How I Lost All My Friends to PUBG


How I Lost All My Friends to PUBG

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

“Chal Pochinki jaate hai.”

I thought it was a bit rich when my friend suggested that we could plan a trip to Russia, considering we had struggled to successfully execute a Lonavala trip over the last two years. Just as well – his Russia plans were no more concrete than our Lonavala ones. Turns out, he was talking about the online multiplayer game PUBG with his “squad” who were all seated around, faces stuck to their phones, attention completely diverted, as my attempt to talk to them fell on deaf ears. I might have had a more fruitful exchange with the monoliths at the Stonehenge.  

For the uninitiated, PUBG is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or an online multiplayer game. It’s like a shooting match where the last person to survive wins – think of it as an online version of life in Uttar Pradesh – and EVERYONE is playing it. Those who aren’t playing it, are deflecting attempts to be evangelised. “Bro, it’s so awesome, you should join,” players in my vicinity insist, making the same pitch that a cult leader might.

To say I have lost my friends to PUBG, would be an understatement because the only plans my friends are interested in these days include going to made-up places like Erangel, Miramar, and Sanhok on a six-inch phone so they can earn coins in some imaginary currency to buy costumes for their fictional characters. Of course, it’s yet another place on the Internet where some men pretend to be women.

The plague of PUBG is upon us and spinning out in every direction. Everywhere I look, I find sufferers.  

Smoke breaks in office have been replaced by PUBG breaks as fancy smoke rings make way for in-game smoke grenades. Instead of gossiping about co-workers and bitching about our bosses, my colleagues now beg each other for “8x scope” and “ammunition” in their spare time. I miss those simpler times when the one thing that brought us all together was a shared hatred of our seniors. Like the Mahagathbandhan, there are now different factions in office, each forming their own squads to play. Everyone from the office boy to the nerd in accounts wants to know whether his Mi phone can run PUBG and how to get clothes for his character. Each time we step out, I find my friends trying to get a game in as we wait for other friends or for the waiter to bring us our food. They all get engrossed in their phones, while I look a bit lost like the Indian batting lineup playing test cricket in England.

Smoke breaks in office have been replaced by PUBG breaks as fancy smoke rings make way for in-game smoke grenades.

It isn’t just the adults who are afflicted. In my building compound, kids gather every evening in the garden so they can sit around and play PUBG together. To avoid the scrutiny of their parents, they also carry cricket bats and badminton rackets to give off the impression that they will be playing actual sports, and not just the mobile games they play at home all day. In reality, the only exercise they get these days is crawling in the grass on screen in the “safe zone”. All my cricket, football, and badminton partners are now gone and I am now left playing with elderly uncles who last played cricket when LK Advani still had hopes to become India’s Prime Minister.

How far could I walk against the herd? Finally, in a desperate attempt to fit in, I downloaded the game and asked these kids to add me to their “squad”. Imagine my surprise when they refused because I was apparently a “weak” player. My inner mom cried tears of rage as I reminded them about those dark days when they, as toddlers, proved to be horrible batsmen, but we let them bat twice because they were kaccha nimbus.  

There is however, a couple of up sides to this new-age addiction. For starters, you don’t have to make small talk with cousins at family functions as they are busy trying to win “Chicken Dinner” – even the most devout Gujarati vegetarians.

Then, I have a feeling PUBG might hold a blueprint for world peace. The interest in the game transcends time, space, and even mobile operating systems. Apple and Android fanboys – who are otherwise at each other’s throats all the time on Internet forums have been brought together with a common goal to win the ultimate prize. People connect over WhatsApp and Facebook to ensure their squad is online on PUBG at the exact same time. There is more coordination among India’s youth than there is among NATO allies fighting in the Middle-East. There is a scent of hope in the air: PUBG addicts talk about the game like it is the cure for AIDS.

Clearly, PUBG is the new Pokemon Go, which was the new Candy Crush, which was the new Farmville. And everyone has lost a few friends to it – PUBG addicts will never know how annoying they are to people who don’t play or care about PUBG. However, like most Internet trends, I know this too shall pass. Until then, the only trips I shall take with friends would include a parachute landing into Pochinki.