Golden Gaming YT, a Bangladeshi gaming page on Facebook, plays and streams Grand Theft Auto V (GTA) every day. Notorious for gratuitous violence, GTA has the opportunity for players to engage in graphic cruelty in the game, where they can bash, maim and kill anyone in its fantasy universe.
Golden Gaming YT's gameplays (screen recording of a game being played), which he broadcasts live to his audience on social media pages, feature a lot of this kind of violence. But in his case, the virtual victims are exclusively of one particular demographic: women. Specifically, women in shorts or western outfits. Voice-over commentary by the gamer confirms that style of clothing is the problem, it is an offence for which he attacks the virtual women.
Golden Gaming YT targets these virtual women, which are automated game figures populating streets or shops or beaches, and brutally assaults them using a bizarre variety of player characters (the figure controlled by the gamer), ranging from tigers to baseball bat wielding human skeletons.
The titles of these gameplay videos invariably express intention to hunt and harm women: 'Konkaler bhoye noshto meyera dour dilo' (immoral women run away from the skeleton), 'Bagher bhoye noshto meyera dour dilo' (immoral women run away from tiger), 'Superman noshto meyeder matha fatabey' (Superman will bash in the immoral women's heads), and so on.
The actual gameplays, commentated on by a pitch-altered high voice, also follow one basic structure. The player character walks around in an area, seeks out women and attacks them violently.
One video posted on 22 July by Golden Gaming YT, for instance, features a skeleton avatar walking up to these "immoral women'' and beating them to a pulp while Golden Gaming's voice admonishes them for wearing revealing dresses.
"Oi maiya tui dara, noshto maiya! Ki porey achey! Ekdom shutiye lal kore dibo" ("Hey, you immoral girl, stop! What is she wearing! Will clobber you now!) -- says Golden Gaming as he pounds the bikini-clad virtual women over the head with a baseball bat.
This is essentially the script for all of the GTA gameplay videos streamed for the online audience.
Another recurring theme is the call for audience participation, where the gamer asks viewers to 'like' the video, and in return he will beat up the next "immoral" girl in the contributing viewer's name.
By pressing like, the viewer gets rewarded with their names being displayed on the screen and Golden Gaming dedicating the kill to the viewer.
The audience and the reaction
The viewers of these videos seem diverse, or at least are not only males, judging by usernames.
In the 22 July gameplay video, three viewers responded to Golden Gaming's call for participation. The usernames of these three viewers appear to represent a Muslim male, a Hindu male and a Muslim female.
The 22 July video has gathered nearly six million views, 1,20,000 likes and more than a thousand comments, a level of engagement unusual for typical Bangladeshi online gameplay videos.
The comment sections under these videos reveal that most commenters like the content, with only a handful expressing disapproval. A commenter, whose name suggests a female user, writes, "Kothagula khub bhallagse" (I liked what was said very much), referring to narration by Golden Gaming when pummeling or mauling virtual women.
Scrolling down Golden Gaming's Facebook feed shows dozens of these gameplay videos, with millions of views and massive audience engagement.
Golden Gaming YT, who has three lakh odd followers on his Facebook page, did not want to speak to The Business Standard.
Good games don't engage audience
One creator, among approximately a dozen pages that stream/post videos that include GTA gameplays where virtual women are attacked, did agree to talk.
Rofel Gaming, whose audience is not as big as Golden Gaming YT's, said the sole motivator for playing this game is to attract viewers.
"People like to watch this game. We don't know why the audience likes this game. We want to play PUBG or the games that have better content. But those games don't engage people and get fewer views. So, we play games that engage people," Rofel, who has over 80,000 page followers on Facebook, told TBS.
Facebook-based gameplay videos can earn a gamer, with a reach similar to Rofel's or Golden Gaming YT's reach, around Tk70,000 to Tk1 lakh per month from ads.
But due to negative coverage about gaming in the media, the online gaming industry has been losing audiences, Rofel said.
"Recently, the media reported that PUBG games have gambling in them, which is a baseless claim. The common people see such news and lose interest. This is how the gaming industry is declining. But look at India, they broadcast (online gaming) tournaments on national television," Rofel said, trying to explain the pull towards GTA V, particularly its shock appeal.
"In our culture, this [women wearing short dresses] is seen as a bad thing. You can say we try to discourage women from wearing short dresses because it doesn't go with our culture. This is not our culture," the gaming video creator said.
Rofel, however, admitted that such content have the potential of inciting violence against women in real life. "Actually most people take this as fun, but yes, some people can take this seriously. But they are unusual cases. We don't try to engage them. But yes, one can get influenced, but it depends on the person," he said.
Rights activist warns of "dire consequences"
Shahana Huda Ranjana, a senior coordinator of the human rights and governance related organisation Manusher Jonno Foundation, said that reinforcing a disparaging image of women is the most dangerous aspect of this phenomenon.
"Countless people are watching content on the internet that is degrading to women. People have easy access to these obscene products, which are disguised as fun games. These derogatory content or comments against women are escalating violence against women," said Ranjana.
These contents validate a particular image of the so-called "loose women" that is prevalent within the society, she said.
"Since a large part of the population across educated, uneducated and illiterate segments of our society believes that behaving like the perceived "bad girl" is unacceptable, as it would spoil the youth, it seemingly created the conviction in them that it is ultimately beneficial for the society to deter women from this perceived way of behaving, be it by demeaning, physically harming, criticising or humiliating them."
Ranjana believes the pages publishing the gaming videos should be shut down. "These game sites should be shut down. As there are no restrictions on these games, they are easily reaching the youth and children, which has dire consequences for the people of this society," she said.
Gaming community appalled
The gaming community in Bangladesh has recently ran into trouble with the law enforcement for playing PUBG games. A few days ago police, apparently arbitrarily, arrested over 100 gamers for the "crime" of playing PUBG in Chuadanga.
Leading Facebook-based Bangladeshi gamers like Apollo Gaming, Sinister Plays and Nooboss Gaming spoke out against the crackdown.
Commenting on the GTA V videos that exhibit violence against women, leading gaming content creator Noyon Hossain of Apollo Gaming said these videos are disgraceful and do not represent the gaming community in the country.
"I stay away from such games. People who do live streaming of this game are basically changing the original GTA V game with mod (modifications). Views are the sole purpose of killing girls in scantily clad clothes. There are a lot of little kids on Facebook. Children especially like these games. I don't support it at all. Even though I play GTA V, I never play these mod versions," said Hossain, whose Apollo Gaming page on Facebook has over 7 lakh followers.
He doesn't think, however, that video games can influence people to commit real violence.
"We play first-person-shooter games. But we don't act like extremists in real life," he said.
Hossain does fear that the modified versions of the GTA V games can be dangerous, as kids inevitably come across these contents.
He said actions need to be taken against gamers who publish such contents.
"Because no action is being taken against them, they keep posting these contents. I think a real streamer or gamer would never play a game or behave in a way that the gaming community would be ashamed of."
Post and telecommunication minister Mustafa Jabbar said that his ministry was unaware of gaming videos like these.
"No one has reported this yet. I will shut them down if reported. The responsibility of monitoring is not on BTRC [Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission], the responsibility is on the law enforcing agencies," Jabbar told TBS.