Fortnite: Is Prince Harry right to want game banned?

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Duke of SussexImage source, Getty Images
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The Duke of Sussex has spoken at length about the issue of mental health

Prince Harry has called for a ban on Fortnite, saying the survival game beloved by teenagers around the world, was "created to addict".

His words add to a growing debate among health workers, governments and lobby groups about whether gaming can be harmful to health.

The remarks come just before the Gaming Bafta Awards, one of the biggest nights in the UK's gaming calendar, which take place in London on Thursday evening.

But is he right?

What did Prince Harry say?

At an event at a YMCA in west London, the Duke of Sussex launched a scathing attack on social media and gaming.

Of Fortnite, he said: "That game shouldn't be allowed. Where is the benefit of having it in your household?

"It's created to addict, an addiction to keep you in front of a computer for as long as possible. It's so irresponsible.

"It's like waiting for the damage to be done and kids turning up on your doorsteps and families being broken down."

He added that social media was "more addictive than alcohol and drugs".

What is Fortnite?

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The game has become a global phenomenon and the aim is simple - survive for as long as possible. Each match has a total of 99 other players with the same goals and lasts around 20 minutes, depending on how successful you are.

It has 200 million registered players worldwide and is free to download, but players can spend money on in-game purchases.

Players can play alone, as part of a four-person squad or a 20-member team, either with friends or people they do not know.

What do doctors think?

Earlier this month, a GP told an 11-year-old boy that he was "prescribing" a two-week ban from computer games such as Fortnite and Minecraft.

Dr Amir Khan said that he was concerned about the impact gaming was having on the boy's life.

It was a light-hearted attempt to draw attention to a serious issue but, anecdotally, more doctors are seeing links between gaming and effects on both the physical and mental health of young people.

And it is not only youngsters who are affected. Research shows that 200 divorces in the UK from January to September 2018 mentioned addiction to Fortnite and other online games as one of the reasons for relationship breakdown.

However, Scottish university researcher Andrew Reid said he thought that the game was not "addictive" and suggested that using the term could stigmatise regular video game players. He added that some research showed "positive characteristics of play".

What do the gamers say about addiction?

There are plenty of gamers who play for long periods of time and say it has no impact on their wider social lives or health.

But some have had enough.

Matus Mikus joined Game Quitters, an online forum made up of thousands of people who have turned their backs on games, after his relationship broke down because he was spending too much time gaming.

James Good is a self-confessed gaming addict, once spending 32 hours playing without a break. The problem led to him falling behind at university.

"My grades were slipping as a result of playing too many games. I didn't eat, sleep or leave my room. I escaped my problems via games," he recently told a group of MPs.

And he said the effect of playing was triggering physical responses.

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There are an estimated 32.4 million gamers in the UK.

"Games fire up response systems in your brain and other things don't bring you as much joy," he told the MPs.

"I was thinking, 'Why would I spend time with my friends when I can play video games?'.

"It felt good to get points, trophies, beat people. It fuelled my competitiveness - but I realised I wasn't truly happy."

James admits he became depressed, but stopped short of saying that gaming was the root cause.

He added that gaming as a teenager was not a problem, because he combined it with an active life, playing sports and going to Scouts, and his parents helped him manage his time.

Being without parental guidance at university appears to be the trigger that turned his gaming from a much-loved activity to an obsession.

He too turned to Game Quitters and admits to having withdrawal symptoms when he followed its challenge for new members to give up gaming for 90 days.

"I was getting headaches, moods and I had to lock my computer in a cupboard," he said.

What's the view of the games firms?

The BBC has asked Epic Games, the makers of Fortnite, for comment but has not yet had a response.

Gaming is booming and the UK games industry is worth a record £5.7bn, in part thanks to Fortnite, according to new figures from gaming trades body Ukie, which said that there was "little evidence" gaming causes harm to health.

Dr Jo Twist, Ukie's chief executive and chairwoman of Bafta Games, said: "We care about players.

"We want to help parents and carers who don't play games themselves to feel better equipped and knowledgeable about safe and responsible game play, and the positive impact games can have on people's lives."

She added that game age ratings "should be taken seriously" and that parents and carers should use online resources to ensure their children played in a responsible way.

Ukie points to research conducted by Prof Andrew Przybylski, an experimental psychologist at the Oxford Internet Institute, who has said that only 0.3% of gamers might experience problems controlling the time they spend playing video games.

He told the BBC: Large scale research studies on the topic indicate that games may not be inherently addictive and should best be thought of as a coping mechanism for, rather than cause of, mental distress. Placing undue blame on games risks stigmatising a popular hobby regularly pursued by nearly two billion people."

The World Health Organization disagrees and last year recognised excessive gaming as a mental health disorder.

Does gaming need greater government scrutiny?

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The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is currently interviewing gamers, games firms and other experts as part of its ongoing inquiry into technology addiction.

It is due to report back on its findings later this year. Chairman Damian Collins told the BBC ahead of that: "We have invited Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite, to give evidence to our investigation, which is examining the addictive nature of gaming, as well as links between gaming and gambling.

"We hope that Epic will accept our invitation. We will certainly raise with them the significant concerns that Prince Harry has expressed about Fortnite, and how they respond to his call for it to be banned."

And it is not just the UK that is looking into the links between gaming and the health of youngsters.

China, the world's largest gaming market, is increasingly concerned about addiction and the impact of gaming on children's eyesight, and has taken strong measures to crack down on the issue.

China's tech giant Tencent has tightened checks on the age of people playing online games - checking identities and ages against a police database.

Children under 12 are only able to play for an hour a day. Older children can play for up to two hours, but not during a night-time curfew.