The Red Socks Fortnite Problem

Published by Internet Addiction Center on

The Red Socks Fortnite Problem: what can it teach about the healthy use of video games.

May 1st, 2018 the website boston.com published a piece entitled “‘You can’t be losing and playing Fortnite : The Red Sox reportedly banned the video game from the clubhouse”.  Well, that story has been clarified from sources inside the clubhouse, but it has continued to cause controversy and distraction for over a year now.

Last season, The World’s best baseball team had been in the news on several occasions for their affinity for playing the game while in the dugout as well as doing celebratory dances made popular by Fortnite

So the best team in baseball was playing video games IN the dugout while they should be performing at their peak?  Fans and analysts are starting to question if distraction is compatible with peak performance. Humans evolved to be information processing machines and even a game strikes at our most primal urges to engage and compete.

So why do the Boston Red Socks and basically the rest of humanity allow themselves to be distracted by electronic devices?  Humans evolved to be constantly scanning our environment for information essential to our survival and discarding information that is irrelevant or harmful. However, the lines between essential and irrelevant has become blurred as we have evolved. Now let’s think in particular about Baseball.

Baseball has many large pauses built into its play, requires long travel and thus there is plenty of down time to engage with a game.  Fortnite is attractive for various reasons, but, perhaps one of the most attractive is that you depend on your teammates to achieve a common goal.  It’s understandable that a group of highly driven people want to relax and compete for a common goal. However, like grandma used to say, too much of a good thing can lead to problems!  David Price, a star performer with $30 million salary, gave up the game after contracting carpal-tunnel syndrome and the questions it raised about the possibility that it was caused by his Fortnite playing.  

The question is, how much Fortnite play interferes with the performance of the Red Socks and other professionals?  Let’s pause and think about the larger population as a whole. Would playing during a long board meeting or a conference create problems for a professional?  The science on split attention is pretty clear: when you pay attention to one task, your ability to simultaneously pay attention to the other task pretty much tanks.  The effort it takes to disengage the game play and then to shift back to the new task takes time and performance is typically affected (in some cases up to a 40% decrease in efficiency).

So imagine how effective a batter would be putting down the cell phone to step up and dig in his cleats to face the left-handed pitcher who typically throws curve balls, while there is a person on first and 2 outs in the top of the 5th and you are trailing by two runs… You get the picture.  If I was a coach or fan, I would be concerned that 50 years of cognitive science CLEARLY says that the batter is going to be more likely to underperform. As a parent and psychiatrist specializing in video game addiction, I am also very concerned that being distracted with Fortnite or any digital media is interfering with our children’s learning and performance.

At the office we check the NCAA college bracket or a funny meme circulating on Facebook before finishing that report that the boss requested.  Teens will sit with a Youtube video with a recap of a well played Fortnite game and then try to do their math homework. In many cases, the work gets done, but, its slower, less efficient and the results may be less than desired.  What can we do about it?

Make small changes, such as:

  • When working on a mundane or long task.  Your brain gets fatigued! Get up and stretch or get some water every 30-45 min of work.  
  • Put your phone/device away at sporting events, dinner, meetings and family time.
  • Practice mindfulness meditation: kids click here  adults click here  
  • Turn off communications after certain hours: during dinner time, after say 9 pm etc.  
  • Use an analog alarm clock if you get sucked into your cell phone just after waking up.
  • Keep your phone outside of the bedroom.  Especially key for teens who have by nature much less impulse control than most adults.
  • Buy a minimalist cell phone.  Remember the brick phones from the 1990’s?
  • Leave your phone in the car or at home ON PURPOSE.  
  • Set Boundaries: keep your phone put away when engaged in face-to-face conversations.  
  • Try an app that helps you cut down on distractions like: Thrive
  • Try a service like Freedom, that will block access to certain apps and websites for a determined time.  
  • Cap your time on the device: Tell friends that you can ONLY play till 8 pm and then have to leave the game.  You may leave them hanging, but, you are taking charge of your time and making changes for the better!

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