*The following is the opinion of the author and not of KeenGamer as a whole
I personally stand in a unique position to be passing commentary on this. Purely as a result of my age. I am twenty seven and find myself firmly in a position where it is safe to say I am outside of the social constructs kids find themselves in when dealing with videogames today. I am also uniquely not quite at the point where my grip on videogames and what they really mean to kids has been lost. At this middling juncture in the timeline of my life, growing alongside videogames, I and the others of my age are among the last few to say what this article is going to try and communicate. I want to say to the younger readers out there, who are deep in the Fortnite phenomenon right now – “I get it.” For that to have any cadence, I’d like to describe what videogames were like for me in the 90’s and the early 2000’s.
Things were different back then. I was every bit as addicted to videogames as any young person living with a younger consciousness; one more prone to addictive behaviours. Like the younger gamers of today, I was also addicted to colours – that same love of visually stimulating things that still hadn’t died off since the golden learning years after birth. Heck, it’s why we love Marvel. It’s why we loved our toys – colourful and appealing to the imagination. Naturally, videogames came along and this appeal became an addiction. In my earliest years of gaming, I would play Enter The Matrix, Monkey Island and a lesser known game called Drakan, to name but a very few. As the years rolled on, the graphics improved and the visual / imagination cocktail became more heady, and so deepened my addiction yet further. The grip of this addiction has been torn away little by little by adult life as work, bills and relationships took precedence. Although I still feel a little weird if I get to the end of the day without having played… something.
The difference back then was that my addiction was less granular. An odd thing to say, I know. What I mean is the claws of my gaming addiction then did not have the power to take hold as strongly as they might for the kids of today. For at least two thirds of my childhood, videogames were all about single player experiences. There was a stronger focus on story and gaming felt more episodic in its offerings, as opposed to today’s neverending cycles of multiplayer immortality. That’s the big difference here. Alongside the rise of a competent and now commercially viable tier of internet access, the videogames industry was growing hungrier for profit. Multiplayer was a new way to connect players to one another and their bank accounts to developers and publishers. I’ve made friends online on Titanfall 2 and the next thing I knew, I was playing in a skilled team of Dutch players, joking around and dominating the leaderboards. We did it over and over for the whole night. This rinse and repeat nature heightens the intensity of addiction and the desire to part with money to get that little bit extra.
For that heightened degree of addiction to affect me in the way that it does (I’ll jump on for one match and end up playing all night), I can only imagine the depth to which it wriggles into the minds of younger players.
Here’s a good comparison. A few years back, I was a regular smoker. I’d get through twenty cigs in a day and a half, easy. Then I finally transitioned to an E-Cig which I have smoked ever since. My 90’s games offered the cigarette – a product with an end. The gaming experience on offer today is the E-Cig – more appealing, more technologically advanced but most notably, a thing with no end. Where the cigarettes burned out and the session would be done, the E-Cig could be puffed on with no end, pending charge times (just like charging a controller, eh?). As such, my addiction to tobacco continues and I puff on that thing like there's no tomorrow. So… Am I more addicted now than when the cigarettes were messing up my lungs? If I am, then if this comparison is to hold any water, then the cyclical nature of games like Fortnite is absolutely more addictive in nature than the games of the 90’s and 2000’s. Back in the day you’d get stuck for a while, get frustrated, stop your session. Today, in Fortnite’s case it’s more like – have a dreadful match, load up again and start over from a fresh slate.
Games of the 90’s and early 2000’s also didn’t have this obsession we see today with constantly delivering unlockables to players. Back then, a good story and a bit of fun was what we got for our $60 and that was enough. We were happy. Technology came along with bigger hard drives, new ways to develop games and of course, the internet, and it suddenly became an all you can eat buffet. It suddenly became all about what you were going to get next. The next lootbox, the next level-up.
So like I said earlier, I’d like to think “I get it.” If we are to believe my little comparison concluding that Fortnite (and other games like it) is incredibly addictive; more so than the games of the past, I feel strongly that the media is coming at Fortnite, fists swinging… and they’ve got it all wrong. I have to be very careful not to tar a large group of people with the same brush. People I have nothing against, by the way. But when you see the latest mental health expert, say a middle aged woman in a suit, sat in a chair opposite a news presenter, can you honestly see her sat in her living room playing… anything?! Really, picture it now. Look at this lady in the image below, take that image and picture her playing a PvP match of DOOM. It doesn’t work, right? This woman knows a great deal about the mental nature of addiction but not a jot about the videogames industry or its history. As such, whether this is assumption is true or not, people like myself and the millions of Fortnite players instantly discount her words. She is no longer a credible source from which to take advice from. Although, other non-gamers of her ilk who share the same innocent level of ignorance will believe every word she says as gospel. This is a big communicative divide.
Some of those people could well be parents, struggling to raise their children in a Fortnite environment. An environment that sees little withdrawals from their credit card accounts. An environment that results in arguments and home disputes that seem to have no light at the end of the tunnel. To be absolutely clear, Fortnite IS NOT the problem and neither are the kids. When the television first became commercially accessible, there was mass hysteria about TV addiction. Even when the novel could be bought and read on a mass scale, people worried. Fortnite is just the latest in these societal phenomena and it will pass. The kids that are getting up in the middle of the night and wetting themselves during Fortnite sessions are just victims of a games industry that has grown to learn profit is best found in insidious methods of leveraging addiction. As such, the children aged around seven to fifteen need to be looked upon in a different light.
Parents are also the ones who become victims. Victims of a news media that plays on fear mongering for ratings. A belief that “Fortnite will mess your kid right up.” No. People who have reached the parenting stage of their lives with zero prior experience of videogames just need to be made aware of the interplay between children’s minds and videogames as they have not lived it themselves. They will be able to parent better and control the environment to the point where Fortnite doesn’t become a problem in the household.
In closing, I’ll talk about customers. If you are in business with a customer for a long period of time and that customer is investing a lot of money in your business, expectation is a big thing. If there’s anything in your package that is lacking or that the customer will mistakenly expect, they must be managed accordingly before a comfortable transaction is made. Not that I am in any position to do so, but to the parents out there, I would advise being mindful of customer expectation. If your child is getting into Fortnite, manage their expectation early on, in terms of the amount they should expect to play (and stick to it like glue), and later complaints are minimised. Above all, be aware of just how addictive Fortnite and other games of its kind can be. If you were in your kids’ position you’d feel like Fortnite and the next match was all that mattered. So would I, for that matter. When I was a kid the problem penetrating schools was Pokemon cards.