‘Fortnite’ concerns: Doctors seeing game-obsessed children for health issues

Many parents are struggling with kids who are addicted to the video game “Fortnite.”

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Now doctors in Boston say they've seen some young players with health problems typically only seen in adults.

Hundreds of millions of users play “Fortnite.” There's even speculation that excessive playing caused Red Sox pitcher David Price to miss a start against the New York Yankees during the 2018 season.

But 8-year-old Aiden Molina’s mom, says she’s worried about her son. Aiden is obsessed with “Fortnite.”

"When I think about ‘Fortnite,’ it's like my life, because when I play a lot, I get a lot of eliminations," Aiden said.

The second-grader is hooked and said he plays the game for hours on end. Aiden's mother, Christen St. Pierre, admits she's fighting a losing battle against the wildly popular video game.

"My son plays ‘Fortnite’ pretty much all the time, every day," she said. St. Pierre said the game is wreaking havoc on their family. "I figured ‘Fortnite,’ oh, it's like any other game. But no, it's just, like, changing their behavior, his attitude. The defiance," St. Pierre said.

According to Epic Games, the creator of “Fortnite,” more than 200 million players are registered. “Fortnite” is free to download and is constantly updating with new features. Each game only lasts 20 minutes if you don’t get eliminated, so players loop in again and again, making it easy to play for long stretches.

Dr. Lynne Karlson is a general pediatrician at Floating Hospital For Children at Tufts Medical Center.

She said she is seeing more patients who are struggling because of video games, particularly “Fortnite,” including issues commonly seen in adults, from carpal tunnel to sedentary obesity.

"It’s a big disability in their lives because, for one, it interferes with their sleep. Often they’re playing late into the night or they get up early in the morning and they’re not getting enough sleep," Karlson said.

Epic Games now has a forum on its website discussing young players dealing with hypertension from playing.

"I have had kids who are angry, and I’m sure their blood pressure increased for at least that time," said Dr. Kate Roberts. Roberts is a psychologist who practices in Wenham, Massachusetts. She has seen a surge in children being treated for a “Fortnite” addiction. Roberts said the game can change a child's personality and behavior if they're allowed to play for unlimited amounts of time.

"What happens is they start to crave it. If they play it for more than a couple hours, they get into this addictive mode. The dopamine in their brain starts to react to it, and then when they come off of it, they have a crash from the decrease in dopamine. Basically, that makes them angry, irritable, withdrawn," Roberts said.

The World Health Organization has, for the first time, designated gaming disorder as a mental health condition.

That is something St. Pierre said she is seeing, firsthand with Aiden.

"He just really needs to get off of it because his behavior and his attention span have just gone by the wayside," she said.

Karlson recommends limiting a child's screen time to two hours per day. If your child shows signs of isolation or depression because of “Fortnite,” seek professional help. You can also regulate your child's playtime, as well as in-app purchases, via parental controls on phones and most devices.

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