7 Tips To Get A Handle On Your Kids Playing Fortnite & Manage Your Worries About Game Addiction
With a worldwide online community of 125 Million+ gamers, Fortnite is a psychological behemoth.
On the one hand you have a large group of supporters that claim that the game teaches problem-solving practice and keeps children and adults occupied, whereas, another group laments that the game threatens our children by encouraging addiction and distraction from real life.
You’ve heard the pleas for help: “My kid is obsessed with Fortnite.” “Is my child addicted to Fortnite?” “How do I get my son off of Fortnite?”
Today, there are more than 100 Fortnite Facebook groups for gamers that have thousands of members, 241K being the largest in the Fortnite Battle Royale Community. There are dozens boasting thousands of members in the remaining groups.
In contrast, there are 49 Facebook parent groups who need help and support, and who oppose Fortnite. Of these 49 groups, the majority of actual members in each group is primarily in the single digits. (The highest group member total is 307, followed by 120.)
How did we get here?
Let’s trace back our affinity to play games to 45+ years ago. As kids growing up in the Midwest, all the kids in the neighborhood played outside, ALL year long. Seasons were irrelevant.
Outside in the street or neighborhood yards, we played Kickball, Soft Ball, Touch Football, Basketball, Capture the flag, Sardines, Red-Light-Green-Light- and the one that most highlights Fortnite, is King of the Mountain—the game where all of the kids in the neighborhood build a 5-foot mountain of freshly-packed snow and yank, push, or shove everyone off so that one person can get to the top—to be King of the Mountain or King of the Hill.
King of the Mountain was our non-virtual Fortnite, and we played whether it was 90 degrees outside on Mrs. Forester’s extra garden dirt, or minus 14-degrees below zero. We kept trying to be King of the Mountain, until that awful time, when front doors would open, and moms or dads would call us inside. “But I was so close,” we lamented. “I almost made it to the top.”
Red-Light-Green-Light required patience, timing, and honed observational skills. Physical prowess was not a factor. So what if we said that Fortnite resembles many of the games that today’s kids’ parents used to play? In other words, where physicality is a huge advantage in King of the Mountain, any sized kid can play Fortnite and have success.
Yet Fortnite is different than child’s play from decades back, and from other video games. It is because of the finesse that creator, Epic Games, uses to tap into Fortnite lover’s brains.
What makes Fortnite such a phenomenon? According to Max Albert in his article, How Fortnite Became the Most Addicting Game in History, Fortnite just happens to be the flavor of the month. Albert maintains the psychological rationale behind this is that the gaming industry has tapped into our hard-wired brains—into our reward center of the brain where dopamine is emitted—and given us this subliminal mantra: “Lose by a little, win by a lot.”
Meaning, you were so doggone close to winning.
Albert explains that there are two factors at play when the game is over:
First, the player thinks they were just a teeny bit away from winning and makes the thought leap that they will succeed in the next game.
Second, if the player wins, they win in a huge fashion, and the ego is stroked big time into sending the message that the player is God-like, and definitely on a roll and should probably play a bit longer. Maybe win two or three in a row? And the dopamine keeps on coming. Ever been to Vegas or on a cruise ship? Watch people play the slots? The same reward system is triggered. When you win at a slot machine, the sensory results are vast: bells and cheery alarms go off, lights flash, the points on the machine fly by into the thousandths as you, the winner, watch the numbers with bated breath. “WINNER” and “TRIPLE BONUS” flashes above the machine.
You cannot believe it! You’ve won 1,832,465 points! The dopamine surges and your ticket spits out that you have won $14.35.
But you almost did it. You have ticket vouchers and don’t really see the money, so you try one more time. And then maybe one more, because, after all—you were so close.
In one of Poppy’s Psychology classes at Ringling College of Art + Design, she had many of the art and design majors. Often they had lengthy class discussions on why the gaming majors didn’t create compassionate, non-violent games. Their automatic responses were that they are a hard sell: “No one wants to play those games.”
Are we all conditioned to expect games to be aggressive, violent, and deadly?
Consider the renowned psychologists: Pavlov, Skinner, and Maslow—who the gaming creators have definitely studied—Classical conditioning from Pavlov, Operant Behavior from Skinner, and the desire to belong from Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, and you have a psychological trifecta of human behavior.
