Fortnite has grown to 125 million players in less than a year, with over 40 million logging in to play each month. Countless blog posts and news stories are seemingly devoted to her popularity and the number of gamers who can’t ignore her.
We spoke to UNC Health Care pediatrician Jeffrey Ryan, MD, about what parents should know about the health effects of video games like Fortnite.
Your brain on Fortnite
Dr. Ryan says that any time you play something – whether it’s video games, sports, or the piano – parts of the brain will be stimulated and neurons in that part of the brain will grow.
“If you play more visual-spatial activities [like Fortnite], you will have more growth in the visual-spatial parts of the brain,” Dr. Ryan says.
These parts of the brain are related to your ability to visualize and process things, such as imagining what space or shape in your mind looks like.
“These types of skills are useful for an archaeologist, engineer, or surgeon,” says Dr. Ryan.
Fortnite is a third-person shooter, which means that players view the action as if they are behind the characters they are controlling.
Research has shown that first- and third-person shooter games can be powerful brain training tools that can improve cognitive skills such as visual attention, focus, navigation, multitasking, and task switching, all while increasing speed and accuracy. But research has also linked violent video gameplay to depression in children.
In addition to the physical changes in the brain that your child can experience while playing video games, he may experience emotional changes.
Dr. Ryan says that children – especially younger children – experience constant stimulation when playing video games. Increases heart rate and blood pressure. They are excessive.
“When you take this away, you have a child who is overstimulated and has a hard time regulating his emotions,” says Dr. Ryan. “They get upset when they are not allowed to do that anymore. I think most of us as parents see this with kids even an hour after Fortnite.”
Is your child addicted to video games?
“One sign of a true addiction is that you need more and more time to have the same level of pleasure, you will lose friends because of it, and your grades will fail because of it, but regardless of the consequences, you continue if it becomes harder and harder to get your child out,” says Dr. Ryan. From the game and it interfered with his life, that’s a cause for concern and it’s time to see a counselor.”
Your brain releases dopamine when you play video games. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the reward and pleasure centers in the brain. The release of dopamine causes the brain to want more.
“It’s similar to the same feeling you get when you gamble or eat a candy bar, so there may be potential for addiction, but the dopamine released during play is nothing more than these other activities,” says Dr.
If your child wants to play video games and ignore other activities — even if there is a negative impact, such as losing friends or getting into trouble — he may need a break from video games.
Dr. Ryan says that if your child uses games to calm anxiety or deal with depression, even if he’s not addicted, you should talk to your doctor or counselor.
Define the limits
Dr. Ryan says it’s important to set limits on the amount of time spent playing video games, especially with younger children.
“Children under the age of 12 cannot regulate themselves because they do not have the frontal lobe capacity to do so,” says Dr. Ryan. “So I would like to limit the playing time to 1-2 hours a day and then see how they do it. If they have a major psychological breakdown when you tell them to stop, you need to reduce that time or have them try different types of games.”
Dr. Ryan suggests talking to your child about your expectations ahead of time.
“Explain to them that you need them to either self-regulate, which means you have to be able to show that you can turn it off on your own, or we will have to do it for you,” he says.
Fortnite social benefits
While Fortnite can be played alone, friends can collaborate – often on headsets associated with the game – to form alliances, strategize and cheer for each other.
“There are social benefits because they talk to their friends and play together,” says Dr. Ryan.
Since the players form small teams, children can play cooperatively with their friends. This type of play encourages communication, teamwork, and strategic thinking.