What Every Parent Wants To Know About Fortnite

Today’s generation of kids is unique from all the ones before them. They are native inhabitants of technology. They have never known a time where there was no email, and phones have always been smart for them.

Their choice of entertainment is also different. If beach trips and outdoor games were the way kids from older generations played, kids of today are more immersed in games played on electronic screens.

An example of one such a game is Fortnite. Developed by Epic Games, Fortnite was released in 2017, with its most successful version being “Fortnite: Battle Royale”, an online interactive version that allows up to 100 players to fight with each other in increasingly smaller arenas until a lone survivor emerges.

The Draw of Fortnite: Battle Royale

Fortnite: Battle Royale gained 125 million players in just one year. According to the New York Times, the game earned $223 million in March 2018, nearly exclusively due to in-game purchases for fantasy weapons and gear. The numbers point to two undeniable truths: it is a massive phenomenon, and it’s raking in big bucks.

Online games have always drawn a big crowd, but Fortnite is an entirely different beast. Its popularity with today’s youth is both uncommon and unusual. The largest segment of its player population is school-aged children who often have a limited understanding of personal and financial responsibility.

The young demographic has raised many concerns from unknowing parents, and it is now a hot-topic conversation for just about every parent of young children. There are some instances when parents have reported that their children have become so absorbed with the game that it’s being likened to an addiction.

The literal game-play of Fortnite is part of its appeal to children. In the game, players build bases or forts using materials salvaged from the environment, bearing a similarity to another well known popular game, Minecraft. But unlike Minecraft, in Fortnite, defeated players also drop items that can be looted by other players.

To add to the excitement, there are treasure chests hidden within the map. Finding one can give the player various items, including weapons, satisfying an innate urge for unexpected surprises and giving them a surge of adrenaline, coupled with instant gratification.  For many parents, this is a toxic cocktail that opens the door to a slippery slope of obsession.

Some young players have indicated that the thrill of the discovery is a major factor in why they love the game. Since they never know exactly what they will find, there is a jolt of pleasure when they pick up a weapon or shield that they like. On the other hand, getting a bad item spurs the child to keep on playing, continually seeking out better loot. Both cases encourage the child to continue playing; a game developer’s dream and a concerned parent’s nightmare.

Another reason for Fortnite’s popularity is its “near-miss” feature. When a character is defeated, the losing player can see their opponent’s health bar, which often reveals the opponent was just a strike or two away from defeat themselves.

The immediate feedback of each player’s performance drives the player to want to keep on playing.  In cases where the fight was close, seeing the health bar of a wounded opponent triggers the desire to play again and again if victory was so close to being reached.

This method of stimulating the desire to keep playing is not unique to Fortnite. World of Warcraft, another online game, also displays health and experience bars so players can track their performance, as well as how their opponents are doing.

Even slot machines make use of the occurrence, such as when the wheels show two of the three images needed to win the cash prize. In all cases, it is hard to walk away when you are already thinking about doing better next time.

A study published by Springer Journal of Gambling Studies looked at Candy Crush, another strategy game, to see how these near-misses affect the player. In the Candy Crush, the player receives an alert if he or she closely misses advancing to the next level. The awareness of such near-misses can stimulate feelings of both frustration and competitiveness.

Researchers concluded that the near-misses triggered the gamers to play longer than they originally intended.  Parents have reported finding their children staying up to the wee hours of the night playing Fortnite, even if it’s a “schoolnite”.

A Social Phenomenon

When it comes to Fortnite, there is strength in numbers. The objective of the game is to be the last man standing. In real life, however, the opposite occurs. Fortnite is a social activity that children play with their friends. Since some parts of the game are collaborative, they form alliances, help each other strategize, and schedule specific times for playing.  Missing a scheduled game session can create anxiety and feelings of being left out, another potential recipe for disaster.

Fortnite reinforces behaviors in children that many parents are voicing concern over. Children tend to be drawn towards their peers, sometimes creating conflict with parents. The tension exists because the child is torn between their duty to spend time with their families and their fear of missing out and disappointing their friends.

Teamwork is also a draw of other popular games. One example is DOTA, a game that permits players to assemble teams of five or less. Picking the characters requires strategy because each character has a specific set of powers or capabilities.

Often there is a leader rallying the troops… but it’s easy for a young child’s developing mind to be affected adversely if they don’t get to be the leader (or center of attention) whenever they want, another problem that creates openings for self-esteem and self-centeredness issues with potentially lifelong consequences.   

So why is Fortnite more popular with kids? A possible explanation is that parents appreciate how the graphics do not display the blood and gore found in other games like Diablo or Counterstrike. It gives parents a sense of security to let their younger children play the game. However, even young children are susceptible to the excitement, and potential addiction, of playing a thrilling and compelling game with friends.

