I know I should be looking forward to summer, but I’m not. I’m filled with dread as I try to figure out what to do with my 2 boys, ages 13 and 11. Or better yet, what NOT to do with my boys this summer. And for me, the dread can be summed up in one (or is it two?) words: Fortnite.
What is it with that game? My son barely says hello to me as he runs upstairs to get on the Xbox and enter into a virtual reality world where he and a team of his friends, also glued to their screens in their basements or bedrooms, try to “kill” other players. They get to choose their “skins”, the avatar that they will use and what sort of weapons and victory dances their virtual selves can do. I try to describe this game to others as “paintball but online, and you’re ‘killing’ the other guy with pretend artillery instead of an actual paintball.”
I am clearly not the only parent confronting this Fornite tsunami. We all started, slowly, to mention the game and watch to see other’s reactions before we let it out that we are completely in over our heads and our kids play this game in a crazy addictive way that makes Minecraft look like child’s play.
And it turns out we were right.
The game is available on PC, Xbox and PlayStation and has already registered more than 45 million downloads. It’s become so big that even schools are warning parents to limit access to the game.
So why is it so popular? Fortnite uses several tactics that make it especially addictive for young people:
It plays up to peer pressure: Sure, kids are playing together as a “team” but if your kid has to stop midgame, he is leaving his team in the lurch. Suddenly, I understand why my son goes ballistic when I have to pull him off because we need to leave.
It hypes up the hormones: It is well established that certain video games set the survival instinct into high-gear. Fortnite brilliantly uses the fight-orflight response throughout the entire game. Remember, there is another team or another player out there wanting to “kill” you. I watched over my son’s shoulder for a few minutes and I was literally tired from the “excitement”. It’s almost like a nonstop roller coaster ride.
It’s a regular reward-o-rama: If you play well, you earn “skins”, the outfit your character wears. You can buy extras, extra skins or victory dances. It also gives your brain a nonstop shot of dopamine, often referred to as ‘the reward hormone’, it’s the chemical that floods the brain when you win at gambling, or find a gorgeous bag on sale.
Children are at a greater risk for these effects because their brains are not fully formed. As any mother to even a 2-year old knows, the reward or impulse system develops much sooner than the development of self-control or self-regulation. It is believed the brain does not fully develop until sometime in the mid-twenties.
That’s a lot of Fortnite to fight.
UP NEXT – Tips on how to take control of your kids back from the Fornite fix