The usually ultra-cool marketing executive was over-the-top exasperated. “Every time we get together, the parents all talk about it. We have no idea what to do about Fortnite!” There’s much to learn about this wildly popular new pursuit and why it’s popping up at school, so let’s dig in.
What is Fortnite?
Fortnite: Battle Royale is a free-to-play, third-person-action online video game where players fight to the death in an ever-changing combat area. Battle Royale has been called the kids’ Call of Duty, or a cross between Minecraft and The Hunger Games. The point of Battle Royale is to be the last player standing after knocking off up to 99 other players.
In early 2018, Battle Royale became a true game-changer when it jumped to mobile. Now the game can be played not only on Internet-connected game consoles, desktops and laptops, but also on smartphones and tablets, too. That’s why the game is seeping into the hallways, lunchrooms, and classrooms of schools where phones are allowed or students use tablets or laptops.
A tamer Fortnite mode, Save the World, first appeared in 2017. It’s played solo on a console or computer where on-screen human characters band together to fight zombie-like monsters. Battle Royale can be played solo, but also in pairs or squads of four. On-screen characters are cartoonish human figures and monsters. Players can talk and listen to each other with the game’s Chat feature in all platforms except mobile.
Although Fortnite starts out as free, play-enhancing items can be bought inside the game. A paid upgrade is also available.
As in Minecraft, Fortnite players use their ingenuity to build shelters and defenses as well as teamwork and cooperation. Thankfully, too, the game is not endless. It’s played in 20-minute matches.
So what’s the problem?
Kid-directed Combat at the Pinnacle of Persuasive Design
For one thing, the game is all about weapons and violence. Even though blood doesn’t gush when players are eliminated, more and more research shows that when kids direct on-screen violence, they can become more aggressive and less compassionate.
Secondly, because it’s brand new, Fortnite: Battle Royale is the beneficiary of all that game makers have ever learned about designing video games. That means Fortnite is at the very pinnacle of “persuasive design,” the science of keeping people engaged with technology. So it’s easier than ever for players to get hooked.
What’s a Parent to Do?
Abide by the Ratings
Because Fortnite: Battle Royale involves player-directed mortal combat and unfiltered battle chatter, the child advocacy game and app reviewer Common Sense Media says only kids 13 and up should be considered for playing the game. So, even if you think your 10-year-old is way precocious, the experts believe his or her brain and emotional makeup are not developmentally ready for such an intense experience in the company of older kids and adults.
Understand What You’re Getting Into
Even though Fortnite: Battle Royale is played in 20-minute sessions, another session can instantly follow, so it’s easy to binge-play, as it is to binge-watch Netflix or YouTube.
Also, because Fortnite: Battle Royale is designed to keep players stuck in the game, if you allow it into your child’s life, you not only invite conflict between the two of you, you also give a green light to a potential source of addiction.
It’s Ok to Say NO
In the fight over Battle, it’s easy for forget about balance and that kids also need to get exercise, converse with family, etc. According to child psychologists, setting limits on screen use and content is essential for kids to become well-rounded, self-directed, durable adults.
In family studies where parents do set boundaries, “Kids got better sleep, lowered their risk of obesity, and got better grades. Plus teachers saw better behavior and less aggressive behavior in classroom,” according to media addiction expert and developmental psychologist Douglas Gentile, speaking at the Children’s Screen-Time Action Network conference.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that for kids’ health and well-being, those over age five should not use screen-based entertainment for more than two hours a day. Screen time exposure should be less or none in kids younger than five.
Parent Resources for Setting Boundaries
Until recently, parents had little support in this area, so it’s a relief to see new designs that can lend a helping hand. I highly recommend the AAP’s Family Media Plan. Use it with the accompanying Media Time Calculator to sit down with your child to plan a balanced day. The National PTA’s Smart Talk can also help.
Also, check out this free checklist for how to plan your family’s time wisely around technology and everything else.
If your child already plays Fortnite on a mobile device, you can use parental control apps such as Kidslox to help them manage their time spent on the game.
Here’s a demo of Fortnite: Battle Royale.
Finally, if you have a tech management strategy that works for you, please share!
About the author:
Jenifer Joy Madden is a health journalist, digital media professor, tech hygienist, and inveterate parent of three durable young adults. Her words have informed millions on news outlets including ABC News, The Washington Post, and in her books, How To Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design and The Durable Human Manifesto: Practical Wisdom for Living and Parenting in the Digital World.
Download The Durable Human Manifesto for free here.