Chinese Church Voices

Responding to Despair, Part 1

"Blue Whale" or Christian Faith?

Chinese Church Voices is an occasional column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

Chinese news sources report that teens in China have fallen victim to a social media “death game” that has its origins in Russia. This game preys on teens who suffer from depression and encourages them to commit suicide. Through threats and blackmail, teens are progressively drawn closer to danger.

The Christian journal Territory recently detailed the dark workings of the death game. The author of the article, A Qian, writes of his own experience with depression and how his faith played an instrumental role in understanding his depression. A Qian describes from a Chinese Christian perspective how the Christian faith provides good news and counters the dark hopelessness of the death game, particularly for Chinese teens.


Blue Whale Death Game Enters China: Who Pushed Me Off the Cliff?

By A Qian

"Who cast me into the open flame? Who shoved me into the basket? Who cut off my ears? Who tied me up with rope?" These lyrics describe how the game Blue Whale encourages and threatens participants to resolve to commit suicide. Where there is no response there is despair. If there is a voice that calls out to them in that moment, they will quickly follow. But, is this the voice of a shepherd or a wolf?

Recently, the news has reported that the "death game" called Blue Whale, which has already caused many young people in Russia to commit suicide, has entered into China through social media. The game participants are mostly young people who are asked to complete 50 game assignments, such as waking up at 4:20am to watch a horror movie, cutting an image of a whale on their arm, listening to music sent by game managers, and not speaking with anyone. The final assignment: suicide.

In China, there are already many death game groups set up with names like "Blue Whale" and "Wake Me at 4:20." At present, most Blue Whale groups have been shut down and there have not yet been reports of suicide caused by the game.

The game's creator, 22-year-old Philip Budeikin, was arrested last year. But, this did not decrease the breakout of tragedy. The perpetrator has been caught, but the game has spread and has not stopped.

The Victims: Lonely "Blue Whales"

The name, Blue Whale is said to come from a song by the Russian rock band "Lumen." The words to the song go, "Why cry out when no one hears you? What are we talking about? A huge blue whale can't break free from the nets. Surrender or admit defeat, either way everything is still burning." The victims of the game are like the blue whale in the song. They are caught in a net, full of loneliness and helplessness with no way to break free.

What kind of people are they? First of all, they are not determined to commit suicide. If they have completely broken down, then they will commit suicide at any moment. They are simply in no state of mind to carry out a vast series of convoluted rituals. This is exactly how a famous microblogger put it right before she committed suicide in March 2012. She simply wrote this blog post: "I have clinical depression, so I am going to die. There is no important reason. No one needs to care about my departure. Goodbye." Only those who have not yet decided to commit suicide are interested in following rituals.

Second, they have some sort of mental illness. After this news [about Blue Whale] came out, many people indignantly or crudely joked, "Why would anyone want to play a 'death game' over 'King of Glory?' [a popular MMO (massively multiplayer online) video game]" "You mean, there's a 4am? I'm up at 4:30am to do business. I'm thinking about how to make money." People can say these sorts of things from a relatively healthy state of mind. They don't know the frame of mind of the game participants. An anonymous netizen wrote that the peak of his pessimism hit when he was in middle school. At that time, if he were playing Blue Whale he absolutely would have followed through with everything.

In other words, the Blue Whale game targets this group of people because they suffer from all sort of issues—they have sunk into depression, negativity, and exhaustion, hovering in that gray area between life and death. At that moment, if someone gives them a pull, they might be able to rekindle their hope. But, if someone gives them a push, they will fall off a bottomless cliff. The purpose of the Blue Whale game is to entice and threaten people to "help" them resolve to die.

The greatest cause of this mental hesitation is loneliness. A middle school student wants to commit suicide. She and her parents don't get along. They both avoid the problem. They don't care for her. Her father verbally abuses her and her mother hits her at every turn. She is completely isolated in the family. She and a classmate who is in a similar family situation agree to harm themselves. They use their cellphones to send each other messages and report their progress. By the time they get to high school the scar tissue on their arms is so thick a needle will no longer penetrate.

There is a saying: "Where there is no response there is despair." When young people find themselves in lonely hardship it's as if they are lost lambs. If there is a voice that calls out to them in that moment, they will quickly follow. But, is this the voice of a shepherd or a wolf? How can they tell the difference?

The Perpetrators: A Roaring Lion

The managers of the Blue Whale death game are a group of people with an extreme disrespect for life. Budeikin, the founder, said the victims who participated in the game were all "biological trash" that needed to be swept away, and that his intended aim was to clean up society. As for his followers, I wager most of them in their psychological darkness take pleasure in the process of manipulating and destroying a person.

What sort of methods do they use?

Folk musician Xie Chunhua has a song called, "I Fall From the Cliff," in which she sings the following four lines: "Who cast me into the open flame, who shoved me into the basket, who cut off my ears, who tied me up with rope?" These words essentially describe the methods of enticement used by the perpetrators. And the whole result of this can be found in the final sentence: "Who has become the devil?"

First off, "Who has cast me into the open flame?" The managers [of the game] describe death as beautiful, as gorgeous and warm as the bright flames of a fire. They indoctrinate girls with the thought that "you are fat, no one likes you." And with the boys, "You are a loser." Then they will tell them, "This world can't stand you. But, another world will accept you. The other world is beautiful." The Blue Whale is a magnificent image. It's as if death is a return to the open sea. This kind of confusion reduces young people's fear of death.

Second, "Shove me into the basket." The managers prepare threats. After victims join the game, they give their home address, ID, and a nude photo to the manager. The victim is then under their control as if they were trapped in a basket. If in the middle of the game they chicken out, their nude photo will be publicized. The family may also be harassed and violated.

Next, "Cut off my ears." Commentators point out that small, enclosed environments are prone to producing a depressing atmosphere and are conducive to brainwashing. Just like in multi-level marketing (MLM), it often takes place in a claustrophobic environment. The Blue Whale game is on the Internet, but the participants are not allowed to disclose information to others at will. It’s like the ears have been cut off and they've been locked into a space closed off from outside information. It's easy to become confused and for one's will to be destroyed.

Finally, "Tie me up with rope." An article in one microblog about psychology pointed this out: "The rate of suicidal ideation is much higher than the rate of suicide attempts, and the rate of suicide attempts is far higher than the rate of suicidal behavior." The Blue Whale game goes through 50 assignments to step-by-step intensify the users' suicide attempts, foster their suicide capability, and finally carry out suicidal action. This is like a rope that ties the hands of a slave and drags them to the edge of death.

The result of all this is that a person's soul turns into a demon. Participants gradually lose their human heart and exchange it for the stone heart of a demon. They can no longer love themselves, love others, or love life. Before a young Russian girl named Yulia committed suicide, she wrote things on social media like, "Do you ever feel like you are becoming more and more useless?" "I'm just like a ghost." Human nature is gradually alienated.

Budeikin, the game's creator, gave an eerie smile before he was arrested that made many people's blood run cold. That smile made me think of a line in the Bible: "Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." The aim of the devil is to devour life. When a lion roars in my ear, who can save me from death?

Continued at Responding to Despair, Part 2.

Original article: 死亡游戏“蓝鲸”进入中国:谁推我落悬崖? (Territory)
Translated, edited, and reposted with permission.

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