Is Fortnite Safe for Your Kids?

Open up any newspaper or tune into any news program and there’s considerable coverage of the wildly popular video game, Fortnite: Battle Royale. Created by Epic Games, Fortnite can be played across multiple platforms including computers, gaming consoles and smartphones. While the ages of Fortnite players runs the gamut, step onto any elementary or middle school playground and chances are your kids or their friends have heard of it or are playing it themselves.

I had heard rumblings about Fortnite from my 10-year-old son but it wasn’t until my school district sent out an email to parents about it that I became alarmed. Although the game is rated for ages 13 and older, its popularity is trickling down to younger kids and with that trend, my district felt compelled to warn parents of its potential dangers.

Fortnite: Battle Royale 101

The game is a survival-action game that combines the strategizing elements of Minecraft and the fast-paced violent action of Call of Duty. Players can duke it out in teams of four against as many as 100 other players. Players create their own arsenal of weapons including guns, grenades and swords. Eventually the playable area shrinks and players are forced into even closer encounters until one player remains and is the winner.

Why it’s Such a Hit with Kids

First of all, the game is free and features bright cartoon-like graphics. Epic Games makes their money on special designs such as costumes that the avatars can wear like space suits and dinosaur outfits. Remember when kids used to want the latest Air Jordans? Well now Fortnite character costumes are what the schoolyard set covets. The game also allows players to purchase celebratory dance moves after their character has defeated another player. So while dabbing may have been all the rage last year, having your avatar do the “Fortnite Floss” will earn you cool credibility.

Kids love the teamwork aspect of the game, adding a social element to the game. Plus it’s a hit with celebrities such as rap star Drake featured on YouTube playing it, so it’s no surprise that the game is a blockbuster.

The All Consuming Power of Fortnite

Sari Shaw, a Chappaqua mom of a 10-year-old Fortnite fan finds the game all consuming. “My son was never a total video game kid. He would always prefer sports or outdoor play to electronics. This game has reversed that. There is literally nothing he would rather do than play. He would forgo sporting events, actual playdates or trips to stay home and play. It is the closest thing to addiction I have seen thus far.”

“Each game of Fortnite is fairly short, which means it’s easy for kids to want to play “just one more game” – though that can turn into hours if parents don’t set limits,” warns Sierra Filucci, an Executive Editor at Common Sense Media, a leading nonprofit organization that helps kids navigate the world of media and technology.

Parental Concerns about Fortnite

“Some concerns about the game are the violence – it’s all about using guns and weapons to kill opponents,” explains Filucci. The email from my school district noted, “the game is trivializing the killing of human beings without any repercussions since there is no bloodshed and defeated enemies simply disappear, normalizing aggressive and violent gun use, and otherwise desensitizing children to violence.” Dora Straus, another Westchester-based mom of two elementary school students agrees. “My biggest concern is that in today’s horrible environment of routine school shootings, we should not be normalizing the use of assault weapons through video games. Killing should not be made “fun”.

Filucci also notes another major concern for parents with the online version – kids can chat with strangers. “Parents should preview the game to make sure they feel the content is appropriate and consider limiting gameplay to just friends or disallowing voice chat.” Because the real-time voice and/or chatting between players is not moderated, kids can be exposed to bad language or even be asked by strangers to divulge personal information. Note that the chat option is not available in the mobile version.

Setting Limits is Key

Filucci suggests parents set limits with a timer or have an agreed upon number of Fortnite matches per day. For kids playing Fortnite via a gaming console or on a PC, Common Sense Media notes that the chat option can be turned off. For additional details on how to do this, read Common Sense Media’s “Ultimate Guide to Fortnite” available online at commonsensemedia.org.

While there are certainly negative aspects of the game, proponents praise the strategic thinking, creativity and forward planning skills that are needed to succeed. The good news is that eventually the Fortnite frenzy will die down. But by then, there will surely be a new video game out that kids love and parents hate. After all, remember Grand Theft Auto?

Stacey Pfeffer is a writer and editor based in Chappaqua.