Brain conditioning is the result of the hours and hours kids (and adults) will spend gaming. In his 2017 scholarly article, Daniel Vu shares that after instant gratification (dopamine) is received in the brain, it lays the foundation for the desired neural circuitry: (feeling confident and wanting to play again and again.)
Dopamine is a neural transmitter, released in the brain in response to a perceived reward. The more challenging the objective for the player, the greater the increase in dopamine. Once the gamer reaches a new level, another dopamine hit occurs each time.
And then, the inevitable happens: the brain’s neural circuitry stops getting the same satisfaction from the dopamine hits. This leveling off of dopamine increases the gamer’s need to purchase more V-bucks, or even Fortnite tutors.
The ever-present, “lose by a little, win by a lot,” is still highly activated in the game, where the young developing mind thinks: “If in Fortnite, I just practiced building faster by using rebinds: Q, F1, F2, F3, F4, and RMB, I bet I can win next time.”
And the dopamine-reward cycle continues to escalate, to even an unbelievable extreme: in the UK, a school-aged girl wet herself to continue playing Fortnite.
So if we know what is happening to us in our brains, and that we are choosing to be manipulated, influenced, or inspired by games, why would we blame the game makers?
Perhaps we should consider cultural, societal and parental decisions as to why Fortnite has a stranglehold on our families?
And even though the century-old whine is still alive and well today: “But Kyle’s mom lets him play Fortnite for 5 hours every day.”
Here are 7 tips you can use to reclaim your child’s overall health, and your family’s well-being:
1) Both parents/co-parents/step-parents have one unified voice. Parents living in the same household agree to usage and limits. No good cop/bad cop. If parents are estranged in every way, you can ask the other parent to respect your gaming constraints. If they refuse to follow and perhaps even get joy in spiting you, at the very least, you can calmly communicate with your child that your rules in your home are set in stone.
2) Parental controls on phones and devices. You create these controls and monitor the usage. If Emily lashes out at you, that becomes reduced gaming time.
3) Create a real-time parent support group. All the parents are figuratively on the same page with one voice. Even if a parent is working, brainstorming with other parents on how to build healthy development opportunities for your child, rather than building Fortnite walls and platforms, is in your entire family’s best interest. Befriend other parents in your child’s school or outside social network and collectively develop healthy boundaries.
4) Don’t be a genie. “But all my friends are playing Fortnite and no one will play with me.” Have a substitute activity in place, that does not tap into the “lose by a little, win by a lot” premise. Give A or B choices: You can either shoot hoops outside or do an individual scavenger hunt in the basement. Teach them healthy coping mechanisms for not getting their every wish granted.
5) Hit the same reward system that Epic Games is tapping into: “Lose by a little, win by a lot. “Every hour Jacob does another activity that is healthy, (or chore) he gets rewarded with a half hour on Fortnite.
6) It’s healthy for you to say “no” to your child. Establishing a pattern and habit for you to set healthy boundaries is essential. If your energy is completely zapped, and your child has worn you down (we totally have been there!), and you just don’t have the energy to argue for the seventeenth time, say: “For only an hour now, and when you’re finished, and I’m finished with my personal time, we are going to set up a schedule. Do you understand that after an hour of Fortnite playtime, whether you win or lose, that you will follow the gaming schedule I set up?” And please follow through with established boundaries, according to Dr. Sheryl Ziegler.
7) If you really think your child could be addicted, please have a professional evaluate them. Something other than a gaming system is going on.
You don’t have to have a Battle Royale at home to reclaim your child’s mindshare. As members of the Greater Good Science Center, we found a worthy resource to teach children empathy.
Do not bargain with your 12-year-old, re-empower yourself—right now—and tap into your brain’s reward center, so you can get a dopamine spike. And recondition your whole family without even using a device.
Lose by a little, win by a lot.
If you’re a Mom or Dad and you’re tired of wringing your hands to get your kids to behave, we hear you and we can help. Send a confidential email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (941) 586-2911 for a free strategy session to learn how to quickly reclaim your family.
You can also check out this Parental Control Guide for more resources and information.
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