Prince Harry told the BBC this week that Fortnite “shouldn’t be allowed,” then said it was “created to addict” and that video games are more addictive than alcohol and drugs.
Sorry, Prince Harry, but you can’t ban the sale of Fortnite. Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex and sixth in line to the succession of the British throne, has no say in U.K. policy decisions, so British fans of the game shouldn’t put too much stock in his comments.
But let’s imagine for a moment that Prince Harry’s dislike of Fortnite could actually impact the British Parliament’s policy-making. Does the U.K. really want to start banning video games?
Some countries ban the sale of video games that encourage illegal behavior or “glorify criminal lifestyles.” That’s why Australia and Brazil banned Grand Theft Auto. But other countries — like China, Germany and South Korea — ban video games that don’t positively reflect them as nation states.
For example, Germany bans all video games that depict Nazis and Nazism — including swastikas — even if the Nazis are antagonists in the games, which is ironic since, during Adolf Hitler’s regime, the German state censored all anti-Nazi propaganda or non-German art that didn’t fit within the Nazi worldview.
According to the China Daily, China banned the game “Project IGI2: Covert Strike” because it “allegedly “smears China’s national image.” That’s not even the beginning of China’s banning and censorship practices. China developed an entire internet ecosystem that censors Western thought and ideas and promotes Chinese nationalism and allegiance to the People’s Republic of China.
None of these countries have great track records when it comes to censorship — does the U.K. really want to follow suit?
Furthermore, there isn’t much evidence yet that video games can cause “addiction.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) added “gaming disorder” to its diagnostic handbook last year, but experts do not agree there’s even such a thing as “gaming addiction.”
As the American Psychiatric Association said in a 2013 study, “The literature suffers [however] from lack of a standardized definition from which to deprive prevalence data. An understanding of the natural histories of cases, with or without treatment, is also missing.”
Playing video games won’t cause a physical, life-threatening addiction like alcohol, nicotine or cocaine — obviously — so the only real question is whether there is a psychological addiction, i.e., compulsive behavior in response to rewarding stimuli, despite potential adverse effects. Obsessive gamblers are sometimes called “addicted” to gambling, but psychological dependence is much harder to prove and quantify than physical dependence. (The APA, by the way, classifies caffeine dependence as an “addiction” because one can experience withdrawal headaches, but no one tries to ban coffee.)
Furthermore, there’s no evidence yet proving gaming produces “adverse effects” in gamers. In fact, many studies prove the opposite: gamers are more likely to be part of social clubs and more likely to be better problem solvers and creative thinkers.
Until there’s more research, telling enthusiastic gamers they have a “disorder” or an “addiction” is like telling an avid bookworm who can’t tear her- or himself away from an engaging book series that he or she “has problem” or is “addicted to books.” No one talks about a “reading disorder,” but the same logic applies. No one describes Netflix bingeing as an “addiction” or a “disorder” either — even though it’s arguably the same type of “obsessive” or “compulsive” behavior.
Finally, Prince Harry completely missed an opportunity to slam Fortnite over a legitimate concern: video game loot boxes. Fortnite is one of many games that provide opportunities for players to make in-app purchases or spend lots of money for the chance to win a “loot box” of digital prizes, like new armor or guns, etc., depending on the game.
Some countries — like Belgium — ban loot boxes because they’re basically gambling for kids, and often trick kids into spending hundreds of dollars on their parents’ credit cards without parental consent.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced last fall it will investigate the $30 billion industry after Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) sent a letter to the Entertainment and Software Ratings Board (ESRB) asking it to investigate loot box practices.
Next time maybe Prince Harry will say something a little more factual and relevant.