(Credit: Epic Games)

With a surge in the popularity of a given video game comes the inevitable stories of addiction to it. And with that comes the accusations of ignorant or careless parenting, or lack of personal discipline, or trying to use video games as a babysitter. In the 2000s, it was World of Warcraft, which plunged some arguably unprepared people into an enormous online world where progress through its content could be granularly measured as it was unlocked step-by-step.

These days, Fortnite (Android, iOS) appears to have taken that dubious crown, according to a recent report by Bloomberg. Its appeal is the ability to be thrown in with up to 99 other players on a huge island where only one participant will be crowned the true winner. When your character dies in Battle Royale, you lose and don't get to respawn, unlike other shooter games like Call of Duty.

SEE: How to play Fortnite Mobile and win: A guide for beginners

So the stakes are high, and the tone ranges from thrilling to tortuous. The longer you can stay alive in Battle Royale, the more points you earn for unlocking in-game items -- but it's the last few survivors who win the lion's share. As a result, you may feel a constant pressure to try and try again, until you finally make that big score. But with the rush of a win comes the desire to repeat that high.

And as with World of Warcraft, there's sometimes more going on than the appeal of the core game mechanics. Sometimes, what people keep coming back for isn't the game. It's the loot and the sense of discreet progress that it represents. When you add specific character levels for which prizes are awarded, then you may draw a certain type of gamer who plays for the progression instead of the playability.

It's a question you should ask yourself every time you sit down to play: "Am I actually enjoying playing this game, or am I just looking ahead to the next prize that I can unlock?" If you find yourself answering "Yes" to the latter question, don't feel too bad. The most addictive games tend to be those that knowingly leverage mind games to keep you playing over and over in the hopes of acquiring that next piece of treasure.

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It's such a successful model in the gaming industry that you often don't even need to charge money for the game. Instead, you charge for "loot boxes" that contain randomized prizes, or a "season pass" that gives players a timed window where they must keep coming back to get everything before the season concludes.

And every time you reach the main menu of this type of game, there's a link to the online store where you can just buy those coveted items with real money. Or you can buy loot boxes in bulk instead of waiting to earn them through the course of gameplay, potentially saving you hours or days of grinding away at your collection of points. And with a game as crazily popular as Fortnite, it's practically inescapable on social media and in live streaming apps, making it difficult for players to truly get a break from it.

Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, declined to comment for this story.

Takeaways

  • Bloomberg reports that parents are sending their kids to specialized rehab programs to deal with an addiction to Fortnite.
  • The ubiquity of Fortnite on social media and live streaming apps may make it difficult to susceptible players to fully take a break from the game.

Also see

Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.