If you have listened to any conversation with tweens recently, you’ve probably heard the name Fortnite bandied about. The trending game is proving as popular as fidget spinners and flossing (dancing not dental), after being downloaded more than 40 million times since the launch of its popular extension Fortnite: Battle Royale in September 2017. But what is all the fuss about? And should we worry about the game’s impact on our children and young people?
What is Fortnite?
Fortnite is the survival video game currently dominating the gaming world. The hugely popular title is set in a future where 98 per cent of the world’s population has vanished. What remains for the survivors is a storm that spawns zombie-like creatures known as ‘husks’.
The premise of the game is built upon survival and defence. Players are tasked with fighting for survival by constructing storm-shields and weapons and scavenging for resources to fight back against the storm. This is achieved on a co-operative basis, in which the player teams up with others to engage in missions, fight the husks, improve weaponry and build fortifications.
Survivors can also be found in certain missions who require help. This premise is what defines the main mode of the game, entitled Save the World.
The Fortnite: Battle Royale extension is based upon a battle format. The objective here is to be the last surviving individual or squad, depending on the game mode.
These games can see up to 100 players battling across a single map that the player skydives into at the beginning of the game, allowing a limited amount of time to strategically land in a chosen region. The players are constantly battling against an ever shrinking safe-zone, represented by the enclosing storm. If the player is out in this storm for too long, the conditions prove lethal and the player will be eliminated from the game.
Should we be worried?
The game and it’s more violent extension pack is proving incredibly popular among tweens and even children as young as 6, despite the PEGI rating being 12. The original premise of the game as co-operative survival seems fairly harmless and could work well as a family. But there’s no denying the violent content and it’s easy to see why many are wringing their hands at the impact it might have on young minds, like many other violent video games.
Alastair Jones is a keen advocate for gaming and co-authored Exploring Spirituality in Video Games. He said: “Fortnite had a really innovative marketing strategy by giving out the game for free. It very quickly had a huge user base before introducing a pricing strategy for updates. That meant it was able to be picked up by lots of young people under the radar in families as there wasn’t the financial barrier to overcome. As a result it surprised lots of parents when they saw this first person shooter game being played in the home without their knowledge.”
The slapstick violence and simple graphics seem to aim at a younger audience, despite the PEGI rating. Ben Jones from Missional Generation, a Christian charity developing virtual reality youth work resources shared his concerns over the violent content: “By engaging in a game that makes light or fun of violence we are putting a filter over our eyes and in time our hearts, which could lead to a change in how we act.”
Equally, the game allows contact with the up to 100 others playing at the same time, opening them up to conversations with strangers around the world. Without proper supervision and awareness of the risks, children could be exposed to all sorts of people and ideas.
The game is a sheer adrenaline rush for many of its players, making it highly addictive. Conversations around screen time could get seriously difficult when facing Fortnite.
What should we do about it?
We need to have clear boundaries about age restrictions on gaming and the time limit for screen time. If you are discerning enough to look into the dangers of a game I would encourage you to trust your gut on this. But good communication is key. Explain clearly to your children and young people why you have chosen your boundaries. They might not hear you yet but at least you’ve tried to explain.
It is also worth encouraging two-way communication. Show interest in the game, maybe even play it with them. Find out what the fuss is about. Encourage them to talk about what they are experiencing and how it makes them feel. If alarm bells are ringing then don’t panic but calmly explain why that might concern you as a parent or guardian.
Alastair added: “One of the lessons learnt from this is to be as interested in our children and what they are playing as we are about what they got up to at school that day. Have an honest conversation about the games they play and if it is possible to have the computer in a public space in the house rather than a bedroom that is ideal. However I find all sorts of excuses such as taking cups of tea, drinks or reminders for when the family meal is also give the opportunity needed to watch what is being played.”
My final reminder would be that video games carry a comparable danger to many difficulties we face growing up. When crossing the road, learning to swim and many other landmarks in life, we attempt to educate our children on the dangers and give them the skills to trust their instinct. We then continue to walk with them until we think they are ready to go it alone. It’s the same with Fortnite.
If you’re still feeling a bit concerned, remember all trends fade in the end. I mean who even remembers Pokemon Go?