Simply banning your children from playing Fortnite could be a recipe for disaster — but there are ways to help them cut down, writes Ed Power
We are in the dog days of January and Christmas is a fading memory. However, if your kids were lucky enough to receive a new video game console on December 25, it is very possible you are currently coming to terms with the practical and existential challenge with which every parent must nowadays inevitably wrestle. How much video game time is too much video game time?
Ever since the first Space Invaders machine was unpacked at an arcade in Japan in 1978, adults have fretted over the young losing their souls to video games. But gaming has never been more ubiquitous than today. And, after 40 years of experience, the industry has become accomplished at creating powerfully addictive entertainment.
The obvious example in 2019 is Fortnite, an online shooter which, in its popular (and free) Battle Royale mode, pits the player against up to 99 other combatants in a cartoonish fight to the virtual death. Bright and playful (and lacking gore), Fortnite has become a phenomenon since launching in 2017.
“Video games are always popular,” says Catherine Hallissey, a child, adolescent and educational psychologist based in Cork.
“However, Fortnite appeals to a wide demographic as it’s free to download, fun, colourful. It is this year’s craze. Almost everyone is playing it and talking about it. It is a global phenomenon, made even more popular by sportspeople celebrating on the playing field with Fortnite dance moves.”
Fornite has prompted a controversy over its addictive qualities. Stories have emerged around the world of teens and children playing the game for up to 12 hours a day.
But even if your child’s Fornite “habit” is more modest, you may have concerns as to whether your kids have an unhealthy relationship with the popular shooter.
When considering the subject, it is useful to look beyond the old argument of banning or not prohibiting games outright, says Hallissey.
“It is a family choice whether children are allowed to play or not,” she says.
“In addition, very few people are able to stop after a short period as many games reward long playing times and playing daily.”
Here are 10 ways to encourage your Fortnite-obsessed flock to cut back.
Children take their cues from adults. Bluntly telling your kids to wrap up their Fornite session while you are yourself glued to your phone sends mixed signals.
Kids are no less attuned to hypocrisy than adults.
“The first step is for parents to take a realistic look at their own screen use and model good habits,” says Hallissey.
By acknowledging gaming as a legitimate interest rather than an activity to be demonised, you will draw much of the toxicity out of your interactions with your child.
Moreover, by showing you are willing to meet them halfway and that you understand video games aren’t simply junk for the eyeballs, there is a greater chance he or so will reciprocate when you suggest a non-screen-based activity.
Video games are the ultimate escapism and there may be a reason your child is trying to shut out the real world — and you in particular. What’s going on that might cause your child to keep you at arm’s length? “The next step is to look at family life and reduce unnecessary stressors,” says Hallissey. “Excessive game playing can be used as a thought blocker to cope with stress.”
Sitting around the house all day can lead to boredom, and Fortnite is a ready alleviator of tedium. So consider activities that will get kids off the sofa and out in the fresh air.
You don’t have to take them surfboarding or hang gliding. It is enough that you do something that is fun and involves leaving the house.
“Look at expanding your child’s interests by providing interesting alternative activities to keep your child busy,” says Hallissey. “Ideally, these would be healthy outdoor activities. Those that get the child to interact in the real world should be encouraged.”
Whether it’s growing a sunflower in the garden or building a model ship together, kids love meaningful collaboration with their parents.
A long-term project in which you have a shared interest will reduce the allure of video games — as well as giving you both an opportunity to bond.
The atomisation of family life is a trend of which video games addiction is merely a component. With so many screens in our homes, many of us spend our days in our own worlds. Eating together is a means of combating a pernicious trend and of reminding ourselves people get on best when actually looking one another in the eye and talking.
One theory regarding the addictive properties of games is that they provide ready hits of dopamine — the “reward” chemical your brain releases after a challenging task is achieved. In other words, they’re a short-cut to gratification.
But there are other forms of gratification — e.g. the sense of accomplishment from mastering a sport or musical instrument. There are no online players to acknowledge these achievements, so the parent must step in.
Here, research suggests it’s better to praise children for their hard work than for their intelligence. Children who are feted for their intelligence, scientists at Stanford discovered, were less likely to take on a new task, for fear their shortcomings might be exposed. Those complimented for their work were more enthusiastic about pitching in again.
If you have decided to allow video games, then consider whether the child should be allowed to play before they have, for instance, done their homework. The consensus is that it is best that video games are reserved for after everything else has been done — and that maximum effort been invested in the task at hand.
If you find yourself relying on video games to keep your children quiet while you complete the housework or text your school WhatsApp group, reflect on whether it is you or your child who has developed the unhealthy dependency.
Not all video games are created equal. Even if you have decided to allow games, you might wish to steer your child towards a non-violent and creative entertainment, such as Minecraft, rather than the mass shoot-out that is Fortnite