An article appearing in UK tabloid publication The Daily Mirror entitled "Fortnite made me a suicidal drug addict" was criticized yesterday both for its dismissive treatment of mental health and its simplification of gaming's role in a teenager's troubles. It also seems to have come from an interview subject who was paid for the account.
The original story was written by Daily Mirror journalist Matthew Barbour and describes an anonymous 17-year-old who became addicted to speed while using it to stay awake and play Fortnite. Per the article, the situation escalated as the teenager stole money from his parents to pay for in-game items, began to experiment with amphetamines, and eventually tried to jump out of his third-story bedroom window. He was stopped by his father and is now working with a counsellor (whose business was plugged in the article) to recover.
Our sister site Eurogamer published an in-depth report on how the story came about. At the core was an email sent by a company called ResponseSource on behalf of Barbour to find someone willing to tell their story. In the email, Barbour asked for a "Child Fortnite 'addict'" and stated that the case study would be anonymous. He also assured that Daily Mirror would fully credit "any clinic or therapist" and would pay £300 for the study.
The report continued, saying that Eurogamer had reached out to the Daily Mirror's parent company and the counseler for the addicted teen but received no response. Upon reaching out to Barbour himself with a series of questions about the teen in the article asking for more details about the story, Barbour replied, "Am I being paid to provide these answers?"
This isn't the first time Barbour has gone out of his way to solicit a story like this. Former Eurogamer YouTube producer Chris Bratt investigated a similar issue with a Pokemon Go story in 2016 where Barbour offered to pay anyone who could "describe any potential negative effects" for £100. Similar stories looking for troubles at A&E, or requesting experts who would say tattoos cause cancer have also been run with fees behind them.
Though none of this is to say that the Fortnite story in The Daily Mirror was untrue, the approach remains questionable not only to outside parties but also to those who work at the Mirror. Ryan Brown, who regularly writes about gaming for the online version of the publication, denounced the methods in a tweet.
"As a games writer for The Mirror, I'd just like to confirm that this is complete bollocks," he said. "I wish they'd conferred with us before printing this. There's no point in having games coverage if we're going to run stuff like this in print."