Fortnite…it’s everywhere and has proven to be more than a game but rather, a cultural phenomenon. With close to 80 million people users, spending an average of $85 on “V-bucks” and “skins” on this free game, it’s influence has soared to epic proportions.
And, if you are like most parents of children in the 10-18-year-old age range, navigating this particular video game has created a battle royale of sorts in your home.
So, let’s “pop your shield,” allow us to share some “heals,” and see if we can help you have a few family “victory royales”!
Risks and Rewards
What makes this game so exciting and addicting to players, especially young players? It is all about the “risks and rewards.”
The human reward center of our brain (ventral striatum) is the area of the brain that is affected most by addictions. Just like anything else – from drugs to gambling to eating to playing games -our brain seeks to be rewarded.
During the brain’s preteen and teenage years, this area is in continual development and restructuring. A game like Fortnite and others like it can offer exciting risks and even more exciting rewards. The near wins, hidden treasures, and ultimate “jubilation” of the victory contribute to what keeps Fortnite popular with your child.
This is not a completely negative thing…after all, it’s part of the way God wired us. This can be a great time to teach self-regulation and self-awareness to your child, before other more dangerous things become “addicting.”
Another feature that makes Fortnite so appealing and popular is that it is a group game that can be played with friends. It skyrocketed into popularity during the summer months when your child and others could not see each other. It was a way to still connect, play, and communicate with friends.
The game offers a mutual point of interest and gamers find community among players online and even offline. During the younger years of your child’s life, relationships were arranged playdates by parents or based around proximity or neighborhood. In the late elementary years through teenage years, relationships are often about mutual interests and personal connection.
Our brains are built for relationships, connection, and community. Fortnite is simply the latest online way teenagers are connecting with friends.. Just like any other social activity (sports team, music group, or club) where interest and activity are shared.
As parents, we can view this as negative or use it to our advantage to talk through real-world relationships and community; including the value of regular church community attendance. Your child needs and desires community around common interests to offer those types of opportunities.
Relevant Rules & Restrictions
With the above being said, there is still a need for parents to have realistic rules and restrictions. A balanced approach that is neither over-reaction or under-reaction. You don’t have to join a Fortnite parents support group (yes, they are a real thing) to form a family plan for some basic guidelines concerning spending, safety, and schedule.
- Spending: Fortnite is a free game, but there are plenty of ways to spend a lot, and we mean A LOT of real-world dollars on skins, weapons, and upgrades. Sit down together with your child, as a family, and agree on the spending limits. Consider opportunities to earn an extra allowance or ways to earn money to be spent on the game. Make sure to make it clear there is no spending without permission
- Safety: Just like everything else online, and virtually everywhere, there is a dark side and a door for child-predators to try to misuse it. Take time as a family to talk through realistic and age-appropriate warnings about child-predators and the importance of not sharing private personal information. Even in the teenage years, your child still may need to be reminded of the old “stranger danger” side of our world.
- Schedule: Probably the most frustrating part of the Fortnite phenomenon is the amount of time kids are spending playing. Again, sit down together and come up with an agreed schedule, times of day, and limits on how church time is spent on the game. Similar to spending limits, consider coming up with a “time allowance” that your child can earn bonus time, but doing something around the house or even going and doing physical exercise to counteract the time spent sitting. There are apps and parental controls you can set up.
Fortnite, while involving shooting and “kills” may be considered by some to be a violent video game, overall, it is cartoony and relatively less violent than most comparable games on the market. Like everything else, there are pros and cons, so take the time to decide as parents what your best path forward is going to be. Fortnite IS a passing fad, but there is another one on the horizon, and if you haven’t now is a great time to begin to create a culture in your home of talking with your children about their gaming habits and your expectations surrounding them.