Currently, Fortnite is all the rage among children and adolescents who play video games. But more and more we’re finding that it is having negative, sometime dangerous effects in their lives. The following article, by Beth Teitell and published in the Boston Globe gives more insight.
“They are not sleeping. They are not going to school. They are dropping out of social activities. A lot of kids have stopped playing sports so they can do this.”
Michael Rich, a pediatrician and director of the
Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders at Boston Children’s
Hospital, was talking about the impact “Fortnite: Battle Royale” — a cartoonish
multiplayer shooter game — is having on kids, mainly boys, some still in grade
“We have one kid who destroyed the family car
because he thought his parents had locked his device inside,” Rich said. “He
took a hammer to the windshield.”
A year and a half since the game’s release,
Rich’s account is just one of many that describe an obsession so intense that
kids are seeing doctors and therapists to break the game’s grip, in some cases
losing so much weight — because they refuse to stop playing to eat — that
doctors initially think they’re wasting away from a physical disease.
The stress on families has become so severe that
parents are going to couples’ counselors, fighting over who’s to blame for
allowing “Fortnite” into the house in the first place and how to rein in a
situation that’s grown out of control.
“One of the parents will get to the point of
almost considering a divorce,” said Rich Domenico, a therapist with LiveWell
Therapy Associates, in the Back Bay. “It’s similar to working with parents who
have a child addicted to drugs.”
Parents worrying about kids spending too much
time playing video games isn’t new. But a few significant factors have combined
to make today’s games harder to stop playing. Better technology has made the
games more interactive, more engaging, and more artistic, said Douglas Gentile,
an Iowa State University psychology professor and coauthor of the book “Violent
Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents.” More insidious, game makers
have taken a lesson from slot-machine designers and started employing a variable
reward schedule, according to Ofir Turel, a professor of Information Systems
and Decision Sciences at California State University Fullerton.
In the case of “Fortnite,” the psychological
manipulation combines with the game’s flashy colors, its many potential plots,
and the element of social interaction to stimulate the brain and train it to
“crave” more, he e-mailed the Globe.
“Kids are especially vulnerable to this
‘variable-reward’ mechanism because their brains are still imbalanced,” he
explained. “They have almost fully developed reward processing brain systems
but their self-control systems are not yet fully developed.”
“Fortnite” has been likened to a cross between
“Minecraft” and “The Hunger Games.” Some 200 million people have played, but if
you’re not one of them, here’s how it works: One hundred competitors are
dropped on an island, where they run around finding weapons and materials to
build walls, ramps, and floors that can protect them from other players.
As the game progresses, the game field gets
smaller, putting opponents in ever closer range. The last player — or players,
if friends are playing as a team — wins.
“Fortnite” is free, but more than 68 percent of
players make in-game purchases — like pickaxes, dance moves, and outfits to
personalize their characters — and the average player who makes purchases has
spent $84.67, according to a 2018 study by
the financial services firm Lendedu.
Epic Games Inc., creator of “Fortnite,” did not
respond to Globe e-mails.
As “Fortnite” scare stories proliferate — a
British behavioral specialist likened it to heroin — many parents wonder if any child can get
Rich, of Boston Children’s Hospital, said his
clinic has yet to see a patient struggling with “Fortnite” who does not also
have an underlying issue. “In fact, we are currently characterizing PIMU”
Interactive Media Use — “not as a diagnosis, but as a syndrome, a
group of symptoms of diagnoses ranging from ADHD to anxiety, depression, or
mood disorders that manifest themselves in the interactive media environment.”
One of the BCH clinic’s patients is a Brookline
boy who secretly used his father’s credit cards to make thousands of dollars of
“My sweet mama’s boy became angry and
disrespectful,” said the boy’s mother, who spoke to the Globe on condition of
anonymity to protect her family’s privacy.
The personality transformation came after the
boy switched from a Brookline public school to a private school in sixth grade.
A lonely new kid, he eventually managed to make friends through his growing
prowess in “Fortnite.”
As the game’s pull escalated, he refused to do
anything but play. He wouldn’t go outside. Wouldn’t go to sleepaway camp.
Didn’t even want to go out for his own birthday dinner.
“We couldn’t get him to do activities,” his
mother said. “It was a constant argument.”
Gaming can lead to weight gain, as kids spend
hours sitting on the couch. But Tara McCarthy, a clinical nutritionist with
Boston Children’s Hospital, is seeing boys who won’t take a moment away from
“Fortnite” to eat.
In each case, the patients came to her after a
doctor found unexpected weight loss and, concerned, ordered follow-up
McCarthy interviewed the patients, and after
hearing descriptions of long stretches with no food intake, she made her
Lynne Karlson, a general pediatrician at
Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center, who has heard about
kids denied “Fortnite” kicking down doors, suggests parents limit playtime
“before it becomes so all-encompassing.”
But that can be harder than it sounds.
Samuel Roth, a clinical psychologist in Newton,
described a scenario that will sound familiar to many parents.
“The parents make a deal with the kids,” he
said. “ ‘You can play for this long,’ and the kids are agreeable — they’re
eager to start playing.
“Everyone nods their heads, and everyone feels
good, until it come to the end of the playing time, and the child cannot abide
by the agreement, and the parents feel immensely violated. It tears at the
fabric of trust in the family.”
As for the Brookline boy who stole his dad’s
credit cards to fund his gaming, he hit rock bottom on a family trip to New Hampshire,
in the summer of 2018, when he refused to go boating. While the rest of the
group was enjoying the lake, he tried to break into the family car with a
hammer to get his electronic device.
The incident lead to an 11-day inpatient
hospital stay, where he got therapy and quit “Fortnite” cold turkey.
Looking back, even he is baffled by the power
the game held. “It’s hard for me to understand why I got to the point where I
was playing it so much and what I’d do to be able to play,” he said.
Now, at 13, on the other side of “Fortnite,” he’s disturbed by what he sees around him. “The little kids on the school bus have gone from Pokeman cards to ‘Fortnite,’ ” he said. “They’re in third and fourth grades and that’s all they talk about.”
If you have a loved one struggling with video game addiction please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.