On Sunday 10 June, the Daily Mail reported that a 9-year-old girl become so addicted to the popular video game Fortnite that her parents found her with a “red-raw” bottom, after soaking in her own urine, because she refused to go to the toilet during her 10-hour sessions.
Initially, she became unruly and aggressive and they were called in by her teacher because her grades were dropping and she was falling asleep in class. She’d lost interest in gym and ballet and they started noticing £50 purchases every month to Microsoft. That's when they sat their daughter down.
“Our daughter told us it could be some extras she’d paid for on Fortnite,” the mom explained. "Of course we were furious and confiscated her Xbox. But then she lashed out and hit my husband in the face.”
The couple opted to limit their daughter’s time on the game, but the mom recalled how one night her husband saw their daughter's light on and found her in a “urine-soaked cushion” still playing the game. “I found her backside was red-raw. She was so hooked to the game she wouldn’t even go to the toilet.
“Crying, she told us that every night for the past two months she had waited until we were asleep and then got up to play, sometimes until 5am.”
After contacting professionals, the young girl is now receiving therapy for her addiction.
Her psychotherapist Steve Pope, who specialises in addictive behaviours, elaborated, "Over the last two months I’ve been contacted by dozens of parents with children as young as 8 showing signs of addiction to Fortnite. I’ve been working in this field for three decades and never seen anything like it, how widespread and potentially damaging this is. I know bright kids who will fail their exams this summer because of Fortnite, kids who are stealing from their parents and friends to pay for the extras, kids who urinate in bottles because they can’t bear to leave the game.”
He claims that seeing celebrities endorsing the game is the "perfect gateway" to getting kids hooked. "You see Premier League footballers celebrating goals with Fortnite dances and it’s the biggest possible advert for kids."
What is Fortnite?
We keep hearing about this Fortnite game, how cool it is, how it's being played at 2am in the morning, and how undeniably addictive kids (and adults) are saying it is. So here’s what we managed to find out about the game and why our kids just can’t get enough of it.
Fortnite is a co-op sandbox survival game. That is a game in which players can work together as teammates in a virtual dystopian world to kill bad guys (in this case zombies) or other players in a Battle Royale mode (in which case 100 players fight until someone is the last man standing).
The game is available for download on Microsoft Windows, Mac, PlayStation and Xbox and is completely free, unless you’d like to buy clothes, guns and gadgets to increase your performance.
Although the game has an age restriction of 12, we spoke to a few university students who play the game and they explained it’s not necessarily plain-as-day bad for kids. Maseeh Ahmed Karriem, a 22-year-old student at the University of Cape Town, explains, “Even when you shoot people or attack them, there’s no blood or gore. So it’s not violent to an extent where children will look at it and be like, 'Wow, this guy’s head just got chopped off'. The game interface is very simple and cartoon-like. You can buy colourful costumes and everything.”
- Also read: Do you check the age ratings on video games?
From the video trailer we can understand what Maseeh means – I mean it’s no Resident Evil and there are forts! I’m pretty sure we all played some version of this game when we were growing up and if not, we watched a cartoon about fighting bad guys – before doing a live action adaptation of it in the living room.
Is Fortnite really all that addictive?
After watching the trailer you’re probably wondering, “What’s so bad about this game?” and “Can it really be all that addictive?”.
“It is very addictive because it’s so hard to win but also very possible to win,” explains 21-year-old Imtiyaaz Abdurahman, a student at the University of the Western Cape.
“So you keep trying and trying until you get it right and then when you actually win, you keep trying because you want to win more. I’ve played over a thousand matches.”
Maseeh Ahmed also endorses it. “It’s very appealing to everyone because the game is constantly updated. If there’s anything wrong with the game, they’ll fix the problems quickly. They keep adding new content. So you know how you have guns and stuff? They’ll add new guns.”
He continues, “So now there’s a new gun coming out with a thermal thing so you can pick out where people are. They’re constantly making the game fun. Recently they had that deal with Marvel where Thanos was in the game during the release of Avengers. You could play as Thanos and you could have his powers.
“They care about their fans. The fact that the game makers care so much about ensuring that we have the greatest content all the time – it’s great.”
So maybe this is the problem, then? Maybe the game has been so well thought out and there’s always this desire to do better, to earn virtual currency to improve your performance and make it all the way to the top (and stay on top) that the game does actually become addictive.
What is gaming addiction?
Gaming addiction is relatively new. Only in recent years have online platforms opened up and provided easier access and opportunities for children to actually play a game excessively – to the point where they’re making Skype calls in the early hours of the morning to have their friends come online for some Battle Royale showdown.
But gaming addiction is real, and in January the World Health Organisation (WHO) listed gaming addiction as a mental health condition.
WHO defines Gaming disorder as: “A pattern of gaming behaviour characterised 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.”
Hein Hofmeyr, a psychotherapist and clinical psychologist at Akeso Clinic Nelspruit, likens gaming addiction to substance abuse. “It’s a disorder which may be classified as a substance-related and addictive disorder as it exhibits the same signs and symptoms.”
These signs and symptoms, he says, includes withdrawal symptoms, feelings of anger, depression, restlessness and irritability, preoccupation with thoughts of previous online activity or anticipation of the next online session, and lying to friends or family members about the amount of time spent playing, to name just a few.
Hofmeyr suggests that gaming can often fulfill an unmet psychological need. Whether it’s in a sense of belonging to a particular group or completely avoiding one’s own emotions, he says, “People often enter a hypnotic state when playing video games, during which the subconscious mind learns that the playing of the game is an escape from the real world and a ‘safe space’.”
So just like any other addiction, games tend to draw players in by creating some sort of desire to accumulate rewards within a virtual reality in which they know they can succeed. Hofmeyr says producers use risk factors, such as possibly becoming attached to the story of the game, the use of violence and escape from real-life situations as a way to make games more addictive.
“They tap into the serotonin and dopamine levels of the brain to produce feelings of euphoria," he explains. "As soon as these levels are depleted, the gamer may experience withdrawal symptoms and therefore up their gaming. It works on the same principles as substance-related addictions.”
So although Fortnite itself is not a graphic game and may not be bad per sé for your kids, gaming in general might be more addictive than we think. While we aren’t suggesting you keep your kids away from gaming altogether, you might want to consider limiting screen time before they become addicted to a particular game, discussing possible risk factors of the game, or simply playing the game with them so you’re aware of any and all lasting psychological effects it might be having. And watch those age restrictions.
Do your children play Fortnite? Do you think they might be addicted to the game? Tell us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and we might publish your story on the site. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous.
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