What parents need to know about Fortnite

Is Fortnite okay for kids?
Is Fortnite okay for kids?  

If you live with young humans, you may have heard the video game Fortnite mentioned. Your children may be obsessed with it, just starting to play it or begging you to let them play it because all their friends are. So what exactly is this latest game craze and should you be concerned about your kids playing it?

Fortnite in a nutshell

Fortnite is a strategic adventure game released in July 2017 and now available on PC/Mac, Xbox One and PlayStation4. It can be played in solo mode or in a team of up to 4 players. The premise of the game is that a storm has wiped out 98% of the earth's population, and the player's role once dropped into the zone by a battle bus, is to build structures to gain an advantage over others, gather resources and kill everyone to be the last person standing.

Despite its M rating and an age rating of 12+, children younger than 12 are playing it along with teens and adults.

Fortnite utilises cartoon-like and fantasy based characters, and when "kills" are made, the characters disintegrate into thin air and disappear. There is no blood and gore or graphic scenes.

The game does have an inbuilt chat function so that players operating as a team can talk to each other and discuss tactics. However, this can be turned off in settings.

Concerns about Fortnite

A well known Australian current affairs program recently ran a story on Fortnite, labelling it "violent, addictive and free". It warned parents about the effects of obsessive play by children as young as nine, saying children could "show higher rates of aggression themselves".

The program was met with backlash from die-hard gamers across social media, but particularly on Twitter where the host of the program was subjected to some pretty nasty and personal comments. The tawdry comments did nothing to alleviate parental concern about this latest craze.

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What the experts say about Fortnite

The program was sensational in nature and the experts appearing, including child psychiatrist Dr Philip Tam, who is a specialist in internet and computer related disorders, only had a couple of minutes air time to discuss the complex issue at hand.

Whilst Dr Tam advised that children playing it could become aggressive, he also pointed out that certain groups (for example, those with depression) were more susceptible to negative effects. He also advocated for a "healthy digital diet pattern".

This is a sentiment echoed by cyber-psychologist and head of Digital Nutrition, Jocelyn Brewer. She avoids using the term addictive due to the complexity of its clinical meaning but does concede that games are "designed to be played and to keep your attention, challenge your skills and build communities around participation." Brewer goes on to explain that "there are ways to play all games in a balanced way and enjoy the benefits without the negative impacts that come with excessive and unsupervised gaming".

Fortnite's array of weaponry and the fact that players must kill everyone to win is a concern to parents who fear that it will desensitise their children to violence. Brewer explains that children's developmental level, rather than their age, will determine how they view violence. However, she explains that "the key with all tech use is to balance it with other aspects of life – the offline interactions you have, the family culture and values, their other strengths and weaknesses."

Brewer cannot stress highly enough that the key to kids and technology is parental involvement. Parents need to understand what is being played, set limits and most importantly, have conversations with their children.

Fortnite, like any game, has the potential to help develop positive skills in children but Brewer asserts that while "some kids will get these benefits inherently – explicit elicitation of these through verbal communication is helpful."

My family's experience with Fortnite

I have three boys aged 8 to 12 years old who all play the game. Admittedly, my youngest probably wouldn't be playing it if he didn't have older brothers. There are heated arguments at times about whose turn it is and over winning and losing, but if arguments are getting too heated, the controllers are taken away and nobody gets to play.

There's no carry-over of aggression into their daily lives. While it may appear that they are "obsessed" because they often discuss Fortnite, they aren't actually playing the game continuously. They also train and play organised sport, run around the backyard playing a variety of games, prepare food for a local charity that feeds the homeless, do homework and clean up around the house amongst many other things. This is not to say that they are model children – it is a house filled with rambunctious boys! Fortnite is just one part of their busy lives.

To us, Fortnite is just a game. It's the current craze and will no doubt be replaced by something else in the not too distant future. Fortnite is not for everyone. However, it's better to understand a game and be able to discuss the issues surrounding it, rather than just banning it. I think Jocelyn Brewer's advice is excellent – and I'll aim to do more talking to them about the games they play.