(ABC News) — A parenting alert about your child’s brain on Fortnite. The game’s creator says more than 250 million people are now playing — so we’re taking a closer look at how it could affect a kid’s mind.
10-year-old Cash loves playing the video game Fortnite. He plays every day.
His mom, Rusti Banagas, says sometimes as much as 5 hours on weekend days, that he doesn’t want to go on playdates because he would rather play Fortnite with friends online. And that the game is the first thing he thinks about in the morning.
“He would definitely choose to do Fortnite over most things,” Banagas said.
Cash plays so much that he says, “When you’re just, like, lightheaded and you can’t get enough Fortnite, but it hurts inside.”
Fortnite has 250 million players, and while the company doesn’t report hours played daily, parents are at wits’ end.
“I no longer pay him allowance in dollars. I pay him allowance in v-bucks,” his mother said.
Experts say games like Fortnite have a recipe to make you want to keep playing.
Jamie Madigan, PhD said, “You’re completing challenges at the end of those various challenges you level up earn rewards cosmetic items that you can show off.”
To see what actually happens in Cash’s brain when he’s playing Fortnite, we head to the Marcus Institute of Integrative Medicine at Jefferson Health.
Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg uses an fMRI machine to set up a comparison: how does Cash’s brain respond to three things: random visuals with color and motion, and a similar game from a few years back, and then to Fortnite.
Dr. Newberg said, “So, hopefully, we will get a good picture of how these games affect the brain and also how there is a difference between the two different games.”
Cash will do this exercise, but as a comparison, his schoolmate, 12 year old Amado will go through the same process, one big difference: Amado doesn’t play Fortnite.
“It’s one of those games where you kill each other, and I’m not interested in the game,” he said.
He prefers race car games and reading about sports. Amado watches video of the birds and the older game and then Fortnite.
Now it’s Cash’s turn in the fMRI machine. Not much activity in his brain with birds and the older game – but Fortnite? Dr Newberg says it was a very different story than his schoolmate
“So, the area that really lit up is– is a dopamine area of the brain,” Newberg said.
Watching Fortnite, Dr. Newberg says Cash’s brain had much greater activation than Amado’s in an area called the anterior cingulate, a structure that, in part, is involved in dopamine release and for some people can be associated with addiction.
Dr. Newberg says, “These are areas that are very involved in our reward system of the brain”
Dr. Newberg says gaming addiction is a real disorder. But gaming has also been proven to improve visual and spatial awareness, and while the reward centers of cash’s brain are lit up, none of this is predictive of addictive behaviors.
Just because we see a dopamine area lighting up, that doesn’t inherently mean that the person has an addiction. What it means is that it’s affecting the areas of the brain that are involved in that. We ultimately have to find out how they’re doing as a person.
Cash by all accounts is doing well in school and other in areas of his life, but for his mom even this rough association is scary.
“It’s– it’s a big deal. I think everything in moderation. And I don’t know what moderation is with Fortnite,” she said.