By Sathujan Manmatharajah

Fortnite, the insanely popular online shooter game produced by Epic games, has reached new heights in terms of popularity in the gaming industry, and key factors contributing to this include that it is (mostly) free to play, the fact that it is in the revolutionary Battle Royale genre and its accessible, cartoony, and aesthetic. Within the first year of its release (July 2017), it lured in more than an astonishing 125 million players around the world (regrettably me included). However, controversy has hit certain aspects of the game and gaming industry as a whole in recent months. The gaming industry is developing at such a fast rate that it is almost laughable that children of the 70s and 80s were more than happy to sink hours into games such as Tetris and Pong (the first video game ever released in October 1958). The development of the internet lead to online gaming, but should online gaming be treated as a threat?

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Financially, video games can be draining, more so in online games. Certain games may be advertised as a one-time purchase or even free-to-play, however you are met with a barrage of in game purchases. For example, even though Fortnite is a free-to-play game, a survey by LendEDU showed that 68.8% of fortnite players have made in-app purchases, and each of these players spends on average $84.67. Although there is an option to not buy anything, when taking into consideration that the target demographic of this game are children who are less financially aware, it’s hard to deny that online games such as Fortnite can be very expensive, potentially leading to greater problems if the gamer is addicted. Sometimes, the urge to buy in a game can be too great to handle.

Video games could also have effects on people due to the development of video game addiction. A study by the University of New Mexico showed that 6-15% of all gamers show signs of addiction. This has very serious emotional and physical effects. Emotionally, it can lead to feeling restless when not gaming, isolating yourself from others to get more time to game and thoughts being preoccupied by gaming. Physically, addiction can lead to fatigues, migraines and poor personal hygiene. Elsewhere, an addiction in gaming can also lead to having less time for education, work or for family and friends, which could all lead to life developing very slowly. It is important to act fast by seeking advice from a GP, but also researching on the internet. There are drugs which can help combat the emotional side effects, however I cannot stress enough that going to seek help as soon as possible is the best way to act.

On the other hand, online gaming could provide benefits not only to our rest, but also to our work life. For some, the influence of gaming on their lives is very direct and clear. Epic Games announced that they will be having a total of $100,000,000 worth of prize money for Fortnite competition winners over the 2018-2019 period. Furthermore, popular content creators, such as Ninja, are able to make a living off uploading video game playthroughs. It is on the other hand very important to stress that it is only the most minute percent of players who will be able to make a living from it. Alternatively, for others, gaming can help in specific aspects of their jobs. For example, a study of laparoscopic specialists (surgeons who do small incisions) revealed that those who played at least 3 hours per week made 32% fewer errors than those who didn’t game. Surgeons aren’t the only profession who benefit. Online team games, like Fortnite and Overwatch, force players to work together to win. This will encourage communication, which helps to improve social skills. On top of this, the increased motor control, improved vision, and faster decision-making times are beneficial no matter where you end up.

Unfortunately, providing people with a place for socialising can have severe dangers. Cyberbullying is a very prevalent issue in online games. ‘Ditch The Label’ (an anti-bullying charity) found that 57% of young people suffered from cyber-bullying on online games.  Often, this bullying consists of sore losers sending mean comments to other players. Sometimes, this behaviour could degrade to discrimination, death threats and worse, all of which could have detrimental effects, especially if aimed at a child. And that’s the issue, you are talking to an absolute stranger who you know nothing about. They could be an adult who understands that these comments are more of an annoyance than malicious, however children could be truly scared and suffer from mental issues such as anxiety, depression and cause them to fear socialising. In fact, 74% of the young people interviewed by ‘Ditch The Label’ would like to see the problem taken more seriously.  Even though there is potential to have a great time with others, we have to both be careful about who we talk with but also be careful with the language we use. Competition is fun, but please don’t ruin it with this behaviour.

Aspects of gambling are often implemented into online games. Game publishers such as Electronic Arts are notorious for there business models in games. Star Wars Battlefront 2(2017) is one of EA’s most infamous releases, with a luck-based progression system that plagued the online multiplayer. The only way to upgrade your virtual character was through buying loot boxes. These boxes were luck based virtual drops, with chance playing a heavy factor in how the player will interact with the game. Although you could play the game to earn these loot boxes, using real world money to buy them was much easier. On top of this, playing to earn rewards was not fun at all as the reward was totally luck based and not guaranteed. It’s easy to see how a system like this could lead to problems similar to those associated with gambling, such as accumulating debt. Since these gambling aspects are masked behind the pretty persona of a Star Wars game, parents would likely not pick up on these issues, which unfortunately means that children could be worst affected by this. Thankfully, governments such as in the state of Hawaii and Belgium have regulated in-game purchases. This prompted EA not only to change the whole system in Battlefront 2 but to also change the ‘loot box’ style gameplay in other games, for example, the FIFA game series now shows the likelihood of getting each rarity to the player before a purchase, which provides a certain layer of transparency. Even though we’re making great steps to improve the issue of gambling in online games, it still remains a serious topic.

As shown, video games have a massive audience and influence. Game developers have the responsibility/privilege of educating people. We’ve seen this directly through some single player games such as the Assassin Creed series, which is heavily revolved around history and Minecraft, which helps adults and children alike to express themselves by building. However, certain online games can evoke interest more indirectly. For example, online shooter games such as Call of Duty and Battlefield take each instalment in the franchise to a different time period/setting. This has the power to introduce players with aspects of life and history that they may have never heard of before, which could in turn provoke interest. This power is one that should be fully respected as it could be used to create a more well educated and well-rounded society, potentially helping to tackle social issues as well.

It is important to remember that video games were created to be no more than a mode of entertainment. It is also seen by many as a means of expressing views, opinions and key issues in society. When looking at it like that, gaming is beneficial. However, the numerous effects of online gaming can hit anyone and could drastically change their life. As with most issues, it is important to be careful whilst gaming online. If you do feel affected by any problems associated with video games, charities such as those linked below are always available online and provide great support.

-        Useful sites for advice on gaming issues:

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