The game of death: What is the Blue Whale game & how did it start?
Philipp Budeikin, a 21-year-old Russian man, was sentenced to three years in prison last month. The social media game he created, however, has long since outgrown its creator, spreading across the world and leaving a trail of dead children in its wake. Its latest victim, allegedly, is a 14-year-old boy from Andheri, Mumbai.
Called the 'Blue Whale Game', after the seemingly-suicidal beaching of blue whales, the game preys on vulnerable teens. These teens are groomed for suicide across a 50-day period, during which they are given a series of tasks, many involving self-harm.
All these tasks are recorded through photos and video, so that those issuing the challenges can monitor progress. At the end of it the teens, wounded and weary, are encouraged to kill themselves to finish the game.
The concept is morbid, and seems almost implausible. However, the 'game' has claimed lives as far abroad as Brazil, Kenya, China, Spain, and most recently, India.
For a game that is now practically an epidemic, it all began on social media. Budeikin and others like him, used Russia's Facebook equivalent, Vkontakte, to identify and reel in potential victims. After luring them into social media groups, Budeikin and his fellow admins would begin to identify the most vulnerable teens.
This was done by initially assigning targets and fairly mundane challenges. While most children would leave at this point, the ones who carried them out were marked as susceptible to being influenced. These teens are the ones who were finally initiated into the game.
The first task, according to reports, is carving a phrase or a name into ones arm with a sharp object. The next challenge involves waking up at odd hours to watch scary videos picked by the person issuing the challenges. The ones issuing the challenges gradually ratchet up the degree of violence or difficulty, as participants are sucked further into the sadistic game.
One of the tasks, which also lends itself to the game's name, orders participants to carve a blue whale into their flesh. Apart from this, participants are asked to cut their lips, poke themselves with needles, stand on the edge of a roof, and other similarly twisted things.
While one may argue that most children would stop as the game got increasingly more violent, the game's administrators didn't rely solely on psychological manipulation to keep participants involved.
Armed with the 'proof' they'd been sent for each task, the admins have been known to blackmail those looking to quit the game, threatening to expose them, or, worse still, harm them and their families.
“I was cleaning our society of such people,” Budeikin said in an interview. “It was necessary to distinguish normal [people] from biological rubbish.”
On his own, Budeikin has pleaded guilty to involvement in the suicides of 16 Russian girls. However, by his own admission, this number is likely closer to 30.
While most online interactions are traceable, those perpetrating these games are often difficult to catch as they convince their victims to delete all their communication before committing suicide. In fact, the arrest of another of the game's admins, Ilya Sidorov, a Russian postman, happened only as a result of a failed suicide attempt.
Recognising the signs
Apart from self-harm, the game also asks its victims to drop hints to social media acquaintances that they are playing the game. Recognising these signs could prove pivotal in preventing things from getting out of hand.
One of the simpler challenges involves putting up a social media status about being a whale. Write a status with a message as innocuous as this is easy to miss in the clutter of social media, it is one of the most obvious signs.
Any posts about being a whale, or like a whale, should be a warning sign that friends and family should not take lightly. Any signs of self-harm should also raise red flags. The victim in Andheri had mentioned the game to friends in passing, their lack of awareness about the game may have actually proved critical.