For those rock dwelling parents of kids between the ages of like birth and 17 who’ve not heard of Fortnite, let me give you a quick introduction.
In late 2017, Epic Games released Fortnite: Battle Royale and bascially broke the Internet. Or, the game console version of it anyway.
Nearly a year later, it’s hard to go a single day without hearing reference to the game. From grandmas to rock stars, everyone is talking about it. Or complaining about it if you’re a parent.
Personally, I’m largely unbothered, because there are worse things my kids could be doing during the few hours a week they have to do with as they please.But it seems that my perspective is not the norm.
While I fully anticipate that I will be reading about this on some Buzzfeed list of things all kids of the teens will remember (like Pogs and Garbage Pail Kids for us from the 90s), it is causing quite the ruckus for parents.
What Exactly Is Fortnite Anyway?
Originally only available on PC, Xbox and PlayStation (you can now play it on Switch and mobile devices), this multiplayer shooter game was re-imagined and re-released from an earlier version (Fortnite: Save the World which is technically still around) in order to capture a larger audience.
Geniuses that they were, the creators made Fortnite: Battle Royale a free digital download so anyone with an account would be able to access it. It was met with something like hysteria among a certain set of gamers and has since been downloaded over 40 million times.
Most prominently, it seems to have taken hold of kids ages 8-15 due to its bright, fun graphics, the ability to play with friends, and all of the humor and fun infused into the game (yep, we are talking about the dance moves and funky costumes here). Kids spend nearly as much time picking out their outfits and goofing around dancing as they do actually trying to win rounds.
While the game itself is free to download, players are required to pay for various upgrades and expansions (with V-Bucks, currency you can purchase with real money). For example, new clothing, new dance moves, new gear, and Battle Passes have to be purchased (technically there are some roundabout ways to get V-Bucks for free, but not many people actually do this because of time, difficulty, and initial investment, so expect your kid to ask for your credit card -often).
With all of this success, it’s no wonder that the creators are constantly updating the game and adding to it –lands, costumes, dance moves, swag –making it so that there’s always a reason to come back and play more and spend more.
The Fortnite craze, however, has not stayed within the young gaming community –it has, in fact, impacted our entire culture with dances, terms, and more being used on a daily basis in real life. Major celebrities are playing Fortnite, pro athletes are playing Fortnite, there is a good chance your pediatrician, your mailman, and your pharmacist are playing Fortnight. Because that’s how big of a deal this is.
Like anything uber popular, parents and other authority figures have jumped on the Fortnite-is-terrible-for-you bandwagon and we have seen everything from it being banned in homes to the even mention of the dances being banned in schools (yep, we know of a school where you will be sent to the principal’s office for just saying The Floss).
It has all become very Footloose like in nature although I’ve not actually discovered any secret Fortnite clubs where kids sneak off to play with their friends.
Let’s Talk Fortnite Facts
Before you decide where you land on this issue, let’s hash out some of the actual facts about this game.
Fact 1: There are two separate Fortnite games.
Save the World and Battle Royale are two different modes of the game. The first involves you doing pretty much what the title says: trying to save the world. It’s more of a team game where you and your buds run around and try to defeat zombies in some post-apocalyptic type situation. The Battle Royale version is the one your kid is probably rage-screaming at in his room every night. It is a fight to the death, last man standing battle with up to 99 other players.
Fact 2: It is free.
But the things people care most about (skins, battle passes, dance moves, etc), have to be purchased.
Fact 3: There is shooting.
But, it’s not a gory game. This is an animated game so everything is super colorful and bright. It looks more like a cartoon than it does a video game.
Fact 4: Matches can last FOR FREAKING EVER.
Or, they can end in like 5 seconds. It is dependent on how long you can keep yourself alive compared to the other players running around.
Fact 5: There isn’t a ton of talking to strangers.
In fact, my kids say it’s weird if you do. There are three game play modes: solos, duos, or squads (with 4 people). Most young players do duos or squads so they can play with their friends. Few people are doing duos with strangers. If you get on and your friends aren’t available, you can just play it in solo mode, no big deal.
Things Parents Find Concerning
For me there are gradients of violence within video games. I mean, if you want to be technical, Super Mario has violence -you do beat up Bowser for kidnapping (also violent) the princess, right?
For those who don’t allow their children to play games with guns, this is definitely not going to make the cut for you, because Fortnite is a game where you are out to kill other players with weapons.
You are dropped into a “battle ground” where you run around arming yourself with various weapons in order to kill off your fellow players. From my perspective, the true goal is more about survival than it is about murderous rampages –you want your player to stay alive as long as possible (which can either be not long at all, or a stupid long time if you’re waiting for your kid to get ready to go somewhere or do something). But I get how parents have an issue with their little people simulating this Hunger Games like behavior.
