‘Fortnite’ is deliberately designed to be addictive to children and exploits the ‘I want to play with guns’ urge (a relic of our tribal ancestry).
‘Fortnite’, is a game that disturbs me deeply. To me, there is something sick about designing a game for children, built on the premise that you have to shoot everyone else to survive, and something morally flabby about arguing that ‘children always want to play soldiers, so there’s no point in banning toy guns or shooter games.’* Those of you who follow this blog will know that I have already written a piece drawing a distinction between heavy phone use and addiction but ‘Fortnite’, I think, needs a discussion of its own.
Let’s be blunt. ‘Fortnite’ is deliberately designed to be addictive to children and exploits the ‘I want to play with guns’ urge (a relic of our tribal ancestry). Anything which is addictive can be a threat to our mental and physical health. What’s more alarming is that this particular addictive activity, is hooking children in a way that we haven’t seen before (except perhaps in the 19th century when some poverty-stricken factory workers drugged their children with laudanum, an opium-based tincture, in order to get them to sleep whilst they worked or to quell their hunger pangs, a practice we look back on with compassion but also horror). We don’t, therefore, know the long-term impact of addiction in childhood or early adolescence. What we DO know about addicts in general is that, once the neural pathways of addiction are established, they don’t go away. Ask any ex-smoker. Given the right trigger (eg. a drink out with friends, if that’s what smoking was associated with), the cravings will return.
Is that what we want for our children? Can we afford to take the risk?
We do know that not everyone becomes an addict, just from exposure to an addictive substance or practice. We are not all alcoholics or gamblers or sex addicts. Many of us will have lived through ‘crazes’ and the ‘craze’ has no power over us anymore. Children of the 1970s will remember ‘clackers’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLHftISLNHE and the media scare-stories about children losing eyes when they shattered into pieces. Clackers, however, were not deliberately designed to be addictive – so we stood a good chance of outliving the ‘craze’ unharmed unless we were unfortunate enough to be damaged by flying acrylic! And yet they were banned in the US in 1985.
‘Fortnite’ is something very different. Read more about it here. Gaby Hinsliff makes her points better than I could make them.
I am sure you would make efforts to control your child’s behaviour if you found they were indulging in any other addictive substance or behaviour. My children were little when video games were in their infancy but we still had limited ‘computer hours’ - Super Mario was clearly addictive, even then. It wasn’t easy – at times, it felt like hell on earth (so you have my sympathy in bucketsful!) – but I think it was worth it.
Who knows? Maybe I am a prophet of doom. But if I did not draw your attention to the nature of a game that could impact on your sons’ mental health, potentially for the long-term, I don’t think I would be doing my job properly.
Meg Harper, Head of Counselling
*On that, with two sons and two daughters, I declared our home a gun-free zone and stuck to it. At least then I was drawing a clear line – whatever my children or visiting children did elsewhere, playing with guns or pretend guns in my home was banned.