The mother of 11-year-old Abu Dhabi resident Amine Riyad says he acts like a drug addict whenever his access to the virtual world of Fortnite, a game that has taken the world by storm over the last year, is taken away from him.
"He acts like someone going through withdrawal symptoms. He will follow me around the house complaining and asking for an explanation. I always tell him 'I don't want to lose you' and I try to show him videos of people who died from playing video games. This works for a day or two but then he goes back to Fortnite like nothing ever happened," Umm Amine says.
Developed by Epic Games, Fortnite has grown to 125 million players since the cross-platform game was released in mid-July last year. It made more than $100 million (Dh367m) on its recently iOS platform release in just 90 days.
But the game has also caused concern over its addictive effect on gamers, especially as the topic recently hit headlines when the World Health Organisation said they would be adding ‘gaming disorder’ to a new manual of disease classifications.
The online game supports 100 players at a time and is free-to-play (although there are in-app purchases), on all game consoles with a constantly updated narrative that changes for every player.
Friends from school invited Amine for five-hour daily Fortnite marathons during Ramadan and the Eid break.
Umm Amine, as Amine’s mother asked to be referred to, said the game has changed her son in ways she never expected.
“If we don’t scream at him to close the game, he would stay up playing on it until 6am. He did once. It’s an addiction that makes him forget to eat, drink or even go to the bathroom. He stopped caring about school and neglected all his talents.
"He is now also very selective with his friendships and will only befriend those who will play this game with him.”
Due to pent up anger from the game, Amine loses his patience and becomes verbally violent when interacting with his mother and younger sister, Yasmeen, his mother says.
“When my mum asks me to stop playing, it angers me a little. I don’t hit anyone because of the game but I do scream sometimes,” Amine says.
Robert Franchina, 11, also living in Abu Dhabi, has been playing Fortnite for the past seven months. He plays on weekends for 12 hours; however, if he had the opportunity, he would not attend school and play the game all day, says his father.
“On weekends, he’d get up, eat his cereal and turn it on. He won’t move until his time [on the game] is up. He won’t eat, he won’t go to the bathroom until his time is up,” said Tony Franchina, 47.
Although his son spends a lot of time playing the game, Mr Franchina believes that Fortnite helps Robert through his issue with stuttering and builds his self-confidence. Unlike some parents, he doesn't believe that playing the game can lead to bad behaviour.
"The kids at school bully him a lot, but when he plays Fortnite, he talks to people from everywhere. They're not there to judge him and say 'you're too fat or you're too short'. They have one common goal — to beat the other team. That's a relief for him," he said.
Fortnite begins with the sudden appearance of a storm that kills the majority of the world's population and zombie-like creatures attack the remainder. Players collect resources and construct weapons to help fight the storm and protect survivors. This has led to some claiming it desensitises children to violence, although with a PEGI 12 rating, any violence is mild.
Hassan Allam, 21, a graduating mechanical engineering student at the American University of Sharjah, has been playing Fortnite for the past five months. He believes that the game is not violent and he spends about three to four hours playing it daily.
“Fortnite is one of a kind. It has features that aren’t found in other games. Such as the option of being able to build different things, and being able to defend yourself from harm and harness your character with resources. It’s also cartoonish so there is no blood shed, which makes it safe for younger gamers,” he said.