Fortnite addiction is harming a new wave of Australian kids, sparking aggression, absenteeism

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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 phenomenon 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.

FORTNITE REMAINS STRONG

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.

Fortnite gaming obsessions have become so pervasive in Australia that a growing number of psychologists now specialise in treatment for gaming addiction, and gaming rehabilitation and treatment centres have been established in Sydney and Melbourne.

Despite the new release of rival game Apex Legend, Ms Smith said Fortnite remained the number one threat to impressionable players due to its deceptively lighthearted appearance and its acceptance by unsuspecting parents.

FAMILIES STRESSED

Western Sydney University technology and learning researcher Dr Joanne Orlando said the game continued to create widespread family disharmony in Australia, even among families trying to do the right thing.

“There is a lot of peer pressure on kids to play Fortnite and there is a lot of pressure on parents not to let their kids play, particularly primary school kids. There are opposing pressure points in a family and that can be really difficult,” she said.

Dr Orlando said many children could be coaxed away from excessive video game use if parents acted early but others who allowed the game to affect their lives for a significant period of time could require professional treatment.

WHO WANTS GAMING DISORDERS RECOGNISED

Gaming addiction could be officially recognised by the World Health Organisation Monday in a move psychologists say could help address the “silent” epidemic of Australian families struggling to cope with the disorder.

Many mental health experts argue the widespread medical issue’s classification is at least five years’ overdue and will arrive at a time when the issue has become both common and harmful in Australia, with a growing number frustrated and desperate parents seeking professional help.

But some international gaming bodies were still warning against the move, arguing more research and education was needed in the field, and an official definition could create “a risk of misdiagnosis”.

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