It makes kids ragey.
If your kid is that kind of kid, he’s probably gonna have some moments. I’ll admit that, while two of mine are largely unphased by what happens to them in the game, one of them has done his fair share of screaming into his mic and at his screen thanks to an untimely Fortnite death.
But, understand why that is. Battle Royale is a winner takes all kind of game, meaning that, when you die you lose all of your everything and you’re out of the match (not stuff you bought, stuff you collected in the round). And, it’s hard to win (like a 1 in 99 chance if you’re in solo mode). So, if you happen to survive for a long time, it’s super frustrating when someone picks you off.
Depending on how passionate about the game you are, this could translate into a tantrum of sorts.
Or so some say.
There is general argument among the medical community about whether video games can actually even be addictive, but let’s say you believe that there are addiction encouraging properties in video games, you might be thinking that Fortnite is one that would encourage such behavior.
However, many science-y people have noted that there’s no proof that this particular game is any more addictive than any other video game. In fact, “there’s nothing kind of special in the game, from a psychologist’s perspective, you’d be worried about.” And most of the reason parents claim their children are “addicted” has to do with access -“it’s free, you don’t need a game console to play it, and you can play it anywhere on a mobile phone.”
For those who believe that video game addiction is a real thing, there are some elements that make games more likely to become habit forming, many of which are absent in Fortnite. For example, there’s no leveling system (you are fresh and new in terms of weaponry every time you’re dropped into a field to fight), the game has an end (you know, when you die, you die, no respawning here), and there’s no variable reward schedule (you either live or die, there’s no other reward really).
For me, this means that most of the tension over the game is self inflicted and easily regulated by parents.
It’s Only a Big Deal if You Make It So
Here’s the thing for me and video games, including one so widely popular as Fortnite: I’M STILL THE MOTHER.
I decide when and how much they play. I take it away when I feel like they’ve gotten out of hand (and sometimes just because I feel like it). And, I am all about teaching balance to ensure that my kids can make great decisions when faced with choosing between good and bad things.
For the typical child, playing Fortnite should be a leisure time activity enjoyed in moderation, like all other leisure time activities, and it’s up to parents to make it so.
How to Keep Fortnite in Perspective
Start with realistic, specific time parameters.
During the school year, my children are not allowed to play video games on school nights. Ever.
They are allowed to play on Friday after school, Saturdays, and Sundays until 8pm. Among these times, they can play as little or as much as they like, which means, technically, they could play for many hours in a weekend.
Only, here’s what’s real: two of my children are what many would call elite athletes meaning they are on a court or a field most weekends in a year competing or practicing to compete in something. When they’re not doing this, they are eating, or sleeping, or showering, or doing chores, or playing outside, or watching a movie with me, or reading, or doing school work, or playing with the dog, or just generally being kids. Plus, they really only want to play when their friends can so there is a lot of schedule organizing among them involved. They are so good at self regulating that I rarely have to even check on them.
My older son, isn’t really into Fortnite anyway (he seems to be out of the target age group a bit), but even if he were, he is also a high school athlete who is taking 3 AP courses this year. He also has a job, and chores, and other interests that don’t leave a ton of time for weekend gaming. The kid worked 15 hours this past weekend –he didn’t have a ridiculous amount of time to also play video games.
Figure out how much gaming you’re comfortable with and then set time or match limits (this works better for Fortnite because the games can last varying amounts of time) for your kids to stick to.
Don’t allow gaming to interfere with other activities.
If your child struggles with this, help them by having required things they have to do to earn a match. For example, maybe they need to read 100 pages of their book to earn a match. Or, maybe they have to ride their bike for an hour to earn an hour of Fortnite time.
Feel free to use this to your advantage. I can not even tell you how clean our bathroom stays these days.
Set specific behavior parameters.
No raging, no yelling into your mic, no negative talk to your friends. If I hear this stuff, the game has invaded your mind and it’s time for it to spend some time in my possession.
If you do decide ban it, talk to them about why.
A unilateral ban on Fortnite may be what you choose to do as a parent, and that is totally your choice. You don’t have to justify it to me or anyone else. But, you may want to take a few moments to explain to your kids why you’ve made this decision, particularly if you allow them to play other shooter games. It will probably help mitigate any resentment they have about it and also prevent them from seeking one of those secret Fortnite players clubs I talked about at the beginning of this post. I may not know about them, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a thing.
And stick to your guns.
Whether it’s a full out ban or a time limit imposition, be consistent and committed to your choice. Because, just like with every other parenting rule, if you’re not no one will listen to you, ever.
Want to see what other parents think about Fortnite: Battle Royale? Check out this post on Facebook: Is Fortnite a Problem?