“This is a serious issue and it is destroying our little girl’s life, and someone needs to step in to ban it before it becomes an epidemic,” said the girl’s mother.
The Daily Mirror is reporting that a nine-year-old girl in England has allegedly been admitted to rehabilitation for a dependency on the hugely popular survival game Fortnite.
The story quoted the girl’s mother, who claimed that her daughter would regularly play the game until dawn, which negatively impacted her grades and health. Her dependency eventually grew so severe that she would not interrupt her gameplay to use the bathroom, prompting her parents to take her to a counselor for “intensive” therapy.
The girl’s story comes on the heels of Culture Minister Matt Hancock declaring video games as “potentially damaging,” a stance that appeared to be supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), which included gaming in a draft of its 2018 list of “disorders due to addictive behavior.”
According to the Mirror, the girl’s parents noted that her personality began to change two months after she downloaded Fortnite on her Xbox. She reportedly began to lose interest in sports, and her teachers contacted the parents about missing homework and other issues.
When the couple confronted the girl, she reportedly became “unusually argumentative”—which they chalked up to “hormones.”
The girl’s mother stated that they discovered small but consistent charges on a credit card—Fortnite is free to download but offers in-app purchases—which caused the girl to lash out and allegedly strike her father when he confronted her.
For the parents, the final straw came when the father found the girl sitting on a urine-soaked cushion while playing the game. “She was so hooked to the game, she wouldn’t even go to the toilet,” claimed the mother.
The girl later confessed that she played the game every night, sometimes until dawn. Her parents contacted Steve Pope, an addiction counselor, who began treating her for the reported dependency. Pope told the Sunday People that hers was not an isolated case.
“Over the last two months, I’ve been contacted by dozens of parents with children as young as eight showing signs of addiction to Fortnite. I’ve been working in this field for three decades and never seen anything like it—how widespread and potentially damaging this is.”
The girl’s mother called for government action to intervene in the growing problem. “This is a serious issue and it is destroying our little girl’s life, and someone needs to step in to ban it before it becomes an epidemic,” she told the Mirror.
A ban against loot boxes—a game feature that allows players to acquire rewards through gameplay or for money—has already taken effect in Belgium, which declared the feature in violation of the country’s gambling legislation.
In comments to the Daily Telegraph, Culture Minister Hancock expressed concern that “too much screen time could have a damaging impact on our children’s lives,” and specifically cited Fortnite as “aggressive” and potentially “addictive.”
Hancock—who had previously voiced support for more active gaming business in the UK—also stated that the British government is working with game publishers and developers to promote safety and allay parental concerns.
Though the WHO has submitted gaming addiction for consideration on its list of addictive disorders (the organization must still approve it for final inclusion), medical professionals are divided on the subject.
Research from 2017 noted that gaming increases dopamine levels twofold, whereas drugs like heroin or cocaine increase the chemical response by ten times that amount.
A 2016 study found that addiction to gaming occurred more frequently in individuals who already showed signs of depression or stress, and video games had become their chosen form of avoiding those feelings.