The Veldt, Fortnite, gambling, obsolescence


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Although published in 1950, Ray Bradbury’s short story The Veldt summed up a lot of very modern anxieties about children and technology. It told the story of a family who live in The Happylife Home, an automated house that does everything for them. The children have a virtual reality space called the nursery which creates almost-real worlds from their imaginations. The parents discover that inside the room is a scene from the African plains, with lions in the distance eating a carcass, and the odd scream wafting on the dry winds. Concerned that their children are spending too much time in the nursery, and that it is affecting their behaviour and attitudes towards their parents, a decision is made – the nursery will be switched off. The children protest, and ask for one last turn in the room. You can probably guess what happens next, as this is a fear in the heart of most parents – that technology is alienating our kids from us – and vice versa – with bleak, dystopian results.

Do you know where your kids are? If you don’t, they are probably upstairs in their room playing Fortnite: Battle Royale, the latest threat to your kids and – by extension – the fabric of society. Fortnite is an online shooter, much like the vastly successful Call Of Duty franchise, which pits you against a hundred other people, and you have to use almost anything as a weapon to survive. It sounds grim, but it has one major edge on its competitors – there is no blood or gore. That, combined with beautiful, cartoon-style graphics mean that it is hugely popular with kids from age ten upwards, and thank god for that, as it had been a while since parents had something to fret about. Granted we thought Pokemon Go was going to make all our kids chase non-existent creatures into the middle of the dual carriageway, fidget spinners were going to give them all carpal tunnel syndrome, and smartphones – or phones as they are generally known – were going to invite the childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to come round your house for a playdate, but all those fears just fizzled out after a while.

Dr Jane Rigbye, from GambleAware, says that Fortnite could be turning our children into gamblers, as there are aspects of Fortnite that are similar to gambling and thus could normalise the habit for them. Dr Rigbye’s concerns centre on the fact that Fortnite allows players to buy in-game add-ons which allow them to upgrade their weapons and improve their chances of survival, in much the same way coin-slot arcade games worked three decades ago – the more you spend, the longer you play and the better you do.

The idea of normalised gambling is, of course, terribly worrying, as it could lead to the dread scenario of betting shops on every street, apps that allow you to gamble on your phone, or even the normalisation of horseracing, which without gambling would simply be a few horses running in a circle. But while we are deleting Fortnite from our PS4s, maybe we should clear out a few more games that might have negative effects – Monopoly simply teaches kids how to run a vulture fund, Risk gets them addicted to risk, Buckaroo teaches them animal cruelty, Trivial Pursuit teaches them that being a smartypants allows you to eat all the cake, and Game Of Life teaches them that human existence is boring and goes on far too long.

Gambling is already everywhere because risk is everywhere. Every day we run risks that no machine would, partly because we are oblivious to our own ill fortune, and partly because we like it. Everything from falling in love to buying a house to getting a dog carry various elements of risk and are very human gambles, so it is hard to tell kids they can’t play Fortnite when they see us shouting at the TV during the Grand National, doing scratchcards or idly musing about what we will do once we win the Euromillions.

Perhaps our fear of technology and its effects on our kids really has more to do with the idea that, as with the autonomous house in The Veldt, we too will one soon be obsolete and fed to the lions. As the father of a child who plays Fortnite – who has been caught buying in-game bonuses using my credit card – I can safely say that the amount of time he spends playing it isn’t the problem, but rather the amount of time I don’t spend with him. If he grows up to have a gambling problem, or any other kind of mental health issues, I can always blame the PS4 – or I can admit that I made myself obsolete.

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