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Is Fortnite Ruining Your Kid?

Millions of kids are now playing the hottest game, Fortnite. Is that bad?

Fortnite is the hottest video game of the past year. If you have gamers in the household, particularly boys, you might be seeing more of it than you'd like! There is a recent Time Magazine article on it, because Fortnite has been hitting like a tidal wave in the gaming world and beyond. The transcript of my YouTube episode on Is Fortnite Ruining Your Kid is below.

Transcript for "Is Fortnite Ruining Your Kid?"

Hello, this is Tech Happy Life with Dr. Mike Brooks. Today's episode is: Is Fortnite Ruining Your Kid?

So you might have heard me mention Fortnite in a few of the other episodes, and you might be wondering to yourself: What is “Fork Knife?” Well, Fortnite is the actual name of it, and I said the same thing when I first heard the kids talking about it. Fortnite is an action-adventure-survival game that is cross-platform, so you can play it on multiple different platforms (e.g., Playstation 4, XBox One, Nintendo Switch, PC). It has a very social element, so team-based or squad-based play is encouraged. It’s cartoon-ish, so although there is violence, and it's kind of a survival game... it’s more about eliminating the other players rather than killing them, and there isn’t the gratuitous or graphic violence that you see in other games, like Call of Duty. It has over 125 million players, and it’s really taken off in the past year... The players come in all shapes and sizes and ages, but there is a very large contingent of players that are male and probably between the ages of 8-10 years old and 20 years old.

The Appeal of Fortnite

Now, Fortnite is an engaging game for many reasons. I’m not going to use [the word] “addictive” because that’s a really strong term (which I'll cover in future episodes), but it’s very compelling and engaging for users for a number of reasons. It’s colorful, there’s a lot of action, there’s a lot of variability so each game is different. There’s a team-based element so people can work as teams, and it encourages teamwork because that enhances your chances of survival and victory. There’s an element that is somewhat like the game Minecraft, which you might have heard of, where there is building and searching and acquiring resources.

The "Vegas Effect" and Fortnite

One of the elements of Fortnite that is particularly engaging, that keeps people coming back for more, is sometimes referred to as the “Vegas Effect,” and that’s a variable ratio reinforcement schedule. That is, every game is different, so there are many times when players go through a game and they have a near victory, which is very reinforcing because it keeps them coming back for more, thinking, “Oh, I was so close that time! Maybe next game will be the time when I achieve victory.” Although Fortnite is the game of the hour, or the game of 2018, if we go back to the inception of video games, they’ve always captured our imagination and attention from the get-go. For example, Space Invaders— you might be old enough to remember Pac-Man, and Pac-Man Fever the song, Pokemon, Tetris, Pokemon Go, all the Mario games, and Call of Duty, just to name a few. One after another, they catch our attention, and then there will be certain games that come along that a huge group of people flock to, and Fortnite is that game right now.

Caught in the Spell of Dragon's Lair

Here's a quick story of my own video game compulsion. You might remember the game Dragon’s Lair. It was a laser-disc game; it was the first of its kind. And if you’re a fan of Stranger Things, in season two, Dustin was playing Dragon’s Lair at the arcade. And that was me. I was about his age when it came out, and I was playing it at the local 7-Eleven. I was working at a pet store at the time, and all my paychecks went to playing Dragon’s Lair, and they were 50 cents a game back then, so translate that to today’s money—it was quite expensive! But I didn’t hesitate in putting all my money from my first job at the pet store into Dragon’s Lair. I was so into it, that during Hurricane Alicia in Houston,... during the eye of that hurricane, I took my 10-speed Schwinn bicycle, without a helmet, rode four miles to the 7-Eleven to play—guess what?—Dragon’s Lair. So I’ll be the last to blame kids playing Fortnite for getting way into the game when you look at my past.

So, Is Fortnite Ruining Your Kid?

So, there will always be games to capture the imagination and attention. As to the question of, "Is Fortnite Ruining Your Kid?" my short answer to this is: No. Not any more than Dragon’s Lair ruined me as a young teen. The big caveat is that too much time playing Fortnite can be problematic. It's the time spent on it and not the game per se.

The Benefits of Fortnite

In fact, I’ll go on the record to say Fortnite offers many benefits to players and I’m going to name just a few. One, it’s a lot of fun, that’s why they’re playing it to begin with. But it [also] encourages teamwork and cooperation because often it is the most fun when people are playing together in groups or teams. And then that fosters communication, problem-solving, creativity, because of the different ways to play to achieve victory. One of the hidden benefits of this video game, as well as many others when you have a lot of people playing it, is that even when they are not playing it, players of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and backgrounds have a common language to communicate with one another [through which] they are sharing tips, strategies, and adventures they’ve had playing the game.

The Big Downside of Fortnite

Although Fortnite has so many benefits, as Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It, there can be "too much of a good thing." The negatives of playing Fortnite are similar to the negatives that kick in from doing too much of about anything, or any other video game. And this has to do with our physiological and psychological needs. Our physiological and psychological needs are basically the same as they were tens of thousands of years ago (or perhaps hundreds of thousands). For instance, we still need about eight hours of sleep; teens need 9-10 hours of sleep, and that hasn’t changed. So, when teens or kids are playing Fortnite on school nights, and not getting enough sleep because they are staying up late, that’s where problems emerge, and there are going to be consequences.

Needs Displaced by Fortnite

In addition to sleep loss, some other things can be pushed out by their gaming that start to take their toll. For instance, they’re not getting enough physical activity, they’re not exercising, they’re just sitting, playing the game. Maybe their in-person interactions are taking a hit. So, they’re not hanging out with their friends or interacting with family members. It could be that all their other interests have dropped off, all their other hobbies, like music or sports, [to the extent that] that they are dropping off the radar. Or perhaps they are not attending to their academics anymore and their grades are really slipping, and we know they are going to pay for that later on.

The Tech Happy Life Model and Fortnite

So when these problems start to arise, you might remember the Tech Happy Life model that I presented earlier. When these problems are emerging, they’re at the Yellow Light Level. When they’ve spiraled completely out of control, they’re at the Red Light Level, and we want to prevent them from getting to that level.

How Much Is Too Much Fortnite?

You might ask right now: How much is too much Fortnite? Now the science is, of course, still emerging on this, and it has a hard time keeping up with technology. But generally, what the research shows is that about two to three hours of recreational screen time per day is the maximum amount that [allows kids to] get the benefits and not experience too many negatives. Beyond the two to three hours, what happens is all the negatives of playing, of being on the screen, increase, and the positives are getting overshadowed by those negatives. This is because too much time playing Fortnite begins to displace other, more need-satisfying activities.

So, a tip for you parents is to try to keep your child’s recreational screen time to two to three hours per day—that’s their aggregate recreational screen time. So, if they’re playing Fortnite for two to three hours and they’re on Snapchat for another hour, and they’re watching Netflix for another hour, you’ve got a problem. Their aggregate screen time—of recreational screen time—should be about two to three hours per day. During the school week, I’d say that it should be more like one to two hours, and then on weekends, you might allow for the two to three of recreational screen time. Ideally, you establish these parameters on the front end, and as you might recall, that’s the Green Light Level of the Tech Happy Life model, so you’re trying to prevent these problems of overuse to begin with.

This concludes this episode: Is Fortnite Ruining Your Kid? And we will be covering Fortnite in some future episodes because it’s such a rich and hot topic these days. This has been Tech Happy Life with Dr. Mike Brooks, and I look forward to seeing you again.

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