For two weeks, Daghestan has been in uproar over teenage ‘death games’. As Daghestan’s law enforcement agencies are denying information about children’s involvement in the games, local schools and psychologists have been taking action. OC Media tried to find out how popular ‘death games’ are in Daghestan.
‘Blue Whale’ and other death games, which usually attract teenager players, have been extremely controversial in Daghestan. According to the rules, participants perform various tasks including mutilating themselves by carving images into their bodies. The final task is to commit suicide. If a player refuses to comply, the threats begin. The game’s supervisor tells players that if they don’t fulfil the task, they will be ‘helped’ in doing so. Psychological pressure is also applied: players are sent their home address and the names of their relatives and friends, making it clear that if they don’t finish the game, their family will be hurt.
On 21 February, a meeting was held at the Public Chamber of the Republic of Daghestan on ‘distribution of provocative virtual games among adolescents’. In her speech, member of the Public Chamber Shamsiyat Nasrulayeva said that there were 23 adolescents playing ‘Blue Whale’ and ‘Silent House’, 57 playing ‘50 Days Before My…’, and 77 playing ‘Wake Me Up At 4.20 am’. All of them were from Makhachkala.
‘These figures were given to me by members of the Young Guard organisation. They worked on gathering this data. In addition, they found seven children, who played these games and reached the eighth level. They also took part in the meeting. The main thing is that these children understood how dangerous it was. They won’t play these games anymore and they’ll tell others about the danger’, Nasrulayeva told OC Media.
On 10 February, a 14-year-old resident of Makhachkala was admitted to the hospital with multiple stab wounds. His classmate was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. Later, copies of his interrogation were leaked to the internet. Nothing was said about death games, but the detainee repeatedly said that he ‘needed a body’ to simulate his own death.
Around the same time, a student of one Makhachkala school was taken to hospital after ingesting a large number of medications. According to the weekly Novoye Delo, ‘the girl admitted that she played a death game on social media. A blue whale was carved into her hand’.
Panic gripped Daghestan almost instantly. Reports about death games flooded Daghestani social networks. WhatsApp users sent each other pictures and audio messages with reports about tragic incidents involving children.
Daghestani President Ramazan Abdulatipov suggested that the death games could be ‘a training programme for suicide bombers’ and appealed to the Daghestani security services, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Prosecutor’s Office to develop a method to counter the problem.
From 20 February, the majority of schools in Makhachkala forbade students from using gadgets with internet access. They recommended replacing smartphones with traditional cell phones without cameras.
Daghestan’s Ministry of Education told OC Media that these weren’t official measures and were being undertaken by the citizens themselves.
‘We didn’t issue such an order. Directors of schools made such decisions themselves. We instructed schools to hold meetings with parents and students to explain the possible dangers and consequences’, Patimat Gitinomagomedova, from the ministry’s press service told OC Media.
The Mother of one student at Makhachkala’s High School No. 4, Karina N, told OC Media that it wasn’t worth taking phones away from children despite the panic.
‘Of course parents are concerned about what happens to their children. We can’t remain indifferent when so many accidents happen. In my son’s school, there was a parent meeting, where we were told to better supervise our children. But I believe that it’s not necessary to take their phones away from them. You just have to be more interested in what your child is up to. Still, many parents in my son’s school supported the ban on smartphones’, Karina said.
Daghestan’s law enforcement agencies denied the occurrence of accidents involving death games.
‘Our department hasn’t reported crimes against children who were victims of the “death games” on social networks. We have no information about the coordinators of such games either. We ask everyone to inform us about such cases. The investigation department will take appropriate measures’, the senior assistant director for media relations at the Investigative Department of Daghestan, Rasul Temirbekov told OC Media.
Despite law enforcement agencies’ denials, some parents continue to seek help from psychologists. There is no exact data on how many children are under psychological care. The director of the Centre of Family Psychology, Gadzhi Shamov, told OC Media that three families had reached out to the centre within a few days of the news of Blue Whale breaking.
‘In one case, a child was really interested in becoming famous, while in the other two cases, there was a suspicion of interest. We had no cases of a child reaching the end of the game’, Shamov said.
According to the psychologist, the death games aren’t a new phenomenon, rather a fashion that resurfaces periodically.
‘In Russia, some two years ago there was talk about death games, especially about Blue Whale. It’s just a fashion associated with adolescence. We’ve had cases of teenagers cutting the skin on their forearms or legs. At this age, there is curiosity to try something dangerous or intriguing. It is important to realise that often the games are not the core problem. Even if a teenager doesn’t play the game, they can still commit suicide’, Shamov told OC Media.
With regard to the smartphone ban in Daghestani schools, the expert believes that this measure could aggravate the situation.
‘When people in Daghestan began to talk about the game, many parents stripped their children naked and examined their bodies. They took away their phones. Instead of saving the child from this game, they’re creating intrigue. A child who didn’t know about this game, finds out about it this way. I believe that the smartphone ban doesn’t solve the problem, but rather exacerbates it, as children will find a way to do what they want to do, this time unnoticed by parents’, Shamov said.
He argues that if parents want to know that their child is fine, they should talk to the child every day, observe them, and take an interest in their life.
‘Parents need to spend 20–30 minutes with their child. It is important to disconnect from phones and TV and talk. When such hot topics as the death games appear, it is important to discuss it with the child and try to put the child in the position of an expert, even if the parents know everything about it. “Have you heard about the Blue Whale? Tell me about it! I don’t understand what it is about.” The teenager will be happy to tell everything. That’s how the parent will understand if the child is hiding something or not. It is important to be friends with the child, to support them, to hug them often. The child can’t grow like a weed. They should have duties at home’, Shamov said.