Three months after a 9-year-old girl was reportedly sent to therapy for an addiction to Fortnite that caused her to wet herself, a parent has taken the drastic step of smashing her children’s iPads to prevent them from playing the popular video game.
TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp has been widely criticised for her parenting methods, however her frustration once again draws attention to the issue of video game addiction among children.
Since launching last year, Fortnite has amassed more than 125 million players around the world, together with a fair amount of controversy. Its developer, Epic Games, has been accused of using “predatory” gambling techniques to encourage children to spend money in the game, while cyber criminals have targeted players through a series of complex campaigns.
The latest iPad smashing scandal may seem relatively minor in comparison but opens up the debate over whether playing such games is harmful to both children and adults.
Andy Robertson, a gaming journalist who has worked with Tesco Mobile to help parents keep technology healthy, told The Independent that smashing devices sends the wrong message to children as it suggests that technology is innately dangerous.
“While parents will sympathise with the frustration of children not sticking to screen time limits, a far better approach is to play together and guide them to a more varied diet of activity on those screens,” Mr Robertson said.
“Fortnite is rated by PEGI [Pan European Game Information] as suitable for children 12 and over. It offers a positive and engaging experience where children can socialise and compete with each other online. Of course, it needs to be part of a balanced lifestyle that includes exercise and outdoor activities, but is rarely an ‘addiction’ by the high bar specified by the WHO’s gaming disorder.”
Gaming addiction was only recognised by the World Health Organisation this year but has already proved controversial. A diagnosis of internet gaming disorder requires a child to have “significant issues with functioning” as a result of being addicted to a game or games. The disorder is defined on the organisation’s website as being characterised by “impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences”.
For the disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern would normally have to be evident in an individual for at least 12 months.
In order to address such issues, bioethicists have called for the NHS to be more active in offering support to people affected. One way of doing this, according to Professor Andy Miah from the University of Salford, would be for the NHS to have a presence on games like Fortnite.
“Instead of merely warning people away from computer games, healthcare professionals ought to be hacking these gaming worlds to create spaces for mental health support,” Professor Miah said.
“We need to think what services and support could be offered within these digital environments because we can’t expect young people to come out of these worlds and seek help.”