WATCH: The number of cases may not justify the fear and experts say it could be an opportunity to get in front of the potential problem. Peter Kim reports.
The Game of 72 – a viral prank urging kids to disappear for 72 hours – is the latest in a series of risky pranks being done by kids and then shared to social media. But the prank, and others like it, may not be as common as many people think.
Though there has been no confirmed cases in Vancouver, police are warning parents about the dangers of the game and abuse of resources the game represents, as the department already deals with upwards of 4,000 missing persons cases a year.
“So to add to the workload of our obviously very busy investigators, for cases that are a prank or a game, is something we don’t want to see,” Const. Brian Montague told Global News.
But confirmed instances of the game being played are rare. It seems to have started in Europe with the disappearance of some teens in England and France and is believed to have made its way across the Atlantic.
One of the French teens, identified only as Emma by the French press, admitted she learned about the game while browsing images online.
“It’s looking [at] images on the internet that I fell on this game,” she said, according to the Mirror website.
Risky behaviour is almost a rite of passage for teens, and a study from a Temple University professor suggests it’s hard-wired because the part of their brain responsible for decision-making hasn’t matured.
But how often this behaviour actually occurs is hard to pin down.
Johnson went on to say the way media discusses behaviour like the “72 hour game” can influence how many people take part – or even how popular people think it is.
“[Kids] may very well be getting a distorted idea of how popular and how common these stunts are,” Mathew Johnson, the director of education at Mediasmarts.ca said in an interview Thursday.
“It’s almost certainly quite a lot fewer than kids tend to think.”
But the Game of 72 is not the first risky game to spread online. And while the games weren’t as widespread as their media coverage may have suggested, people did play them, sometimes with fatal consequences.
WATCH: Global News spoke with social media expert Jesse Miller and VPD spokesperson Cst. Brian Montague, to get their perspectives on the Game of 72 trend and what parents can do to get in front of the problem.
There was the cinnamon challenge which encouraged people to inhale the spice on video. Doctors warned it could lead to collapsed lungs and other serious injuries.
Then there was Neknominations which urged people to chug beer or hard alcohol on video while nominating others to do the same. That game led to several deaths.
One of the games with the potential for violence was swatting, where people would call the police on innocent, and unsuspecting people for crimes that would require a swat team. The prank was pulled in Edmonton and in Long Island, New York. The Long Island incident cost taxpayers $100,000.
Another, the “knockout game” encouraged people to try and knock out random people on the street as the person was walking by.
The cinnamon challenge was easily the most popular of the games, according to an unscientific search on YouTube, where the term pulled up approximately 910,000 items. Neknominations, by contrast, resulted in just over 5,000 items.
Social media expert Jessie Miller told Global News in an interview Wednesday that social media can expedite the speed at which knowledge of the games spread.
“We live in a society of things going viral and if this is a trend that exists in one part of the world, trends travel and social media makes that easier to occur,” says Miller.
Videos shared on YouTube and Facebook can influence what teens see as normal.
“What it can do is make it seem like more people are participating in these challenges or whatever the latest fad is than there actually are,” Johnson said.
“When we have an exaggerated sense of how something common is… we may feel pressured to go along,” Johnson said.
– With files from Amy Judd
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