BY MITCH GREENWOOD
When the oven-timer beeps in Queensland mother Ann McNally’s home, it doesn’t necessarily mean that dinner is ready, rather an indication that it is the end of the potentially addictive game Fortnite for her two boys.
With the opening of Fortnite’s ‘Season 5’ download, new exclusive features are becoming available for more than 40 million monthly active players. But many parents are concerned this multi-platform video game is leading to negative problems such as addictive behaviour for their children.
If you’re not familiar with this award winning game, the premise is a combination of Mojang’s popular game Minecraft and The Hunger Games. Around 100 players are dropped off in a virtual location. The aim is to gather resources and weapons and to try and beat the other 99. The game is available on all consoles including the Xbox, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, as well as mobile handheld devices and on PCs. Celebrity adults bringing a real-life element to the game. Among them: Major League Baseball stars, and popular entertainers Drake and Kanye West. Despite this, parents may feel they don’t fully understand the new trend and how it will affect their children.
Fortnite is considered less violent compared with other games aimed at children including Dark Souls and Modern Warfare. Instead, it creates a cartoon-like atmosphere with no blood or gore. Some of the weapons will be familiar to real-world counterparts: pistols and shotguns, but defeated enemies simply disappear rather than anything more graphically violent.
Parents may still worry about issues including anti-social and violent behaviour to children exposed to a ‘third-person videogame shooter’. However, Professor C. Shawn Green, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says they should be put at ease. Professor Green told the New York Times: “There is no real evidence that playing a violent video game would take someone who has absolutely no violent tendencies and suddenly make them a violent person”. Professor Green has researched the correlation between real-world issues and video games, with other studies contending that some survey results can be skewed, resulting in misinformed data and information towards the public.
There have been multiple other studies that shows that video games do not correlate to broader-based violence from children.
To the contrary, exposure to video games such as Fortnite can provide positive effects. Professor Green is not alone in this view, with examples including improvement in physiological arousal, self-regulation and organisation, cognitive behaviour and reflexes, as well as prosocial behaviour.
Fortnite as a platform also supports The General Learning Module (see diagram here) that encourages players to work together. When provided with a game encounter that demonstrates decision-making, Fortnite generally rewards co-operation. Most players join up in groups (otherwise known as parties or lobbies) with friends to try and win the game. Game-based mechanics include player-revival by teammates, sharing items and contribution in strategies. These behaviours are rewarded. This compares with players who face opponents alone – without a group – who tend to lose quickly – as well as struggling to gain skills for the game.
These mechanics reward players with prosocial behaviour and link teammates and allies with positive emotions and actions. It also creates a new network of friends to communicate and bond with.
Contradicting this, as the game proceeds and does not have the anticipated outcome, outbursts outside of the game could become another form of worry for parents. Many parents may face their child in a form of aggression, yelling, screaming, destruction of property, and lose thoughtfulness for people and friends whilst playing videogames.
Ann McNally, a mother of boys aged five and seven from Noosa, Queensland was interviewed and discussed her way of dealing with her children losing their temper. “I normally restrict them to half-an-hour in the morning and half-an-hour in the evening on weekdays, and an hour on weekends” she said.
Ann agreed that timing and the environment they play in is a component for these negative moods. “I set them up with a tablet in the living-room, so I can supervise what they play, as well as set an oven-timer that will beep meaning that screen-time is over.” Ann also found that discussing with her children about the games and coming up with fun strategies distracts them from the anger they could feel, and instead inspires them to try and win the next game they play. Structured playtime can be effective and controlling what could be an addictive situation for many children.
Ann even highlighted that her husband enjoyed playing Fortnite with their children, as it could engage with what they were doing, and they could both understand that the game was harmless. She said “I’m not a fan of shooting games but my husband who is a bit of a gamer stepped in and knew that it was fine. He said that the boys loved playing with him.”
For many parents, teenagers have also become interested in Fortnite and are unable to control their amount of playtime due to lack of self-control.
17-year-old teenager, James Maguire from Oakleigh, Victoria discussed why he had been obsessed with video games for several years, and what he did to combat it. For many teenagers, they might not want to deliberate with their parents about video games and instead stay inside their friendship groups to discuss.
James found that after a while, if he or his friends felt like they had been on Fortnite for too long, they would give themselves a break to do something else. Even though this is less effective from teenagers, James said that “once one of my friends brings up that we’ve been online for a long time, I think about it and the game starts to get less fun and we end up stopping if we’re not doing much”. With both situations having control from an outside force about the regulation of gaming, it is able to positively help people not become hooked with the game, and instead highlights the social aspect of why they play.
James said that he had met friends through Fortnite and is regularly meeting new people to play with as he tries to get better at the game through teamwork. “There’s a real social feeling I get from playing with mates that I don’t normally see every day. It makes me feel like we’re hanging out.” As mentioned before, parents should be encouraged to play with their children to learn and understand the game more if they feel concerned.
With technology and video games evolving every few years, games manufacturers are recognizing that they must adhere to the parents concerns about graphic violence in games targeted at children, and the potential addictive nature of the activity. As ever, it is up to the parent to decide whether the games are suitable for their children and to monitor their usage. As Ann McNally states: “When the oven-timer beeps, they know straight away to switch it off. I’ve had no complaints.”