through these jobs. Today, I am worth US $ 65,80,00,000. I have over 50 properties,” boasts Gnanaskandan V, a third-year engineering student at BMS College of Engineering, who in every other respect is a nerd.

MOB JUSTICE
Mafia Wars is a simulation of a real underworld. It has regular gang wars and peaceful interludes when depleted gangs cease fire to regroup. There is sharing and, if need be, even stealing of weapons, creating misunderstandings among gangs, and, occasionally, ganging up to jointly battle the common enemy, the cops.

The game has, in fact, spread its tentacles beyond the virtual world. Collegians are doing ‘favours’ in the game and getting them back through class tests, academic help and even relationships. “Recently, two of my friends declared war against each other and I had to take sides. In the game, the support you have determines if you will win or not. I supported the right candidate and he won! Later on, this person came over and thanked me for it and even offered to return the favour,” explains Karan Shetty, a student at Bangalore Medical College. About the favours, he said: “We had internals recently in college and I had to clarify many doubts. With so many favours due, I can approach anyone seeking help. They have to help me now,” he added. Karan has already taken part in over 100 killings, and fought over 1000 fights.

The prospect of making some quick virtual money through criminal empires is another driving factor. “There is a reason behind playing the game all through the day. The properties that we have generates revenue that has to be collected every three hours. I go online to do just that before the value deteriorates. I then invest them in more casinos, and become stronger,” explains Suhas Gaur.

REAL-LIFE PROBLEMS
The thrill Mafia Wars provides the participants is unmistakable but what about the violent proclivities it unconsciously breeds? “While older people can be more logical, such games can be particularly dangerous for youngsters in the 14-18 age group, who are still learning by imitation. They might try to imitate actions in these games in real life. Moreover, if it is a violent kid who has poor impulsive control, it is even more dangerous, as they may transfer their aggression into real life more often,” said Dr Thomas M J, Consultant Psychiatrist at Sagar Hospital.

Dr Thomas feels that young people who are diffident and not very assertive in real life, because of their inherent qualities and the kind of social environment they have been brought up, may enjoy playing these games because it gives them a chance to vent their hidden anger. Such games may also be popular among those who are generally aggressive in nature and impulsive and they are happy to show their aggression on such a platform. Mafia Wars and the like would also take time away from actual socialisation, studies and other activities that help in young adults’ social development. According to Dr Thomas, among younger people, these games may also influence them to think that violence is acceptable.

‘BAN THE GAME’
‘Be a farmer but not a mafia don’: This is the tip to students from college principals. With gaming in social networking sites luring students like never before, college managements are ready to compromise with games like Farmville but not Mafia Wars. Students were denied access to sites like Orkut though Facebook was an exception. But, with many students logging onto Facebook for games like Mafia Wars, college managements are installing firewalls to restrict the game.

“Encouraging students to become virtual mafia leaders is definitely not part of our culture. Though we know the game is for fun, it is not the appropriate age for students to play such games. I have already instructed my men to restrict the game through a firewall,” said J Surya Prasad, Principal of PES College of Engineering.

Joining the chorus, Rajanikanth, Principal of M S Ramaiah Institute of Technology said, “No student in our college can access the game. We have already banned it. Firstly, a college is not the place to play games. Secondly, we do not want such games where students give virtual ‘contracts’ to others.” Rana Pratap Reddy of Reva Engineering College said, “We will educate the students about the negativity of such games. We do not encourage such gaming by students in campuses.”

ROLE CALL
Here are some choice posts on Facebook:

Prithvi just iced Mike Linardo, bringing their total body count to 334 in Mafia Wars. Prithvi is offering you a special bonus to make you as fierce as they are!

Prithvi requested help in Cuba with the Capture An Army Outpost job in Mafia Wars.

Mafia Wars, Help Needed: Suraj is offering a bounty for any friend who fights their enemy: a level 14 Skilled Street Thug in Mafia Wars.

Gnana needs you to join their Mafia family in Mafia Wars.

Prithvi requested help in Cuba with the Silence a Noisy Neighbour job in Mafia Wars.

Mafia Wars, War Victory: Prithvi’s friends overwhelmed Niteen Nj’s Mafia. Prithvi Bhaskar rewarded their friends with a free Sodium Pentothal in Mafia Wars.

Prithvi requested help with the Whack a Rival Crew Leader job in Mafia Wars.

Vikram requested help with the Smuggle Across the Border job in Mafia Wars.

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