During the teenage years, many kids struggle to fit in and find their social group. This can mean they take risks or do things in an attempt to impress others. Peer pressure can lead to many adverse outcomes and kids this age may not always realize they are not in fact invincible. A new online game has pushed the boundaries of both teens being easy to manipulate and taking advantage of their desire to be a part of things by pressuring them to take risks they normally would not take. A Texas family saw this first hand as their son took his own life as a part of the “Blue Whale Challenge.”
The suicide of the San Antonio teen was described in a news report:
“Fifteen-year-old Isaiah Gonzalez was a soon-to-be sophomore who just joined the ROTC program at his high school. But on Saturday, Gonzalez’s father, Jorge, stepped into his son’s bedroom in their San Antonio home. Isaiah was dead, hanging from the closet, an apparent suicide. Next to his body was a cellphone propped up on a shoe, broadcasting the suicide…”
Isaiah’s death was shocking for the family as one would expect. What was even more upsetting was the reality that it was broadcast live as per the request of the online game called the “Blue Whale Challenge” or the “Blue Whale Game.” This game is a series of 50 challenges that teens are asked to completed and post on social media. The tasks seem to start out small like waking up in the middle of the night to watch a scary movie and then move onto bigger things like self-mutilation. According to a news report tying this game to another teen suicide, this game is:
“Essentially a dangerous personal obstacle course of 50 daily tasks that include everything from watching horror films to self-mutilation, the game is rumored to be behind unexpected deaths across the globe. But because the challenge plays out on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, the reality is hard to prove. In fact, due to the extreme premise alone, some says it’s just an Internet hoax invented to frighten parents and other adults.”
As the Gonzalez family take to social media and the local news to share their experience, there was another teen suicide in the United States linked to the game. On Monday, an unnamed 16-year old girl in Atlanta was reported taking a similar action to end her life. She was also participating in the challenge as they found evidence on her social media.
In the hours and days after the Texas teen ended his life, his family unearthed evidence on his social media accounts that he had posted proof of the other tasks he has completed. His mother was shocked to find that many of his friends saw the escalating nature of the challenges, and failed to do anything about them. The sister of the victim, Scarlett Cantu-Gonzales, echoed this fact as she stated, “They blew it off like it was a joke and if one of them would have said something, one of them would have called us, he would have been alive.”
This game is different than many others you may find online in a few key ways. First, it is a secret of sorts, so teens are driven to locate the location. This makes it mysterious and inviting as it is not something just anyone can do. To play the game teens also have to find a “taskmaster” on the dark web, again enough of a challenge to make things exciting. From the start, the taskmaster is seen as being in control of the game. The teen victims act to please the taskmaster.
While the online manipulation seems to be a new thing in the United States, it has been traced back to at least 130 suicides in Russia. One such report about the appearance of the game on Russian social media followed a college student as they attempted to find the game:
“I didn’t believe it, I guess,” he told the UK network. “I decided to look for it.” The student said his taskmaster ran him through a series of gruesome assignments, including self-mutilation, until the young man’s parents stopped him from completing the final task: throwing himself off a 20-story building in Moscow.
“They start psychologically manipulating you,” the student said. “It is very professionally done. You become a bit of a zombie.”