Enough is Enough

There are plenty of studies showing how time spent staring at an electronic screen affects children. Too much “screen time” can lead to obesity because it discourages physical activity and can contribute to isolation and obsession over the game itself.

Studies indicate that excessive screen time can cause developmental problems such as speech delay and inhibition of social skills. With so many possible negative consequences, parents should take the lead and set limits to playing time.

The ADHD and Behavior Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute recommend achieving balance with games like this. Specifically, kids who play Fortnite should not miss out on activities necessary for real-world mental and physical development.

Examples of these include spending actual face time with friends, participating in extracurricular activities, doing well in school, maintaining healthy sleep behaviors, and cultivating interpersonal & family relationships.

The quality of such activities can help quantify how much screen time kids should have. If these requirements are satisfactorily met, then the amount of time playing the game may be acceptable. If the opposite is true, parents should consider revising the schedule.

Parents should also heed caution not position themselves as being against Fortnite. Instead, encourage the child to do other activities. In other words, offer alternatives instead of being antagonistic over an activity the child likes. The positive spin on setting limits will minimize tension between the child and parent over how much electronic game play is appropriate.

Another way to set limits is to involve the children in formulating the rules of use. Giving children a sense of self-accountability can help them be more open to restrictions. It can also teach them the importance of making responsible decisions for themselves.  

Part of learning such responsibility should also include appropriate parental guidance on the use and/or abuse of immediate gratification features such as in-game purchases. Remember how much cash Fortnite earned just during the month of March 2018, nearly all from in-game purchases.  

I’ve already seen and heard numerous parents discussing and complaining about their children’s desire to spend money obsessively on items that go right down the drain the moment the child’s character is killed. The value of money is an important for children to learn in order to achieve a healthy and productive life as an adult.  

Neither should a wise parent overlook Fortnite’s unique ability to manipulate the social behaviors of children.  Denying or abruptly shutting out the game can leave a child feeling “left out”, a potential major blow to a young person’s developing ego and self image.  Involving the child in setting limits can minimize or eliminate this potential stress point.

Real World Behavior

To be absolutely clear, Fortnite is about world-building and domination in a digital fantasy land. The irony is that it does have a lot of influence in the real world. Parents should observe the behavior of their kids to ensure that they are not picking up bad habits.

A specific example is in verbal development. It is normal for competitive situations to get heated, but it is not an excuse for bullying behavior. Some parents have reported that their children get angry and say derogatory things because of the game. It is also not uncommon for children to pick up undesirable language, like swearing, because of how they see their peers playing the game.

In cases like these, parents need to step up and have a frank discussion on what behaviors are acceptable and what is not. There should also be real-world consequences if rules aren’t followed or red-lines are crossed.

It is important that the rules of behavior in real life and the online world are the same. For example, if the children are not allowed to swear at someone face to face, they should also be forbidden to swear at someone in the game. Parental observation and consistency are keys to a successful Fortnite experience.

Setting Limitations

A child’s life is an ongoing process of development. Biologically, their impulse controls and sense of boundaries are not yet fully formed. This is why kids thrive when rules and balance are appropriately established. Kids might protest, but rules actually help them calm down and have better attitudes.

Playing Fortnite is no different. As with other behavior issues, it is vital to set clear limits. For example, some families opt to allow their children to play during weekends and holidays. Others might let the kids play during weekdays, but only at a specific time. There is no right or wrong answer; just the answer that specifically works for the family.

Limits on playing can be used as a reward for good behavior or a deterrent for bad ones. If a child can play the game after school assignments are done, then it can provide motivation to finish schoolwork early. However, as said before, a balance must be achieved and the child should not be so eager to play the game that he or she rushes through homework or fails to study.

Rules should be clear and consistent so that children develop the good habits being instilled in them. If children discover that their parents rules are flexible, it creates an environment where they do not believe in natural consequences of their actions.

The game itself is not an enemy or a monster to be feared. It may just be another opportunity to become a better parent. In fact, Fortnite may even provide a unique opportunity to connect with children.

Adults can use it as a springboard for communication or for becoming more involved in their kid’s playtime. Skins, weapons, and other in-game purchases, can be offered as rewards for good behavior, so long as they are financially reasonable.

Monitored properly, it can provide an opportunity to educate kids on the frivolousness of wasting real money on fake digital weapons and equipment that go right out the window just as quickly as their character is eliminated from the game.

How long Fortnite will remain popular is a question no one knows, but there is no doubt that its influence has reached far and wide with today’s youth at a pace faster than just about any game in history. Parents will benefit from knowing Fortnite’s appeal and how they can leverage play time in a way that keeps responsible adults in control.  

It’s popularity, however, may be seen as a double edged sword that intertwines family entertainment with obsessive desire for gameplay. It’s wise to be an informed consumer before bringing Fortnite into the home and making it a part of the family. Who knows… it could be the best thing ever, or it could be a Pandora’s Box. Now that you know, the choice is yours.