Tuesday, 26 June 2018

A Realistic Parents Guide to Fortnite: Battle Royale


In this article, we'll take a realistic look at what parents need to know about Fortnite: Battle Royale. I've played the game quite a bit. I'm terrible at it but I understand how appealing it is and what you should be aware of it you are considering allowing your children to play. We've taken a realistic approach to Fortnite.

If you have older children or teenagers then chances are you have heard about Fortnite, a free to play online multi-player battle game from Epic Games. You may have heard some extreme reactions in the press or you may have just let your kids play it because all of their friends are.

What is Fortnite: Battle Royale?

Fortnite: Battle Royale is a high-quality video game in which individuals or teams compete to be the last to survive. As well as other players to beat there's the storm circle gradually shrinking which forces players to keep moving. You collect weapons and traps and other helpful items by 'looting' buildings and finding ammo boxes and chests. You can also gather building materials and build structures to help you move around or stay protected. 

There's lots of strategic planning involved and good reactions are very helpful. You also need to build up knowledge of the different kinds of weapon so that you can choose the right one for the situation. 

Age recommendation

Fortnite has a PEGI 12 rating in the UK (Teen in the US). This does not mean that children under 12 aren't permitted to play it. Just like movies, it's a parental decision and reflects that individual children are different. There was no age limit when I signed up so this isn't like social media accounts where there's an age restriction. This is a parenting decision that you need to actively make.

There are several key factors to be aware of when deciding whether you want to allow your child to play:
  1. Violence. This is a shooting game with weapons that have realistic names. The violence, however, is in a cartoon-style with bright colours and gore. Honestly, I'd prefer it if there was a game that had all the good parts of Fortnite without the violence and still attracted kids and teens. Let me know if they make that game! One thing to remember is that when adults see a game that involves shooting, we bring a lot of adult knowledge that most kids, fortunately, don't have. I told my kids that I imagine it's like paintball, I got an eye-roll and "Mum, it's just pixels ...". 
  2. Chat. Fortnite has voice chat on PC and console. If your settings allow it you can play with other people in a team and chat with them. Clearly, this is an issue if kids play with people they don't know. As long as you are aware of this you can turn off chat for non-friends. Make sure your kids understand how this feature works and check that they really know the people they are friends with. Voice chat is a big part of working in squads as players can communicate their strategy. But you can play solo without voice chat and restrict chat to just friends so this doesn't need to be a problem.
  3. Addictiveness. Fortnite is very addictive. It does a great job of keeping kids coming back with changing game modes and new costumes. We'd recommend putting some rules in place to make sure that kids don't spend too much time playing Fortnite. Get them to earn Fortnite time by doing things you see as constructive, or only allow them to play when a friend is online.
  4. Spending Money. You can pay for things in Fortnite with real money. At the moment you need to link payment details to the account. Remove the payment details after making a purchase so kids can't accidentally spend money and you won't get charged if someone else gets access to their account. I'd much prefer a gift code system where I can buy a gift code or gift V Bucks to another player from my Fortnite account. Hopefully, these things will come in future as Epic Games invest more in the game. 

Is Fortnite really free?

You can play Fortnite for free. You get a pretty full experience without paying money. 

However, there are features you can pay for. There are fancy costumes which don't do anything other than alert other players to your status. There's also a battle pass which allows you to earn more V Bucks (the in-game currency) to buy costumes and accessories and to earn experience more quickly. The Battle Pass also gives you access to additional challenges that you can complete in the game. 

Overall this is a pretty fair system. You can still fully participate in the game without spending money, but the paid features add an extra dimension. 

Basically, it's parental choice whether you can afford/justify the extras or whether you allow your children to spend their own money on these virtual extras. 

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is a big factor in a social game like this. It's quite possible that the majority of your child's friends will be playing Fortnite. If your child is 11 then you may be okay with this, but if they're 7 then you're in a different position. Sometimes you just have to say no. 

The goal with video gaming is to try and keep your children on games suitable for a younger audience for as long as possible. You might have had a dilemma about Minecraft when your child was 5 whereas at 7 it's where you want them to be (but not on public servers). If a 7-year-old plays Fortnite (and many of them will be technically capable) then they're missing out on playing Minecraft and Skylanders and all the awesome games that are suitable for them. Invite your children's friends round and encourage them to play Minecraft, consider setting up a private server for them so they can play together. 

If you are too strict then you run the risk of children finding ways to access games without telling you as they get older and they will miss out on important social interaction with their peers. It's no fun if your child is the only one in their peer group who doesn't play Fortnite and it's the main topic of conversation at school. If they are playing unsupervised then they may not be aware of the risks and aspects of the game to avoid. If they're going to find a way to play anyway then it's better that it's with your knowledge and you being able to set ground rules and account settings. A game like Fortnite can actually be a good way to stop children and young teens from moving on to more adult games. 

It's a balancing act and the age, personality and social context of your child are all important factors.

Good things about Fortnite

  1. Team work - listen to a group of young people playing Fortnite together in a squad and you'll hear the teamwork involved. They need to negotiate where to land, they need to cooperate to build, share loot between the team and heal each other. 
  2. Keeping in touch with friends - Fornite allows young people to get together online outside of school. This means planning to be online at the same time and enables them to develop their friendships. They may end up strengthening friendships with children who were just acquaintances because they are online at the same time and team up. 
  3. Coordination - Fornite requires excellent coordination skills and spatial awareness. You have to listen for enemies and work out where they are coming from. 
  4. Data - To play Fortnite well you need to have a good understanding of what all the weapons are and when to use them. Kids who play lots of computer games like this become very good at retaining and processing data quickly. This is a useful skill in the modern world. 
  5. Career - You can encourage kids to think about what's involved in developing a game like this. What skills would they need to be able to work in game development? 
  6. Free - It's free and the paid items are fair. There are no loot boxes where you risk real money for virtual items. You don't need to pay money to keep playing. The items you pay for are extras. Personally, I'm happy for my kids to spend some money on these extras to support Epic Games in the development of Fortnite. 
  7.  Motivation - You can use Fortnite to encourage other activities that you consider constructive. My kids have been spending loads of time outside with their Nerf gear and making physical controllers with MaKey MaKey
  8. Short games - Each game is fairly short, around 20 minutes (or sometimes a lot less!) This means that it's easy to tell them to stop after the current game instead of having to back out of a long game and let people down. 
  9. Bribery - Use Fornite to bribe kids to do useful stuff. My son's bedroom has never been so tidy!

Summary

Actually Fortnite isn't terrible. Honestly, I'd prefer that my tween kids were playing games with rainbows and unicorns (admittedly Fortnite does have rainbow coloured llamas). But I'm realistic. You know your own kids. You know whether they can handle playing just a limited amount of a game that is very effective at getting kids and teens to keep playing. 

There's no need younger kids to be playing a game like this even if they're technically capable. They'll miss out on all the awesome games that are perfect for their age group. 

For tweens and teens, put some rules in place about how much they can play and who they can play with. Warn them about having to stop to go out or for a meal so they know not to start a new game that they won't have time to finish. Play the game yourself and find out what it's all about.

As always, it's all about balance. Focus on making sure kids spend enough time doing other things and their gaming time will naturally be limited.





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