They drop old hobbies, stop seeing old friends. They start to shirk chores, or cut corners on homework. They’ll do or say anything to keep playing video games.
Those are some of the warning signs of video game addiction, which in 2018 became a disorder listed by the World Health Organization. And among today’s more popular titles, the addict’s choice is Fortnite — a fast-paced, cartoony “battle royale” game in which the player is one of 100 characters dropped on an island and is fighting to be the last to survive.
Not every avid gamer is an addict. The disorder “affects only a small proportion of people who engage in digital or video-gaming activities,” according to the WHO. There are ways parents can tell the difference, according to Hilarie Cash of reStart, one of the nation’s few centers treating video game addiction.
“Old interests fade away because their obsession with the gaming is getting stronger and stronger. For some, grades start to go down,” she says. “They don’t want to leave their room — they’re lying and doing everything to get around the rules in order to get back to playing. A kid who refuses to shoulder responsibility, because they want to be gaming. They don’t follow house rules, like when to go to bed and when to turn off the game.”
Parents being alert to their child’s gaming habits can prevent problems from forming. The bigger worry is when they leave for college — and suddenly have more freedom, without parents checking in on them.
“Once the kids go off to college and parents aren't there to maintain some structure,” Cash says, “often that’s when they fall right down into the rabbit hole.”