Fortnite craze is ‘damaging’, says minister

Last man standing: Fortnite is set in a world where 98% of humanity has been wiped out.

Can video games be a force for good? In response to parental concerns about the Fortnite craze, culture secretary Matt Hancock has warned against the dangers of “too much screen time”.

The latest video game craze to sweep the world is effectively one big online brawl.

This, of course, is Fortnite, the free, downloadable game that now has over 40 million players worldwide. Like many video games that go viral, its astonishing success is at odds with mainstream expectations.

Here is what happens: 100 players leap out of a plane onto a small island and fight each other until only one is left standing. Hidden around the island are weapons, and players must arm themselves while exploring the landscape. As the match progresses, the playable area is continually reduced, so participants are forced together.

But part of what makes Fortnite so successful is, as Keith Stuart puts it in The Guardian, “its silly, offbeat sense of humour”. The graphics are cartoonish. The costumes are ridiculous. And the dance moves from the game have caught on, from school playgrounds to Premier League football grounds.

Bewildered parents, however, are not as amused. In response to their concerns, the culture minister, Matt Hancock, has warned that “too much screen time could have a damaging impact on our children’s lives”, discouraging “a lifestyle that includes exercise and socialising in the real world”.

But many young people simply do not acknowledge a gap between video games and that “real world”. In recent years, science has attempted to find out whether video games have any benefits.

In 2013, psychologist Simone Kühn studied the effects of prolonged video game exposure on the brains of young adults. Kühn observed her subjects as they played Super Mario for 30 minutes every day, for two months. After undergoing MRI scans, she discovered that their prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and cerebellum had all grown.

And far from turning young people into zoned out zombies, video games can solve attention problems. Cognitive researcher Dr Daphne Bavelier gave the infamous word-colour test to a group of people. She found that gamers found the test far easier than non-gamers.

Are video games damaging or enriching?

Head in the game

Of course video games are damaging, say some. Even multiplayer games like Fortnite cannot replace face-to-face interaction with your friends. Some people also believe video games can cause people to be more violent in real life. And think of all the worthwhile things you could have done instead of sitting on your console for hours.

“Relax!”, comes the chorus from millions of teenagers. This is just how people socialise now. Many video games are both beautiful and informative. As Bavelier says, video games are similar to wine: “When consumed in reasonable doses, and at the right age, wine can be very good for health. Video games are the same.”

You Decide

  1. Overall, are video games a good thing?
  2. Is video game addiction a big problem in society?

Activities

  1. As a class, discuss how you interpret the term “the real world”.
  2. Design the premise for your own video game, with the aim of it becoming the new Fortnite.

Some People Say...

“Video games are bad for you? That’s what they said about rock ‘n’ roll.”

Shigeru Miyamoto

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Fortnite craze shows no signs of stopping. The game now has over 40 million players, with some even turning professional. The game was originally released in July 2017, but it started out as a four-player cooperative survival game. The new game arrived last September. It is free to play, although certain items in the game do cost real money to purchase.
What do we not know?
Whether the craze will ever die out. Fortnite’s success is somewhat similar to the brief period when the mobile phone game Flappy Bird became a worldwide obsession. Similar to Fortnite, Flappy Bird combined cheapness with addictiveness. It is also hard to really know the long-term effects of playing video games as they have only been mainstream for two or three decades.

Word Watch

Premier League football grounds
Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Dele Alli celebrated his goal against Watford on Monday night with a Fortnite dance. Last week, Alli live-streamed himself (under the name “delstroyer14”) playing the game on Twitch to more than 10,000 viewers.
Parents
One mother, Amy Selling, wrote on her blog, “Lulu and Lattes”: “My kids have played community-based games on Xbox Live, but this is a different animal. This is the unleavened bread of video games. For God’s sake, they are forgetting to bathe.”
Prefrontal cortex
An area at the front of the brain that helps plan complex cognitive behaviours and personality expression.
Hippocampus
Humans have two hippocampuses, located in each half of the brain. The hippocampus specialises in memory and navigation.
Cerebellum
Located at the base of the brain, the cerebellum works mainly to control balance and coordinate movement.
Word-colour test
For example, participants see the word “red” in green letters, and are asked to name the colour of the letters, not the word itself.
More violent in real life
Although many people continue to believe this, the most recent scientific studies failed to show any link between violent video games and aggression.

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