In early 2018, over 1 million people tuned in to watch a live stream of a Fortnite game on YouTube. That same event brought in more than 42 million unique viewers, and the game has been breaking records for most downloads and attracting plenty of adult players into nightclub-style lounges where they can play for hours on end. Clearly, the game has the power to draw people in and keep them hooked, and teenage boys have been especially susceptible to the game’s allure.
Available on some computers in 2017, it wasn’t until the spring of 2018 that Fortnite really picked up in popularity. Part of what makes this game so broadly appealing is its cross-platform accessibility and its relatively simple premise. Users can log in on their phones, computers, tablets, or gaming systems. Once they do, they cruise over the game world in a bus, choosing when to drop down and build a fortress with resources to help defend themselves in a battle until the last player is left standing.
Fortnite Is Hard to Quit
Many kids found themselves engrossed in the game over the summer, and many parents were happy to let them play. After all, the game is engaging and requires a certain level of planning and strategy. While the premise certainly is grim, the images are not bloody or violent. It seemed like harmless fun.
However, as the school year returned, many students have found themselves unable to pull away from the game world and put their focus back into their studies. What makes the game even harder to quit is the social aspect of it. Players communicate with each other during the game, and they can form teams. Many players find themselves part of a complex social world where their skills are valued and necessary to be part of a cooperative effort. Stepping away from the game comes with the pressure of stepping away from friends who are depending on the skills that the player brings to the group.
Social features are one of the ways that video game designers intentionally manipulate the game design in order to make players more likely to stay engaged and keep playing. By including social elements, using narrative devices, and tapping into players’ brains’ reward center, designers use psychology to create game worlds that players just can’t easily quit.
The Impact on Academics
While some teachers are concerned about the risk of online bullying through the game, an even more widespread concern is simply the reality of time. Fortnite can take several hours of the day, and these are hours that most of today’s school children cannot afford to spend on a video game. Between class time, extracurriculars, and homework, most school-age children have busy schedules and lots of responsibilities. If they find themselves unable to put down the video game controls, they can miss out on opportunities to socialize in person, have trouble finishing their homework, or forego much-needed sleep.
Fortnite can be an especially hard game for parents to regulate. Time limits are hard to enforce because, once around starts, stopping in the middle is likely to be very distressing for a player. Players are battling 99 other players in an attempt to be the last person standing, and the gamble of a longshot win is very exciting. Just like slot machines prey upon this tendency in adult players, Fortnite promises a big reward for repeated effort and trying “just one more round” can become an addictive cycle that’s hard to break. What’s more, an individual round can last more than 20 minutes, and the more a player plays, they better they get, so the longer they last in each round.
It can become quite difficult to set reasonable daily limits on a game with these qualities.
What Should Parents Do?
There will be lots of situations throughout a child’s life that require decision making and prioritizing. Fortnite is particularly addictive, and it makes for a great chance for parents to help model wise choices. While it might be tempting to let children learn this lesson through natural consequences, it is important to remember that the developing teenage brain is not fully capable of handling these decisions like an adult. Playing an exciting video game like Fornite results in physiological responses that tap into the brain in a deeply ingrained way.
If a parent sees slipping grades, lack of sleep, or a disinterest in previously enjoyable activities, then it’s time to step in and make some changes. At the very least, parents should set reasonable limits for the amount of time spent on video games each day, make sure that all homework is done before the game comes on, and create a firm bedtime that allows for plenty of rest. For more extreme cases, it may be necessary to shut the game off completely. The game world is designed to pull the players back in, so sometimes the best thing a parent can do is remove the temptation.
Here at The Tenney School, we are dedicated to helping students reach their full potential, and that includes helping them navigate some of life’s tough lessons and hard choices.