A “game” played on social media called the Blue Whale Challenge tests teenagers’ and young adults’ ability to follow a set of steps that eventually leads to them dying by suicide. The #bluewhalechallenge has been questioned by some authorities as to whether it really exists, but it’s clear that some teens are taking their own lives due to the game.

What is the Blue Whale Challenge and how can you stop your child or teen from taking part in it?

The “game” is simply following a set of fairly dumb directives given to the teen or child by a “curator.” The curator is one of the game’s organizers and leaders; twisted individuals who reach out to children, teens, and young adults via social media. Teens are usually the ones to make first contact, due to suicidal feelings they are experiencing. People who play the game are known as “whales.”

I say “dumb,” because the directives involve unoriginal cutting and self-harm activities to show your loyalty and commitment to the game and your curator. In fact, out of the supposed 50 steps involved in the game, the game designer became so lazy he just made steps 30-49 the same generic thing:

Everyday you wake up at 4:20 am, watch horror videos, listen to music that “they” send you, make 1 cut on your body per day, talk “to a whale.”

This is not exactly a directive that demonstrates much in the way of creativity (then again, neither is choosing the color “blue” for the whale). It shows a significant laziness in the game’s design. The originator of the game probably thought something along the lines of, “I need to get to Step 50, but don’t have enough ideas for all 49 intervening steps… so we’ll just do this instead.”

Is it Real?

Yes. One of the game’s steps is to post the “#i_am_whale” hashtag on the social media account of players. A quick search on this term finds thousands of occurrences of it on Twitter, VKontakte, Instagram, and other social networking websites. This makes the game very much a real phenomenon, but we don’t yet know how many teens have actually taken their lives trying to follow all 50 steps of the game.

The Psychology of the Blue Whale Challenge

The psychology behind the blue whale challenge is simple — find victims, create an emotional bond with them through an arbitrary set of steps demanding completion in order to move forward in the game, and then hope they follow through to Step 50, “Jump off a high building. Take your life.”

This is the creation of someone who is likely a psychopath or sociopath, or has significant tendencies of psychopathy. This “game” isn’t really a game at all. It’s simply a control and manipulation scheme directed toward vulnerable people who have serious thoughts of suicide, loneliness, and death.

When a person is suicidal, they feel most of all alone and worthless. The game creator understood these feelings (probably having felt them themselves at some point in their lives), and is taking advantage of these kinds of feelings.

What better way to make someone feel like they are together with others than have them identify as an arbitrary mammal (a whale)? And what better way to make them feel a little less worthless than have them succeed at a series of tasks anyone could perform?

What You Can Do About It

You can tell someone is playing the game pretty easily, as they will have cuts on their hands with either the number 57 and/or 40 on them. You can check their social media accounts (the game says to use VKontakte, but users are using whatever social media they are currently on) and see if they’ve posted anything similar to #i_am_whale, a hashtag used in one of the steps of the game.

The game is easily defeated by talking to your teen, child, or young adult about their suicidal feelings, and encouraging them to reach out to get help for them through psychotherapy or counseling. It’s not an easy conversation to have, but it may be a life-saving talk.

Teens and young adults need to understand — you’re at the very beginning of your life. No matter how bad you feel right now (and I understand, as I felt as bad or worse than you when I was a teen), it will get better. You may not believe me, but why take the words of a stranger in the first place — whether it’s to play a dumb game or something else? Reach out to your friends (or an adult, if you can) and see if you can find a different way to cope with these feelings.

And remember, don’t throw away your shot.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255) or text “help me” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

For further information

“Blue Whale Challenge” urges young people to end their lives