Fortnite: The Obsession and What Parents Can Do About It
Fortnite. Ugh. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you’ve heard of the video game phenomenon wreaking havoc on families all over the world. If you are parent to a tween or teen you’re probably knee deep in the obsession. Fortnite is a 3rd person shooter game in which 100 people are dropped onto an island to engage in a Battle Royal - last man standing wins. It is violent, but has no blood or gore, making it more palatable to parents who might otherwise balk. A lot has been written about the addictive nature of this game and parents are struggling to unplug their kids. The questions I field most from my clients are: Is Fortnite really addictive? Is my child too young to play it? And How do I tear my kid away without a massive tantrum? Let’s take a look at each of these questions so that you can make the best choices for your family.
Is Fortnite really addictive?
The jury is still out on whether video game addiction should be classified as a “real” addiction. The World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognised "gaming disorder" this year in their International Classification of Diseases which classifies health trends and statistics world wide. According to the WHO ‘gaming disorder’ is defined as, “ a pattern of gaming behavior characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
That said, you don’t have to look very far or talk to too many parents to come to the obvious conclusion that most kids who play Fortnite without limits do get hooked at the expense of their other real life activities. Unchecked, this can potentially lead to impaired social emotional skills; from lack of in person contact with peers, weight gain from lack of movement, anxiety from overstimulation and problems focusing on offline tasks (eg. homework).
As a parent, you don’t need scientific studies to tell you that something is impacting your child and family in a negative way. You know your child best and the truth is that all kids are different with different brain chemistry, behavioral tendencies and vulnerabilities. Some kids will be more capable of walking away from the game while others may struggle quite a bit. Either way, whether it is an official addiction or just an obsession, if it’s taking over their life then things are out of balance and probably need to be rectified.
Why does Fortnite seem so much more addictive than other video games?
Fortnite is the hot game of the moment. Over 125 million people around the world play the game. Fear not, there have been many hot games in the past (remember Pokemon Go) and there will be new ones in the future.
Here are 9 reasons why Fortnite is hard to quit:
It is free and you can play it on any device.
There is no pausing the game, making it harder to walk away.
It is heavily social and kids LOVE being with their friends.
FOMO (fear of missing out) if all your friends are playing and you’re not.
Kids work in teams so they feel the constant pull to be available to their teammates whenever they need them.
The game has amazing graphics, humor and great pop cultural appeal (no doubt you’ve seen all the dances)
The better your child gets at the game the closer to winning they get - seeing this not so much as a loss, but more as almost winning.
A battle royal game gets more and more intense as it goes on, raising adrenalin levels and providing enormous amounts of stimulation.
Most importantly, the game offers players what is known as “variable rewards.” The human brain has certain psychological vulnerabilities that are very easy to exploit. One of these is the fact that we are attracted to the potential for reward just as much as to the reward itself. That’s how gambling works. Think of the game as a slot machine - the occasional win gets the brain gets hooked to the potential of winning it all and keeps the player going back for more. In fortnite (as with other games and apps) the player is occasionally rewarded for small victories with a new skin, a badge or just a congratulatory dance. Each small win triggers a release of dopamine (our feel good chemical) and keeps us coming back.
How do I tear my child away?
The first thing I’ll say is that the game is meant to be for kids 13 years and up so if your child is 8 or 9 years old (or younger) and playing Fortnite regularly you may want to rethink things a bit. There is a lot of violence, stimulation and potential access to multiplayer environments that may not always be that appropriate for young kids. That said, If you’re already in it or you have an older child who is obsessed, here are some tips to help manage the madness:
The first thing to do is get to know this game. Sit down with your child and let them explain Fortnite to you and why they love it so much. You may even want to learn it and play it with them sometimes so you can really understand why it’s so compelling. The more of an ally you are to them in this the more willing they will be to heed your rules and limits.
Have a chat and explain to them what the priorities are in your household and why they are so important. Emphasize that these need to be completed (in-person hang outs, chores, homework, music practice, outside playtime/sports etc.) BEFORE video game play.
Work together to come up with gaming limits that makes sense for both of you.This will take some compromising on both sides. For example if each Fortnite session takes 20 minutes your child may ask for 4 games - that would be 1 hr and 20 min. You may be wanting something closer to 40 min so maybe you can meet in the middle at 1 hour giving your child enough time to play three games. Understand that they will not feel comfortable leaving a game right in the middle so come up with a plan for this inevitable scenario in advance.
Keep video game consoles/screens out of bedrooms and in the public spaces of your home.
Limit the amount of screen time your child is allowed to have on weekdays and weekends. Maybe it’s 40 min during the week and 90 min on weekends or no playing during the week and some agreed upon time for weekends. Whatever works for you - set it and stick to it.
House rule: screens off 1 hour before bedtime and either disconnected from wifi (via parental controls) or parked in a dock in your room for the night. Preserving sleep is key.
Be clear about consequences for breaking the new rules (losing game time privileges is an obvious one).
Take all this info and put it into a family media contract that you will BOTH adhere to and use as a reference and a guide. It may feel like a lot, but actually it’s a fun and easy thing to do with your child. A great resource for creating a quick contract together is www.thesmarttalk.org. Good luck and let us know how it goes!