Video gaming sure isn't what it used to be. Long gone are the days of side-scrolling, low-resolution games that could never dream of connecting to a worldwide network.
Now, they're high-tech and fully immersive. And over the years, there's occasionally that game that's so popular, some kids have trouble walking away from it - which can lead to problems at home and school.
Here we go again, but to an all-new level with the wildly popular online game, Fortnite. Medical professionals have a warning for parents because for some young people, this game is apparently the equivalent of being addicted to drugs.
The game kids won't walk away from
If you have children, or know someone who does, chances are you've at least heard of Fortnite. It's an online game that was first released in 2017, and has since become a worldwide phenomenon. In a nutshell, it's a cartoon multiplayer shooter-style game that comes in three versions. The most popular is the Battle Royale variation, where 100 players fight to be the last person standing.
How popular is it, you ask? Let's just look at this one stat: There are more than 200 million players across the globe, and not all of them are children. That should about sum it up.
But the scary part is that health professionals like doctors and psychiatrists are saying the game is causing serious problems for some children - even leading to violence.
The Fortnite addiction
Some kids are so hooked on this free-to-play game, that they are now fighting game addiction. One side effect of the obsession is losing weight because teens won't stop playing long enough to eat.
The Boston Globe recently spoke with Michael Rich, director of the Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders at Boston Children's Hospital, and he voiced some serious concerns. He said some kids aren't sleeping, maybe not even going to school. They're dropping out of social activities like sports. That's not the worst of it, though.
Rich said they've seen one kid who took a hammer to the windshield of the family car because he though his parents locked his gaming device inside. It's also affecting families in other ways.
The Boston Globe also spoke with therapist Rich Domenico, who said it's brought some parents to almost consider divorcing. Read more about that here. He explained that it's similar to working with parents who have a child addicted to drugs.
Breaking the cycle of obsessive gaming
Kids who just want to play video games is not a new trend. But what makes this different from games of five, 10 or 15 years ago?
A professor of Information Systems and Decision Sciences at California State University Fullerton has some thoughts on that topic. Professor Ofir Turel said game makers are taking a lesson from slot-machine designers and employing a variable reward schedule. Combine that with Fortnite's immersive game play and brain stimulation, and another professor said that trains the brain to crave it even more.
For any parents who see concerning changes in behavior, or even physical changes, experts say talk to your kids. Intervene and setup a schedule for when they're allowed to play Fortnite or any other games that seem to be causing problems. In more serious cases, take the games away and possibly seek outside help.
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