NEWS Kids in video game cri­sis

Sunday Territorian - - NEWS - JEN­NIFER DUD­LEY-NI­CHOL­SON

AUS­TRALIAN chil­dren as young as seven years old are launch­ing ag­gres­sive at­tacks on their par­ents, ly­ing to get out of school, and avoid­ing fam­ily hol­i­days to play Fort­nite marathons as the video game re­cruits a new gen­er­a­tion of un­der­age play­ers.

In one ex­treme ex­am­ple, a teenage boy threat­ened to set fire to his room un­less his par­ents gave him back his com­puter, be­fore carv­ing his name in a wall of the fam­ily home.

Ed­u­ca­tion and neu­ro­science ex­perts warn ex­ces­sive and pre­ma­ture use of the video game, and those like it, is lead­ing to a bal­loon­ing cri­sis for Aus­tralian fam­i­lies, some of whom are now check­ing their chil­dren into ded­i­cated re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tres to wean them off screens and rein­te­grate them into so­cial, fam­ily and school life.

And psy­chi­a­trists are call­ing for greater recognitio­n of the prob­lem by the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment so more af­fected fam­i­lies can af­ford to seek treat­ment. De­spite its re­lease more than a year ago, Fort­nite: Bat­tle Royale re­mains at the cen­tre of un­der­age video game ob­ses­sions, ex­perts say, with the mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar phe­nom­e­non now re­port­ing more than 250 mil­lion play­ers world­wide.

The Epic Games cre­ation, which has been de­scribed as Hunger Games meets Call of Duty, even broke its own record ear­lier this year, with more than 10.8 mil­lion people play­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

While the game fea­tures sev­eral modes of play, the best known sees 100 play­ers dropped on to an ever-shrink­ing bat­tle­field where they must kill all other play­ers to be the last avatar stand­ing.

The vi­o­lence is car­toon­ish, the game free to play and avail­able across smart­phones and con­soles, with de­vel­op­ers mak­ing money from per­son­al­is­ing char­ac­ters, buy­ing vic­tory dances, and loot boxes.

Learn­ing ex­pert and neu­ro­science com­mu­ni­ca­tor Jill Sweat­man said that Fort­nite’s low en­try price con­tin­ued to at­tract chil­dren, even though many were too young and men­tally un­pre­pared to han­dle its con­tent.

“Chil­dren as young as seven and eight (years old) have been overly com­mit­ted to Fort­nite and this game has an age rec­om­men­da­tion of 13,” she said.

“You have kids from a very young age ex­posed to sig­nif­i­cant vi­o­lence. There are short­term con­se­quences and sig­nif­i­cant long-term con­se­quences to this.”

Fort­nite gam­ing ob­ses­sions have be­come so per­va­sive in Aus­tralia that gam­ing re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and treat­ment cen­tres have been es­tab­lished in Syd­ney and Mel­bourne.

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