Is Fortnite as Addictive as Cocaine?

It’s 3am. You have dry eyes, a rumbling stomach and a full bladder but you are just… So close. One more attempt at winning the ‘Battle Royale’… Just one.

Heard of Fortnite? I’m sure you have. It’s the incredibly addictive, online multiplayer video game sensation that has recorded a high of 78.3 million players online at one time. What does this have to do with science? It’s simple, those late nights, missed showers and burning eyes spell one thing- Addiction.

From 11333328 via Pixabay

“As addictive as cocaine”

Recently, a nine-year old in the UK was sent to rehabilitation after playing for 10 hours a day, refusing to use the bathroom and attacking her parents when the game was taken from her. Following this, CBC reported a court case in Montreal filed on behalf of the parents of two minors, who likened the effects of Fornite’s constant encouragement of dopamine release to “cocaine”. Is there truth to this? Can we compare video games to hard drugs? 

The science of a Fortnite Addiction

Epic Games, the creator company of Fortnite has been criticized for such an inherently addictive platform. Alessandra Chartrand, an attorney with the Montreal Calex Légal Team stated that “when they created Fortnite, for years and years, hired psychologists — they really dug into the human brain and they really made the effort to make it as addictive as possible”. Which is where the brain science comes in.

Believe it or not, having a ‘Gaming Disorder’ is a legitimate ‘Internationally Classified Disease’ according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). This affects a small population of those who engage in video-gaming activities, as it is described as physiological, social and behavioural changes as a result of repeated and excessive engagement with gaming.

But, as Cleveland Clinic psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD describes, it is not comparable to alcohol and drug use for this reason: Alcohol and drug use allows the brain to feel reinforcement every time these substances are used, but gaming withholds itself.

Dr Bea states“In gambling and gaming addictions, the reward occurs on-and-off and it’s unpredictable,” he explains. “This keeps players actively seeking the good feeling that’s produced in the brain when they reach a new goal or successfully complete an objective.”

From Jusuf111 via Pixabay

I’m playing Russian Roulette with my gaming habits!

The process of this addiction is therefore more parallel to gambling practices. Dopamine release is unpredictable as the nature of gaming means that users are actively seeking goals and new objectives. However, games are marketed to adolescents when brain functioning has not reached full development, and therefore judgement is clouded as companies entice players to beat their score, their friends, and seek new achievements. 

The hardest part about this addiction is that it is not a substance, but a behaviour. Eating and sex addictions are parallel to this diagnosis and can only be treated through extensive psychiatry and counselling. And even in the science world, this is contentious.  

Some scientists argue that video game addiction is a symptom of a new disorder or just simply “excessive game play,” as Andrew Prxybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute recounted.

“It’s absolutely not an addiction… This whole thing is an epistemic dumpster fire… People enjoy things all the time”. (Prxybylski)

Game on?
So regardless of what idea of the scientific fence you sit on in regards to the dawn of ‘Gaming Disease’, one thing remains- Fortnite may be the next large scale epidemic.


9 Responses to “Is Fortnite as Addictive as Cocaine?”

  1. Tate says:

    Should it be up to the companies, regulators or parents to ensure that children aren’t being exposed to addictive games?

  2. Ishra Ranatunge says:

    So true! Just today I was teaching some kids and asked what made them angry last, and one said ‘Fortnite’! :’)

  3. Ishra Ranatunge says:

    Well it is really any game that relies on this investment of time to achieve objectives, and typically, that’s the core of a game! As Minhm said above, this really started with League of Legends, and Fortnite itself is based on PUBG, so looking into the history of it- Any game that has amassed a following!

  4. Ishra Ranatunge says:

    I’m so glad to hear! You’re very right in saying the demographic is the reason this was the game that came into the light for sure, we’ll have to see where it goes…

  5. Lucy Baker says:

    This is a really fascinating blog. It is scary to think about how addictive yet prevalent video games are

  6. Zara Henderson says:

    Entertaining read! Do you think gaming companies have a responsibility to warn gamers about addiction possibility?

  7. minhm says:

    I’ve always known the large epidemic that is gaming addiction. It’s been around for a long time with games like League of Legends and really anything. I think Fortnite was the big game that really sparked controversy because of its influence on the younger demographic but I didn’t have any real insight on that. This post does the trick! 🙂

  8. Olivia says:

    Wow, I never would have thought that Fortnite could be so dangerous. Do you know if there are other games that are also very dangerous in this additive way?

  9. Sophie Wilson says:

    This is really interesting! I work with kids and it always amazes me every time I ask them what they have been up to since the last time I saw them, so many of them say they pretty much just played Fortnite. I definitely see kids that are addicted to this game!