The popular console game Fortnite is a quest for the user to be the last one alive. (ABC Illawarra: Rory McDonald)
They say time flies when you’re having fun, but the latest gaming craze has parents across Australia worried that adage has been taken to a level not seen before.
Fortnite — a survival game dubbed by the developers as a cross between Minecraft and Left 4 Dead — earned more than $296 million in April alone.
Designed as a quest for the user to be the last one alive, Fortnite pits 100 players against each other, with a mission to gather resources, build forts and wipe out their competitors.
It is currently among the highest-grossing console games although it is free to play. However, players can buy improvements online.
But in many parents’ eyes, time is the most valuable currency lost, with children anchoring themselves to the couch for hours on end after — and even before — school.
Declan, a 10-year-old from Wollongong in New South Wales, is just one of thousands of children across the country who are gripped by the game.
It’s the compelling gameplay mode and interactivity that has Declan glued to the console.
“It’s just a game. Let kids have fun,” he said.
But Declan admits it isn’t all positive.
“My brother always says that Fortnite has changed me. When my brother won’t let me have a go, I normally fall into tears,” he said.
His peer Aki is equally reflective about how the game has changed him.
“It makes you get angry more easily, because when you die and there are a few people left, you feel really angry and annoyed that you didn’t win,” Aki said.
Children gaming for up to seven hours on a school day
One of Declan and Aki’s friends, Harry, agreed that it was a dominant part of his life.
“I usually play from 4pm until 10 or 10:30, and then from 5 to 8 in the morning,” Harry said.
Another friend, Archie, said the addictive, fast-paced nature of the game meant “it just repeated and repeated”.
“I play a couple of games before school, then come back from school, then have dinner, then play a few more games,” Archie said.
Fortnite involves 100 competitors fighting for survival by gathering resources, building defence structures and wiping out opponents. (Supplied: BagoGames)
The ability to suck up hours of a child’s spare time is not unique to Fortnite.
About a decade ago, child psychologist Philip Tam began getting referrals from school counsellors who had noticed problems associated with gaming.
“They are at the coal face, they’re noticing what’s happening in playgrounds and the teachers are noticing kids falling asleep and turning up late, not even going to school in more extreme cases,” Dr Tam said.
“It’s a far cry from our generation of very simple games that we played for a few days or weeks like the Atari or Space Invaders. Nowadays the games are more complex.”
Sense of time lost while ‘in the zone’
Dr Tam, who is the president of the Network for Internet Investigation and Research Australia, said Fortnite was tapping into what is known in psychology as “flow”.
Child psychologist Dr Phillip Tam says balance is the key for children who are hooked on games such as Fortnite. (ABC)
“These technologies put you into the zone, when you lose track of time,” he said.
“I’ve seen so many young people who said they honestly thought they were on for five or 10 minutes, they looked at their watch and they were actually on it for more than an hour because it’s that seductive, that compelling.
“They’re being affected by it in ways which are quite subtle, but sometimes are more pronounced and I think the main thing is school and family ties, that’s so important.”
But Dr Tam said it was not all bad, and that the game brought a range of positive spin-offs.
“It’s social, it’s fun and they get a sense of engagement and in fact now with the multi-connected games you can engage with people live, with anyone from around the world and that’s a great thing,” he said.
“The key here, is of course how long you’re doing it and whether it is encroaching on your day-to-day responsibilities. It’s about getting the balance right.”
While candid about how the game had changed him, sometimes not for the better, Tre said it had opened up a whole world to him.
“You meet some many different people,” he said.
“I’ve got friends now from America, New Zealand and all over the world and it’s not that violent, it’s like a seven-year-old could play it and it wouldn’t affect them.”