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Teens & Tech: Fortnite Frenzy

A highly popular video game designed to draw players in and rob them of their time and real world engagment.

The video game Fortnite has swept the globe with its popularity and has left many wondering at its addictive power. The Fortnite frenzy seems to have come out of nowhere, but in fact it is the inevitable result of the gaming industry increasingly applying addictive elements to each new game. Parents and educators are rightly concerned about Fortnite’s ability to mesmerize teens and steal hours of their time. Today’s commercial video games have incorporated cutting-edge graphics, behavioral reinforcers (through achieving levels of play), and exciting and often violent stories. The risks to health through gaming addiction in adolescents are very real, and include sleep deprivation and the subsequent lack of attention, a higher incidence of obesity, depression, and inappropriate or unsafe content. Screen time is often the enemy of the good. Age appropriate critical thinking and digital literacy should now be an essential part of their education.

Fortnite: Save the World was created by Epic Games and currently costs $39.99. It can be played on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, mobile devices, and multi-player networks. The game takes elements of sandbox-building games and also adds the fast-paced action of a third-person shooter. The two modes of the game are Fortnite: Save the World and Fortnite: Battle Royal. Save the World is a cooperative game in which you play on a team of up to three other players to fight AI controlled waves of enemies, known as husks. It can also be played solo with AI allies that offer aid on the mission. Though not as bloody as the Call of Duty series, which are gritty and realistic military first-person shooter games, Save the World is also primarily a combat based game with tons of guns and violence. Parents and educators might find it somewhat more acceptable because it does build teamwork and thoughtful collaboration.

Battle Royale is free to play and an offshoot of Save the World. Players are dropped into a game map and compete to the last man standing. Younger players are attracted to the cartoonish bloodless style of the game and the ability to collect weapons and build safe structures with wood, stone, and metal in this free Battle Royale mode. Adults should be aware that Battle Royale does have in-app purchases. Unlike the Save the World version there are no creepy zombie-like creatures to kill. The game’s online chat feature could expose younger players to mature content from random strangers. Open chat is not recommended for players under the age of 13, but with the right controls and parental guidance, this game may be a more acceptable alternative to violent first-person shooter games. The voice chat can be turned off in Fortnite: Battle Royale. Each match lasts about 20 minutes, which can be a tool for limiting the amount of games played.

Video game addiction is a very real phenomenon in modern society. Behavioral addiction is created by both environment and circumstance. These games are pervasive in our culture and very difficult to avoid. The technology in itself is not bad, but corporations now add addictive features in order to profit. It is no accident that the great technocrats restrict their own children’s use of technology, especially in their bedrooms. In 2010 Steve Jobs told New York Times journalist Nick Bilton that his children had never used the iPad. “We limit how much technology our kids use in the home.”

Bilton discovered other tech giants impose similar restrictions. Chris Anderson, the former editor of WIRED, enforced strict limits on every device in the home, “because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand.” Williams, the founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium, bought hundreds of books for his two young sons, but refused to give them an iPad. Lesley Gold, the founder of an analytics company enforced a strict no-screen-time-during-the- week rule on her kids. It seems that these tech giants were also the greatest technophobes, at least when it came to their own children.

The struggle is to use all that is available on line in moderation. According to one design ethicist, “the problem isn’t just self-discipline; it’s that there are a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job it is to break down the self-regulation you have.” The entrepreneurs recognize that the tools they create and promote are engineered to be irresistible and therefore have the potential to ensnare users indiscriminately. Teens and youth are particularly vulnerable to these technological tricks. More importantly, there just isn’t a bright and obvious line between addicts and the rest of us.

The environment and circumstance of the digital age are far more conducive to addiction than anything humans have previously experienced. We are just now learning the power of the hooks imbedded in our technology which are both compelling and progressively designed to be addictive. In some respects substance addiction and behavioral addictions are similar and activate the same brain regions. We are all motivated by the same human needs: social engagement and social support, mental stimulation, and a sense of effectiveness. When these needs are increasingly not met, vulnerability to technological gimmicks is the logical consequence. This era of addictive technology is still in its infancy, but early signs point to a crisis.

In his revolutionary book, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked byAdam Alter, a professor of psychology and marketing at NYU, tracks how the newest technology is impacting our lives negatively. Alter brilliantly illustrates how these new obsessions are controlling our lives and offers the tools we need to deliver us from them. He states that behavioral addiction consists of several ingredients: compelling goals that are just beyond reach, irresistible and unpredictable positive feedback, a sense of incremental progress and improvement, tasks that become progressively more difficult, unresolved tensions that demand resolution, and strong social connections. Games employ many of these psychological hooks. Addiction to a particular game is damaging because it crowds out other essential pursuits, especially for youth who are still in the process of developing socially, emotionally, and intellectually.

There are some warning signs in youth who might have an unhealthy relationship with technology, and more specifically with games like Fortnite. One is behavioral, the other is emotional. When youth experience negative or aggressive emotions after spending time on social media or with a role-playing game online, that is a red flag. If teens replace offline activities

they used to enjoy, such as sports or friends, with more screen time, and family dinners are usurped by devices, then there is a significant problem. Teenagers who spend too much time playing video games or watching violent shows are found to be more aggressive and likely to fight with their peers and argue with the adults in their lives, according to a study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. In 2000, Microsoft Canada found that our average attention span was 12 minutes long; by 2013 it was 8 seconds long. Goldfish, by comparison, have a 9 second attention span. If this research wasn’t so frightening it might be funny. Presently, gaming addiction is a serious problem in East Asia. In China addiction to games appears to be taking an alarming direction, where parents resort to placing their youth in camps where therapists treat them with a detox regime. Unfortunately for us all, games that were once confined to our home computers, but are now on mobile devices permit youth to access them everywhere. Interestingly, Epic Games has introduced cross play functionality for Fortnite: Battle Royal, which facilitates players to form squads with friends on different platforms. Yet another “advancement” provided courtesy of the game publishers.

By: Alison Zenisek

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