This article is one of a series of posts about Fortnite. In the past month, I’ve been approached by many news services, including Fox News.com, WBZ radio, and Bloomberg News, to provide an expert opinion on the pros and cons of children playing Fortnite. My basic message has been that Fortnite is inappropriate for children under the age of 13, as it is built in a way that can encourage overuse or, in rare cases, even addiction to the game. However, it can also provide opportunities for developing skills such as planning, organization, flexibility, problem solving, and, in some modes, collaboration. At the same time, I have a sense of discomfort with the story line of Fortnite, where the objective of the popular Battle Royale game is to kill everyone so that only you survive. This one-for-all motive in the game promotes selfishness and lack of empathy for others that permeates our societal and political environment in 2019.
Fortnite is the most popular video game I have encountered in my 30 years of work as a psychologist, rivaling Minecraft as an obsession among the kids in my clinical practice. Much to my chagrin, kids of all ages play it, and it is not an appropriate game for children under the age of 12. As I have noted in other posts, players in the Battle Royale version of the game, which is the favorite of most kids, have one objective, to kill everyone else playing the game. There are no good guys and bad guys, only “other” guys. Given the current political environment in the United States, I am distressed by an underlying message in which everyone other than “I” needs to be eliminated. But the concerns of most parents about Fortnite are more basic: their kids play too much!
Many of the kids I see in my clinical work with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Learning Disabilities, Anxiety Disorders, depression, and executive-functioning concerns do not play Fortnite occasionally but play so much their parents are concerned they are becoming addicted to it. Fortunately, most of these kids are merely overly involved in playing Fortnite, spending too much time playing and thinking about it. While some may be obsessed, dwelling on their failures and successes in Fortnite, very few are actually addicted to the game. Those kids who are clearly addicted need treatment with an addiction specialist and in more extreme cases may benefit from a video game rehab treatment facility. However, my limited experience in talking with with video game rehab agencies has not engendered confidence.
My three decades of clinical experience with patients and as a parent to five kids makes me view Fortnite as the latest craze, albeit with a particularly compelling algorithm that keeps kids – and adults – coming back for more. This presents a unique challenge for special needs kids, as it often serves as a connection to their typically developing peers and may be a source of self-esteem. But because special needs kids often display repetitive behavior, can obsess about gaming and activities, and struggle with transitions between activities, parents may need to be vigilant in setting effective limits or in having regular conversations about Fortnite play.
I have spoken to many patients and some of my interns from the University of Rhode Island about their experiences with Fortnite. Their accounts of playing Fortnite reinforce my view that most kids are able to recognize that Fortnite might be a risk if they play too much.
One of my interns described his first time playing Fortnite. He played for two to three hours but reported that he “couldn’t get into it.” He gave it a try because, as a long-time gamer, he had many friends who played Fortnite on a regular basis. He did not like getting killed quickly in the game and, more importantly, found the goals and strategies in the game to be more limiting than those in some of the more complex games (such as Overwatch and League of Legends) that he plays. I have heard similar accounts from LearningWorks for Kids gamer guides who coach kids in our LearningWorks LIVE program to use executive-functioning and problem-solving skills in game play.
A 10-year-old patient also described some of his misgivings about Fortnite. This young man, who might be described as an “old soul,” had interesting insights into his Fortnite play. He began to observe himself losing track of time while playing and reported that he had played so long on a weekend that there was no daylight time left to get outside and play. When his mother had discussed his game play with him he had essentially ignored her, but when he observed his excessive play on his own, he decided to do something about it. He asked Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated virtual assistant, to remind him to stop playing after an hour. For the most part, he has begun to limit himself in this manner.
Realistically, most kids and teens do not have the wherewithal and desire to limit themselves in the same way. However, a reasonable discussion with kids about overuse of video games can go a long way to moderating this issue, particularly if you encourage them to come up with their own methods to limit themselves. Increasingly, in studies by Common Sense Media and the Pew Research Center, we are hearing from teenagers who recognize the downside of too much technology use. I encourage parents to tackle Fortnite overuse by asking questions, talking to their kids about the role that games play in their lives, and asking them to offer their own solutions as a first course of action. Learn more about screen time issues here.