Debbie Vitany is fighting a losing battle against Fortnite.
Her 17-year-old son, Carson, has been logging 12 hours a day on the video game, searching for weapons and resources in a post-apocalyptic world where the goal is being the last person standing. Teachers complain he falls asleep in class and his grades have plummeted.
“We’d made some progress in getting him to cut down his Fortnite hours and get better sleep, but he’s slipped back into his old habits,” Vitany, who lives near Saginaw, Michigan, said in an interview. “I’ve never seen a game that has such control over kids’ minds.”
Vitany’s anguish is echoed by an army of other parents, teachers and bosses around the world grappling with a game that sucks up hours of players’ time – sometimes to the detriment of other activities. More than 200 million people have registered to play Fortnite, which has become a billion-dollar business for its creator, Epic Games Inc. Some desperate parents have sent their kids to rehab.
“This game is like heroin,” said Lorrine Marer, a British behavioural specialist who works with kids battling game addiction. “Once you are hooked, it’s hard to get unhooked.”
Epic has issued past warnings about avoiding Fortnite scammers, but it declined to comment on the addiction issue.
Video-game addiction isn’t new: Parents and teachers have been carping about distracted children — and their joystick-addled hands — since the days of Atari consoles. But the ubiquity of Fortnite has created a more widespread menace. And it’s happening against the backdrop of broader concerns about social-media and smartphone overuse.
Fortnite, first released in its popular “battle royale” mode in September 2017, isn’t just causing problems for kids. An online U.K. divorce service says 200 petitions cited Fortnite and other video games this year as the reason for the breakup of marriages.
Professional athletes are getting hooked, too. The National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks had so much trouble getting players to meetings and dinners they banned Fortnite on the road. David Price, star pitcher for Major League Baseball’s World Series-winning Boston Red Sox, was scratched from a May start against the archrival New York Yankees because of wrist problems that may have been exacerbated by Fortnite playing.
Some pro-baseball players are so Fortnite-obsessed that they’ve hooked the game up to their stadium’s Jumbotron video system to play it while waiting to take batting practice.
Randy Kulman, a child psychologist in Wakefield, Rhode Island, has seen a surge in parents taking their kids to counselling because of video-game addictions.
“I had a 13-year-old in my office who said he had 300 Fortnite wins,” Kulman said. “I had to stop for a minute and calculate what he had to invest just to get those.”
– Jef Feeley and Christopher Palmeri, Essential Kids