The 101 on Fortnite – and what your kids don’t want you to know

If you were to go up to any group of teenagers in a mall and ask them if they play Fortnite, they will all get excited and I guarantee at least one kid will start dancing on the spot and the other kids will start cheering. You just witnessed a Fortnite emote – a victory dance. Now please don’t actually go up to random kids in the mall and ask them about Fortnite. Just let us explain to you what it is, why it’s so popular and what you should know as a parent.

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What even is Fortnite?

Fortnite: Battle Royale is an online shooting game. Your player starts in a map of up to 100 players and you collect weapons and build forts, all whilst trying to eliminate the other players. The aim is to be the last player standing.

In New Zealand you usually get connected to other New Zealand players and you can play solo or in teams with random players and friends. Most games last 20 minutes max – if you are the last one standing, which your kid probably isn’t, most of the time. The brightly coloured cartoon graphics, funny celebration dances and lack of blood, guts and gore can make it appear like it is appropriate for of all ages. But what do parents actually need know about this viral phenomenon?

Why is Fortnite so crazy popular right now?

Three reasons.

  1. It’s free! That gives access to everyone, especially if you’re at the age where you don’t have any money.
  2. It’s available on lots of gaming platforms. Playstation, Xbox, PC, iPad and probably even those really fancy calculators.
  3. Everyone plays it! School students, adults and lots of celebrities and athletes are talking about it. Some Fortnite players are becoming famous and making millions from broadcasting their games online. So chances are, if your child doesn’t play it yet, they really want to.

What your kid wants you to know about Fortnite

1. You can’t pause an online game

This is very important for parents to understand especially when setting time limits on games. If you’re playing in a team, you can’t just leave the game at any time because you’re letting down your whole squad.

2. It’s actually social

From the outside, it doesn’t look very social when a kid is sitting in front of a screen inside when they could be out with their friends having ‘real fun’. We need to rethink the stereotype of the socially-isolated video game nerd because online gaming can be very social. In Fortnite you can connect with others and together you are learning skills in leadership, teamwork and problem-solving. Okay, maybe it’s just socialising and friendly banter, but that is still social.

3. I need you to give me lots of warning of when I need to stop playing

If you want a better chance of avoiding the whinging reaction when you ask your child to stop playing a video game, then give them plenty of warning. Instead of giving them traditional time limits, you could give them a limit of how many ‘rounds of Fortnite’ they can play.

Just for reference, five rounds will take about an hour if they win every round. But they probably won’t, so some rounds are shorter. Keep checking in on them and asking how many rounds they have left. You’re actually doing them a favour because then they can tell their online friends that they only commit to two more games without letting their team down.

What they don’t want you to know about Fortnite

1. I don’t actually need to make those in-game purchases

It’s a free game. Free to download and free to play. But there are in-game purchases that cost real money. You can upgrade your player with a unicorn-head-pick-axe or the latest victory dance or any new costume for their character.

Some kids might try to convince you that they ‘need’ to make these purchases. Nah, they don’t. It just makes their character look cool. But what you need to understand is that the social pressure for kids to fit in is just as real online as it is at school. If they have a standard default character, they might feel outcast or even get mocked by their peers.

Point out that some people are cool with that. That’s actually what makes those people cool. Nothing boosts your self-esteem like your mum telling you that you are cool without the newest Fortnite character outfit.

2. It’s very addictive

You can have too much of a good thing. Fortnite is designed as a very addictive game that always asks you to play one more round. If you are concerned about how much they play, then maybe you could approach it as a parent would approach any addiction. Offer support, limit use and offer alternatives. The challenge is to creatively present alternative ways to spend time other than ‘jamming some Fortnite with the lads’.

Most kids spend time at home doing pretty ‘boring stuff’ like chores or homework. Then when they play video games, they’re engaged in a hyperstimulating game that has hijacked their brain’s reward pathways, flooding them with hormones that feel fantastic. Compared to other things they do at home, it’s easy to understand why gaming is so appealing. There’s no amazing burst of reward chemicals being released in the brain when you finish doing the dishes.

Strategically, it’s best for them to do all the ‘boring stuff’ before playing games. When they ask if they can play Fortnite, you could say, “Yes, but after you’ve walked the dog or done your homework”. This teaches them about delayed gratification.

The alternative to playing video games might not be as stimulating but it doesn’t have to be something they find horribly boring either. What if instead of playing video games they joined you grocery shopping or you took them to the skatepark or you made pancakes together.

3. There are other things I could be doing

Do you ever feel less guilty about watching daytime movies when you’re having sick day or the weather is awful outside? It’s okay because we justify that we couldn’t be doing much else anyway.

The truth is that when your child is playing video games they could be doing other stuff. They could be practising a sport, creating music or just hanging out with their family. They have more spare time when they are young than any other time in their lives until they retire. Spending most of that time behind a screen isn’t the best for their healthy development – or your home internet plan.

Video games like Fortnite can be a bit of fun, they can be social and they keep your kid inside the house where you know they are safe. But they are a poor substitute for real experiences. If you are going to place more restrictions and boundaries on technology in your home, then think about loosening the boundaries in other areas of their world. It might help the conversation if you let them know that even though you are limiting their Fortnite time, that you will be letting them stay up later or go to a friend’s house or bus to the mall.

Stay involved

You might not like video games and they may sound like a weird nerdy foreign language to you. You don’t have to play Fortnite to show an interest in what your child is interested in. Ask your child about Fortnite and what they like about it. You might be able to connect on something they are passionate about. Young people need their parents to remain involved right throughout the teenage years. This just might be your way in to a great conversation.

Written by Christian Gallen, Senior Attitude Presenter

Vodafone is a partner of the Parenting Place. For more technology ideas and strategies check out Digi-parenting.


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