Fortnite: Are video games a dangerous addiction?
Prince Harry fanned an international debate over video games with a call to ban the game Fortnite, said Jane Wakefield in BBC.com. The Duke of Sussex said last week that he thought the free-to-play online game, which has more than 200 million players worldwide, was “created to addict—an addiction to keep you in front of a computer for as long as possible.” Harry, a father-to-be, suggested the game’s designers have been “irresponsible.” This kind of worry over video games isn’t new, said Beth Teitell in The Boston Globe. But evidence suggests that today’s games are “harder to stop playing.” Game makers have taken “a lesson from slot-machine designers” in developing ever more sophisticated psychological manipulations. Fortnite, in which 100 competitors fight each other on a virtual battlefield, continuously loops with a “variable-reward mechanism” to which the developing brains of young adults seem especially vulnerable.
I can see why parents are concerned, said Jennifer Senior in The New York Times. My 11-year-old son is so absorbed in the game that I wonder if he “dreams in Fortnite.” And when “he is not playing Fortnite, he is often watching YouTubers play Fortnite.” But many parents miss that what’s going on isn’t just what they see on the screen. Fortnite is social. When my son puts on his headset, he says, “I’m going to see my friends now.’’ And despite the dire warnings about video games destroying social bonds, Fortnite has tightened my son’s bonds with his buddies, and made him want to see them more often in real life. The entertainment industry has really mishandled this, said Brian Crecente in Variety. Science really has yet to prove or disprove that video games are addictive “in the same way as drugs or gambling.” But instead of genuinely considering the issue, video game makers have turned defensive and made critics even more sure games need to be labeled and regulated.
“Prince Harry is right to call for a ban,” said Emily Sheffield in The Evening Standard (U.K.), but really, why wait? “Last week I took the gaming headset my teenage son wears to play Fortnite and hurled it violently to the floor.” Then I did the same to his console. These games tap “into the high of adrenaline” and manipulate “feelings of insecurity and superiority.” Just how much more research do we need before we acknowledge what every parent knows about “screens and the glowing addictions they offer”? Whether or not the games are literally addictive, said Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian, they simply suck up too much time. “Maybe spending swaths of your finite life span engaged in violent fantasy is just a bad way to spend it.” ■