For whatever it’s worth, I’ve never actually played Fortnite. I got in a few rounds of PUBG at a friend’s house one time, but I didn’t do so hot (I’m not particularly good at FPS’s). Word on the street is that Apex Legends is on the rise as the hot new FTP Battle Royale. I haven’t played that one either, but I have seen Ninja streaming on Twitch, and it looks impressive.
If what I just said sounds completely incoherent, you probably aren’t alone. Gaming fads come and go quick nowadays. Remember when everyone was out playing Pokémon Go? It was fun while it lasted, but it faded away over time. However, games like Fortnite seem to be here to stay, and if you have kids, grandkids, or nieces and nephews that play, it’s important to understand what’s going on in these games.
Fortnite is a game that at its core combines a first-person shooter (your view is your player looking down the barrel of their gun) and survival. At the start of a round, players are dropped into a map that, as the game progresses, gets continually smaller, forcing all remaining players together. The objective is to be the last player or team remaining by eliminating everyone else. You can pick up gear or build structures that help you achieve this goal. The game has very cartoon-ish feel to it, and despite revolving around shooting other players, there is no blood or gore involved, so it is seemingly less “violent” than other games of a similar nature.
There are many reasons Fortnite has become wildly popular, but one you may not be aware of is that it uniquely coincides with the brain development of teenagers. During adolescence, the area of the brain that controls risks and rewards is continually developing. In a game like Fortnite, taking a risk can lead to a greater reward (especially if they win!), triggering activity in that part of the brain. The brain gives a reward, and the player feels good about their accomplishment. Since a round of Fortnite can be completed in around 20 minutes (or less, if you’re a scrub like me), this risk/reward can be repeated in rapid succession. The desire for “just one more round” can keep kids playing for hours- even if it means skipping dinner or not doing homework.
There are some concerns to be aware of regarding Fortnite. Online interaction allows players to communicate with their friends to coordinate strategies. It also means that they could come into contact with strangers and, potentially, online predators. The game contains microtransactions, purchases of in-game items that add up over time. The average player spends around $55 on the game, despite being free to play. Because of how short the rounds are and the urge to try and win, kids can accidentally spend more time playing than they indented to- just like some of us may binge watch a show on Netflix without realizing how much time has passed. Since everyone is connected online and playing simultaneously, this also means the game cannot be paused, and having to leave in the middle of a game means losing. Because of these issues, it’s important to communicate clear expectations regarding who they communicate with online, limits about spending money, and the amount of time spent playing.
Fortnite is a cultural phenomenon that has gained global popularity, broken records (thanks to Drake, Ninja, and JuJu Smith-Schuster ), and inspired other games in the genre. While the decision of whether or not to let kids play these games remains in the hands of their parents, it’s important that we have an understanding of why they are so popular, what risks are involved, and teach them to engage with video games in a healthy way.