SYRACUSE — Inside the Johnson home, the sights and sounds of Fortnite are spotted much less than they were before. Initially, Ashlee Johnson says her two sons, 11-year-old Cole and 6-year-old Easton, started playing the game without her even realizing it.
“They just started playing it,” Johnson said. “I didn’t know what it was, and then they were just playing it all the time.”
Fortnite can be downloaded for free. The game makes money from the sale of skins and other items used to personalize the appearance of in-game characters. Players are dropped onto an island with about 99 others, who then have to find weapons and survive, in a Hunger Games-like battle that leaves one person standing.
“It’s fun when you’re top five,” Cole said. “I start shaking, and I get kind of nervous when you get wins and stuff.”
Even if your kids aren’t playing the game out in the open, there are other signs that they’re playing it or are at least familiar with it — like the dances.
“Oh yes, for sure. They can definitely do the dances,” Johnson said. “My 6-year-old surprises me how good of a dancer he is.”
Aside from the most popular “floss” dance, there are several others that players use to celebrate wins, and taunt others.
Learning that Fortnite is a third-person shooter game, Johnson said she didn’t like it. While the game can be fun and may not use blood or gore to depict ‘kills,’ experts point out that too much of any video game or media can distract from more important things — like schoolwork, socialization and family time.
“We’ve gone the gamut,” Johnson said. “We one-time just decided they couldn’t play it at all. We said, ‘You’re done. It’s too much. You’re on it too much.'”
She, however, decided to set limits.
“Now we’re at the point where it’s the three days a week thing,” Johnson explained. “They get to play it three days a week, so Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday we decided. And they get an hour that day, and that’s all they get to play.”
Tammer Attallah, director of pediatric behavioral health at Intermountain Healthcare, said it’s important to set reasonable limits with any screen time.
“Online media, and all of that consumption, that’s ubiquitous in who we are in our society. So to demonize that, I think would not be appropriate,” Attallah said. “What we don’t want to see … is behaviors that pull kids away to the point where they’re not engaged in school at all, or they’re not engaged with other social groups.”
On the more extreme side, Matthew Arrington, co-founder of Forte Strong, a treatment program in St. George, sees gaming addiction at its worst.
"In the more extreme cases of video game addiction, what we’ll see is an increase in depression, an increase in social anxiety, (and) a lack of follow through,” Arrington said. “They (games) can cause them to distract from the developmental benchmarks that they should be hitting in real life.”
"If they’re structuring as much of their time as they can around playing video games, that’s a pretty big indicator that there’s an issue.” - Matthew Arrington, Forte Strong
Arrington said it’s important for parents to look out for the signs that video games or media use are taking over other aspects of life.
“Basically, if they’re structuring as much as their time as they can around playing video games, that’s a pretty big indicator that there’s an issue,” Arrington said.
While Johnson isn’t thrilled about her kids continuing to play Fortnite, she didn’t want to ban it altogether either.
“When I was younger, I played some video games,” Johnson said. “It was a bonding time for me and my siblings to play video games, and so I’m hoping that my kids bond in that way too.”
For now, she says they’ll continue to keep an eye on the situation, making sure grades or other responsibilities don’t slip.
“I’m actually kind of hoping it’s a phase,” Johnson said, laughing. “(And) that they’re going to stop playing it.”