Is your child playing too much Fortnite?
Source: LearningWorks for Kids
I recently had a patient tell me he had more than 300 “wins" while playing the video game Fortnite. My quick computations with him suggested that “achievement” could take as many as 600,000 minutes to accomplish. Imagine doing something—anything—for 600,000 minutes over the course of 6 months (it's actually impossible—only 262,800 minutes are available).
Why Is This Game So Addictive?
Nonetheless, in April 2018, one of my teenage patients reported that he had won more than 300 games of the 100 player Battle Royale version of Fortnite, in which there is only 1 winner (there are versions of the game where teams of 2 and 4 can win). Each game can take up to 20 to 30 minutes, and the odds of winning (with talent and expertise removed) are 1 in 100. According to my calculations, 300 wins could require 30,000 games of 20 minutes each. Therefore it could have taken him as much as 600,000 minutes of playing Fortnite to win 300 games. Obviously, more established players win more frequently than 1 in 100 times, but even if one were to win 10 times as often, that's still about 1000 hours that's spent on Fortnite. Given that the Battle Royale game was introduced at the end of September 2017, in a little more than 6 months, this young man averaged about 40 hours of Fortnite per week.
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That doesn't leave much time for school, sleep, or doing anything else, and unfortunately, this young man's grades went down dramatically during this period. His mother reported that he wasn’t getting out of his room very much and that he had disengaged from others, was less responsive to limit setting, and had lost interest in other activities—all symptoms of addiction and consistent with the DSM-V “Condition for Further Study” diagnosis of Internet Gaming Disorder.
So why do kids want to play Fortnite nonstop? In a few short months, Fortnite became an epidemic among teenagers, and its progress doesn't appear to be slowing. In my clinical work, I always ask my new patients to describe what they do for fun. I can almost remember the exact day in March 2018 when four patients in a row told me about their newest favorite activity: playing Fortnite. At the time, I had never heard of the game, didn't realize that the “fort” in Fortnite referred to building forts, and wasn’t sure whether the kids had been talking about Fourth Knight, Fortnight or something else. I only knew that I was hearing about a new phenomenon and that it was being shared virally among teens and preteens.
Because I am the founder of a children's learning and technology website, I needed to know more. I signed up for Fortnite, though I must admit I stumbled a few times on my way to being able to play the game. I gave up after a couple of games in which I was totally lost and died before I could even get engaged. Not only does the movement in third-person shooters make me nauseous, I don't particularly like this type of game for myself or for kids. It's essentially an all-for-one game where a player's goal is to kill everyone else, so that they are the only one left alive (unless they're playing in the duo or squad games, where teams of two or four work together).
Play with your children. Let them choose the activity, and don't worry about rules. Just go with the flow and have fun. That's the name of the game.
The larger concern for many parents and childcare professionals is the addictive quality of Fortnite . More than many other video games, Fortnite is extremely difficult to stop playing. Concerns about kids being addicted to playing Fortnite abound. There are many reports of family conflicts that revolve around playing Fortnite, and now there are video game rehab/treatment facilities that are taking on kids due to their Fortnite addiction. But to be clear, most kids who play Fortnite are not addicted! Some may be obsessed with the game, thinking too much about it, while others may be prone to overuse , where the game is infringing on time they should spend doing homework or sleeping. But this is not an addiction. There are legitimate reasons for parents of kids diagnosed with ADHD, Autism, Learning Disabilities, Executive Functioning problems, Anxiety, or Depression to have a higher level of concern. Overall, there are too many kids spending too much time with Fortnite, and there is a reason for this phenomenon.
First, the Battle Royale version is free, accessible through many devices. It’s very easy to play alongside friends, and because of its popularity, they are there playing. It’s a sandbox game, which inherently presents many gameplay mechanics that foster ongoing and addictive-like play. Even more than a game like Minecraft, another sandbox game where people can roam and explore changing landscapes and scenarios, Fortnite presents a level of challenge, stimulation, and excitement that draws kids in time and time again. Kids are on the edge of their seats—literally—like they might be in other high-risk activities such as snowboarding or dirt bike racing. There is an ongoing sense of danger in the game that one might be killed, but if you do lose, it's easy to jump right into another game. If you get closer to winning—which is a big deal when you are playing against 99 other people—you’ll want to go back for more. It is a bit like playing the slots at your local casino: if you win a small amount or get close to a real jackpot, you’ll want to keep playing.
Set limits and encourage playtime. Media use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Unstructured and offline play stimulates creativity. Make unplugged playtime a daily priority, especially for very young children.
Psychologists call this a variable reward schedule, and game developers and other technology companies have honed these strategies to keep people on their screens. In the case of Fortnite, the content and the excitement do the rest.
It’s easy to see why kids (and many adults) want to play Fortnite nonstop. Fortnite presents a compelling challenge to keep kids from overdoing their gameplay. The good news is that there are now new Fortnite modes where creativity, problem-solving, and exploration are the main focus. In the next set of posts, I’ll provide constructive, achievable, and engaging strategies for parents, clinicians, and other child care providers to keep kids from getting addicted to Fortnite and other video games.