Fortnite. The game that inspires cheers of excitement from young people and mostly groans from parents. Fortnite has taken the gaming world by storm and shows no signs of letting up. I must admit, as someone who has used video/computer games for over 20 years in counseling with young people, this game has it all. Do you want to simply run around, build things, and practice without hurting yourself or anyone else? There is a ‘playground’ for that. Want to fly a World War I biplane (one of my personal favorite perks of the game) and see what it’s like? You can. Want to create a squad with four friends and work together to conquer the world? You can do that. Want to go ‘solo’ and see what it would be like to survive against 100 other people from all over the world to test your skills? You can do that too.
Why is Fornite so Popular?
I’m asked nearly every week what I think about kids playing this game and so I thought that I would finally post a blog about this topic. One question that is asked by parents is “What is the big deal – why is this game so popular?”
Well, since you asked…Hidden deep in our human DNA is the desire to set goals and achieve them, to test ourselves and conquer things. Balance this with our ever-present fear of death and abandonment which creates necessary anxiety to create and sustain life, and you have a high-octane juggernaut that most people refer to as ‘the human spirit.’ Males in particular have an aggression that comes from being contrary – that is, an in-born desire to resist and conquer that which seems to oppose me. Children’s play in general is very interactive, and boys take it up a notch. It isn’t enough to get to the top of the hill, I want to be ‘king’ of the hill and dispose of anyone who dares take my place. This ‘rough and tumble’ play of testing and exerting will is necessary in developing a sense of self and builds a blueprint in the child’s mind of the world around them and creates a foundation for the representation of self and social behavior. Children realize eventually that they can hurt and be hurt, and this push-pull creates the idea of empathy and awareness of others. Later in childhood the child realizes that they have power over their actions, and that those actions have consequences. When your toddler repeatedly puts four blocks on top of each other and knocks them over, she is actually creating an understanding in her mind of the idea that she has power and that her behavior has consequences.
Back to Fortnite. The draw of Fortnite is that the game has all the elements that young people like to have in their play: Risk, power, some luck or chance, (like risk, too much or too little makes the game too predictable), freedom to explore and create (think of a giant sandbox), abilities/attributes that with practice I can improve upon, ranking (I need to know where I stand so I can see if I’m getting better or worse), goals and achievements, and the age-old interest of toying with death (I may ‘die’ in the game and I can ‘kill’ others).
The most asked question I get from parents is about a child’s age and when is it appropriate for a young person to play a game with violence and potential killing in the game. I treat every question as a case by case basis but overall my response involves the young person’s maturity level to understand the difference between reality and fantasy and if there are other violent characteristics in the young person exhibited on a daily basis. For example, someone who can’t control their temper and who lashes out when angry, or someone who shows aggression towards helpless beings like younger children or animals should not be allowed to play games with violence in them. There is no link established to show that playing a violent game will make a person go out and do violent things. While some studies support it, they cannot account for the data that people prone to violence seek out ways to express that violence. Think to yourself: How many violent video games did Hitler or Mussolini play? Violent people nearly always have played violent video games but violence and violent people have existed long before realistic shooter games. One could easily make the argument that watching the news could have similar effects.
However, there is some evidence that playing violent games for prolonged periods will result in brain fatigue, less impulse control, and potentially less empathy for others at least for a short time when going back into social situations. So what is the answer? A good rule of thumb is that the young person must be able to discern from reality/fantasy, understand and show empathy in consistent patterns, show impulse control when angry, and be able to put thoughts and feelings into words. Thus, one factor that is usually apparent in this debate is that parent involvement is key. During development, we function as the child’s hippocampus in their brain that is still developing. We must: Set limits, create routines, set goals, guide through choices, and step in when social situations may be too demanding.
Pros and Cons
Are there benefits of playing a game like Fortnite? Oh yes! Decision making, experiencing consequences in real time, developing impulse control, thinking ahead, using a strategy, learning from previous failure, interpreting and predicting the actions of others, working as a team, valuing one’s abilities, and believing in oneself are all benefits of gaming in general, but particularly in Fortnite. One father told me with joy of his two sons joining forces as a duo and winning a round. He used it as an opportunity to show them what working together could do and how they each used skills to accomplish their goals.
What about cons? Prolonged play can bring about game fatigue and lack of impulse control, as well as emotional effects like sadness, anger, or frustration.
What to Do?
Here are some ways to navigate the world of Fortnite and gaming in general.
· Set limits. It is clear that screen time affects us, from brain fatigue to poor decision making. Creating balance is something our children must learn to be successful adults so build in time limits and offer other choices. It isn’t your job to entertain your young person but you do have a responsibility to teach limits and balance. By the way, you have to model this also so setting some limits for yourself will go a long way with your young person and also create more opportunities for relationship.
· Create relationship. Learn about the game, watch them play, see how your young person’s personality comes out when playing. I have used gaming in sessions to reinforce assertiveness with very passive children and to encourage them to overcome fear. Using praise and noticing a particular ability can increase a young person’s sense of self-worth.
· Use the game to shape behavior. Gaming is a privilege and must be done responsibly. By being present and taking away time for inappropriate responses during game play helps your young person remember that there is a bigger world out there and we have a duty to be respectful of others.
· Use the game as an incentive. “Playing a game in a home that I own is a privilege: Those who want to play will treat me with respect and complete all homework and chores. Grades must be at an acceptable level at all times to have the gaming privilege.”
· Teach decision making, goal setting, and overcoming challenges. Every game has these elements and these are things our young people must learn to do in real life. Again, this requires relationship with your gamer and knowing what they are playing and how elements found in the game relate to real life. Do your homework as a parent and be involved!
· Use the game to teach self-control. There is nothing like real-time situations to help a young person learn to notice what they are feeling and override frustration and anger and learn to use self-control. Continue to reinforce that they must respond and act appropriately regardless of the outcome or how they feel. One day when they are standing in line at the DMV for 2 hours they will thank you.
Ultimately, you are the parent and you decide what you let in your home and you must know your young person to discern if playing a game like Fortnite will help or hinder their development. We must always be on guard as parents and be aware of what is going on in the culture surrounding us. Be informed, be aware, and be in relationship!