Frickin’ Fortnite. Your kids won’t stop playing it, and you’re fed up. What do you do? You could join one of the many parent support groups, or make a musical parody to vent your frustrations, or try locking the game consoles in the car and hiding the key (yes, this is really happening).
Or you can play, too.
I’m not kidding. Maybe you rolled your eyes at the Wall Street Journal report describing how parents are now hiring Fortnite tutors — for their kids and also themselves. But it isn’t such an absurd idea to play the games your kids play.
By doing so, you aren’t just gaining a better understanding of what’s going on in your children’s brains when they scream “Gold scar!” at their devices, but also finding a way to connect with them.
And in the end, you’ll be more equipped to set up limits that make sense. As Anya Kamenetz’s dictum goes in The Art of Screen Time: “Enjoy screens. Not too much. Mostly together.”
Think you might be ready for battle? Here are some things to know.
What Is Fortnite And What Is It Doing To Your Kids?
Fortnite: Battle Royale has been described a cross between Minecraft and The Hunger Games. The mission is survival. Plunked on an island, your job is to off other players while protecting yourself. You have guns, axes, grenades, hatchets, booby traps and materials to build shelters.
It’s a shooter game, which (justifiably) concerns a lot of parents, though the aesthetic is cartoonish. There’s no blood or gore, but there are victory dances. (Note: Common Sense Media rates Fortnite as a 13-plus game, while parents on the site rate it as 11-plus.)
For mums and dads, it’s important to understand some of the psychology behind the game so you know how easy it is to get hooked on it. Researcher Andrew James Reid analysed it using the tool Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics (MDA) Framework, and points out what makes it “a superlative gaming experience”. (The player-centric stories, steady learning curve and loyal community are a few major components.)
The fact that kids are so into Fortnite isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. Scary Mommy’s Laura Jean Baker penned a piece in praise of the game, writing that she could plainly see how it fosters collaboration.
“[My son] Leo’s squad member slipped him Slurp Juice, saving him from total demise. Together they resourcefully collected supplies to build bridges, ramps, walls and forts that served as refuges.”
One Year Five teacher in Maryland told Vice that when one of his shy students mastered the game, he became “a walking strategy guide” for his classmates. That new role boosted the kid’s confidence, which led him to raise his hand more in class.
And some parents say their kids are learning how to communicate in other languages by playing the game with people around the world. Not a bad side effect.
It’s possible for your kids to have a positive relationship with the game, but you as a parent need to guide how — and how much — they play. And that might mean jumping onto the island with them.
How To Get Started
I spoke with Joseph Armienti, a Fortnite tutor with Varsity Tutors. (A spokesperson for the company tells me they’ve been getting more than 75 inquiries about Fortnite tutoring per hour.) Here are some of the top tips he gives those who are just getting started.
- Practise near Tilted Towers. “It’s pretty much the most action-packed part of the map,” he says.
- Move to higher ground. “If you’re above your target, you’re safer.”
- Learn how to build up a rush ramp. “This is ramp that goes straight forward and up. Use it to get to higher ground or create higher ground.”
- If you’re playing on a team, stay close to your team members. “Then if you need to revive someone, you’ll be close by, or if you need to protect them, you’re right there.”
- Always keep your eyes out for llamas.
If you haven't played Fortnite yet you probably know someone who has. The free battle royale-style game is pretty much unavoidable in 2018. Kids can't stop playing it. Even rappers and NBA players are getting in on the action.
How To Connect With Your Kids Through The Game
Researchers from Arizona State University say that video games give parents opportunities to discuss “teaching moments” that can be applied to everyday life. The games can provide lessons about planning, perseverance, critical thinking, and how to make smart decisions and the fly.
After playing Fortnite with your kids, you can talk to them about being a good sport (because in this game, you will lose), how it’s important to prepare for emergencies, and what all your enemies in the game might symbolise in the real world.
Forbes writer Jordan Shapiro, a proponent of families playing video games together, described the conversation he had with his kids after playing Halo: Combat Evolved.
Later, the three of us discussed why it was OK to shoot imaginary aliens but not people. We thought about what the aliens might represent in a kid’s life: Anxiety, frustration, anger, etc. I asked them what, in their own emotional experiences, comes on like a monster — uncontrollable, scary, overwhelming. I helped them to see how we might translate the narrative of the game into a lesson in emotional intelligence.
You can also see the game as a team-building activity, and you and your kids can find ways to improve your strategies together. For families that want to level up their skills, Armienti recommends watching Ninja — that is, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins (Twitch and YouTube), a professional Fortnite streamer who keeps most of his content family friendly.
When you play the game, you can get a better sense of what healthy limits should look like for your family. For instance, you might see that your kid starts losing his temper when things aren’t going his way, and know that he needs to take a break.
Other boundaries to implement (whether you play the game or not) might include allowing one hour of device time once dinner and homework are done, and making sure that your kids are getting outside for at least as much time as they’re playing the game inside.
Armienti says he’s seeing parents use Fortnite to incentivise their kids — instead of allowance, his friends’ little brothers and sisters are being paid for chores in V-Bucks, the in-game currency that costs real money. If they take out the trash for a week, for example, they can buy upgraded skins or customised outfits for their avatars.
“If you can find a way to motivate your kids and that way of motivation is through video games, I’d say that’s fine,” Armienti says.
And what if you find yourself getting a little too wrapped up in looking for bush wookiees and calling out shield pops?
Take a break. Go outside. Remember that it’s just a game.